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Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Mike Trout, Lionel Messi, what do all of these great athletes have in common? Besides the fact that they either are or will be Hall of Famers in their respective sports, none of them played in college before starring professionally.
While this is fairly common in sports like basketball, baseball, and soccer, it never happens in football, and that is because the NFL does not allow prospects to go straight from high school to the college ranks like other sports.
Players must be out of high school for at least three years and must have used up their college eligibility before the next year. This gives players’ bodies more time to mature and adjust to the physicality of the NFL. It also minimizes risk of investment for players.
While they technically do not have to go to college, almost all players do because college football is the biggest stage for their game to be seen by NFL scouts.
Unlike most professional sports, there are no developmental or minor leagues for the NFL; therefore, college football is really the only option for players who hope to play in the NFL.
Continue reading to learn more about the requirements for becoming draft eligible in the NFL.
Can Players be Drafted Before They Are Draft Eligible?
Some would argue that this rule should be adjusted a bit because of the number of players in other sports who are having professional success without college experience. However, the NFL has not budged.
Players are not allowed to enter the NFL draft unless they are three full years removed from high school. If they have not yet completed their collegiate eligibility, then they must request permission from the league to enter the draft early.
The league reviews thousands of applications for early draft entry each year working with the compliance directors at colleges to ensure that players are draft eligible.
This rule began in 1990 and was challenged in 2004 by Ohio State running back Maurice Clarrett. Clarrett was a key cog on Ohio State’s National Championship team in 2002. Following the season, he was dismissed from the team as part of disciplinary actions.
He did not play in 2003 and tried to declare early for the NFL Draft after only being two years removed from high school. The league denied his application, and Clarrett sued the league. The NFL ultimately won the legal battle, and Clarrett had to wait until 2005 to be drafted.
Clarrett’s case would have been groundbreaking if it had gone the other way. Since then, no player has challenged the rule league’s draft eligibility rule.
Who is the Youngest Player Ever Drafted in the NFL?
Age is not just a number for many NFL teams. A player’s age is often heavily considered when scouting. The younger the player, the more potential he typically has.
Amobi Okoye was 19 years 10 months and 18 days when he was drafted 10th overall by the Houston Texans. The defensive tackle played three years of college football at the University of Louisville before declaring for the draft as an underclassmen.
Okoye’s story is an anomaly among NFL draft prospects. The native of Nigeria was on an expedited track academically in his home country and began college at the age of 16. He played three seasons at Louisville before becoming the youngest player ever drafted in the first round.
Some considered him a “boy genius” coming out of school because of how young he was when he graduated high school. His talent, his intelligence, and his age, were all factors that made him an intriguing prospect for many teams.
Okoye played six full seasons in the NFL before having to end his career due to medical issues. He officially retired from football in 2016 at the age of 29.
Who is the Oldest Player Ever Drafted in the NFL Draft?
Sometimes, age is just a number for teams in the draft. If they believe you have the talent necessary to compete at that level, then they will find a spot for you regardless of your age.
Brandon Weeden is the oldest player ever selected in the NFL draft. The quarterback was 28-years-old when the Cleveland Browns picked him in the first round with the 22nd overall pick in 2012.
Weeden enrolled at Oklahoma State in 2007 after pursuing a professional baseball career right out of high school from 2002-2006. He became the team’s starting quarterback in 2009 as a redshirt sophomore and played through his redshirt senior year.
Many questioned the Browns’ selection of Weeden due to his age, but the team felt as if his age and experience made him ready to play at the NFL level immediately.
It turns out, the masses were right, and Weeden became another name on the long list of Cleveland Browns starting quarterbacks. He spent seven seasons in the NFL with the Browns, Cowboys, Texans, and Titans mostly as a backup.
Can Anyone Be Drafted in the NFL Draft?
Technically, anyone who is at least three years removed from high school can be drafted in the NFL despite not playing college football; however, this is extremely rare.