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The NFL’s Perspective on the NIL Era: “The Entire Draft Landscape Has Been Altered”

The NFL Draft will kick off Thursday night, with the usual bright lights and quarterback debates. However, this year is different, especially as we move into Day 3 on Saturday.

A total of 58 underclassmen have declared for this draft, a significant decrease from 130 in 2021 and the lowest number since 2011. One key factor influencing this decline is the introduction of NIL money.

After the 2021 Supreme Court ruling that allowed collegiate athletes to earn from their name, image, and likeness, players began signing marketing deals. The pandemic-shortened 2020 season also encouraged players to stay in school with the extra year of eligibility granted. Additionally, the NCAA allowed players to transfer without sitting out a year.

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NIL payments are not disclosed, but many top draft prospects this week have already earned substantial amounts. For example, USC quarterback Caleb Williams, projected top pick for the Chicago Bears, is estimated to have made around $10 million while in school. This shift has caught the attention of NFL coaches.

Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur remarked, “It’s crazy to fathom that some of these guys made more money in college than they will in the NFL.”

Coaches are now looking for a particular drive in players, as some enter the NFL with established wealth. Las Vegas Raiders coach Antonio Pierce noted the difference in work ethic between players with NIL money and those without.


Las Vegas Raiders coach Antonio Pierce wants to see players enter the NFL with the same type of competitive edge that he possessed. (Steve Marcus / Getty Images)

As players with NIL money may lack the hunger to work hard for their NFL opportunities, the draft landscape has changed. Many players have chosen to stay in school due to the financial security provided by NIL earnings.

Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell highlighted the challenge of assessing players’ responses to adversity when so many are quick to enter the transfer portal.

Agent Ron Slavin added, “You see some guys not going as hard in the pre-draft process, a stark contrast to earlier times.”


The feeling around the NFL is the quality of draft prospects drops after this year’s fourth round, in part because so many players elected to stay in school. (Michael Wade / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jason Belzer, the CEO and co-founder of Student Athlete NIL (SANIL), manages booster collectives for Power 5 schools. He shared insights into the impact of NIL on the draft process, highlighting how more players are choosing to stay in college, develop, and earn through NIL rather than enter the draft.

Belzer estimated that around 40 college players made more than the minimum NFL salary in 2023, with even more earning substantial amounts. He emphasized the financial benefits for late-round picks who may not secure roster spots.

For players considering late-round selections, the decision to return to school is appealing, offering both development opportunities and financial security.

Experience and maturity gained through additional years in college can be advantageous, especially for positions like quarterback. Players like Bo Nix, who have played numerous games in college, believe their experience gives them a competitive edge.

While age can be a factor in draft evaluations, players like Nix see their additional years in college as beneficial for their development and readiness for the NFL.


Bo Nix’s age (24) could work against him in the draft process, but he thinks his experience is a benefit. (Zac BonDurant / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While Nix’s age may raise concerns, his experience is valued in the draft process. NFL GMs and coaches weigh the benefits of experience against potential longevity in the league.

Coming out of college with NIL money can be a transformative experience for players, equipping them with financial knowledge and maturity to navigate their NFL careers.

— Staff writer Tashan Reed contributed to this report.

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(Top illustration: Dan Golfarb / The Athletic; top photos of Roger Goodell and Caleb Williams: Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images and Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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