At the NFL combine, college experience is considered a game-winner
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Linebacker Ochaun Mathis is betting another year of college football will help him make an NFL roster.
He knew entering the league at age 24 was a risky proposition, as most players’ careers end at age 25. He knew scouts and team decision-makers would take him down a few pegs on the draft board because of his seniority. He also thought it needed more time to develop.
Now, with another year of development, the former Nebraska star has a chance to continue his dream job at the league’s annual combine in Indianapolis.
“Yeah, they want a young guy and that definitely affects me coming into the draft,” Mathis said Thursday before the first practice sessions on the field. “I didn’t want to get too old, you know, don’t screw up the process. So just testing the waters and getting there and taking a leap of faith is one of the biggest things I’ve had to do.
Evaluating older draft prospects adds a surprising new twist to a sport that typically values youth and potential over finished product. It wasn’t that long ago that most teams wouldn’t consider signing a 24-year-old rookie because the average career lasts less than four seasons.
However, things look set to change now – perhaps in the long run.
Thanks to the NCAA’s increased tolerance for granting medical redshirts for additional years, an extra year of eligibility for the 2020 COVID-19 season, and NIL deals that keep the guesswork at the end of the school cycle, that’s where the number of older players is. annual harvest increased.
The list includes two 25-year-old quarterbacks, Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett IV, and Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell, who turns 25 by the end of next season.
How do they compare to two of the biggest stars in sports?
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts doesn’t turn 25 until August, and when Patrick Mahomes turns 25, he’s played in two Super Bowls, won one, and won the first of two league MVP awards.
NFL teams have clearly seen that rules designed to protect football players have created long careers with some Hall of Fame-caliber guys who can continue to succeed long after age 35. The evolution of health and fitness science has helped many people stay young — and on the field.
“I think the athletes are taking better care of themselves,” said Jeff Foster, president of the National Draft Camp, which runs the combine. “When you see Tom Brady and other players succeed at their age, I think they (teams) will see that, so I think we’ll see some older guys here.”
However, the trend doesn’t start or stop at the game’s most important point.
Southern California’s Travis Dye and Oklahoma State’s Eric Gray will turn 24 before the end of next season. The same goes for potential first-round pick Dalton Kincaid of Utah State. Former Minnesota star running back Mohamed Ibrahim and receivers Jake Bobo of UCLA and Charlie Jones of Purdue will be in the 25.
The results prompted some teams to rethink their draft strategy by taking a longer look at mature and experienced players who can make an impact quickly.
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals took Kordell Wolson, a 24-year-old, four-time national champion shortstop out of North Dakota State, in the fourth round. He made 16 starts last season.
“It means you have to dig deeper and look at the age of the player – how much football have you played?” Washington Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said this. “If he’s a running back, whether he’s got 600 or 700 carries — you know those are the things you’re worried about more than his numerical age.”
In fact, some of this year’s guests wouldn’t have made it if they hadn’t played for another year or two.
After totaling 39 receptions in his first three college seasons, Jones transferred to Purdue and had 110 receptions in 2022.
O’Connell made the Boilermakers a walk-on in 2017. The Boilermakers’ quarterback didn’t throw a pass in his first two seasons, and Bennett won back-to-back national titles after returning to Georgia after one season in junior college. .
Mathis felt the same way when he left TCU, headed to Nebraska for the 2022 season, and could have even stayed on campus for one more season. Instead, he thought it was time to prove that the long wait to turn pro had finally paid off.
“I wanted to get some experience playing,” he said before explaining his goals to the combine. “I want to show them my speed and quickness, in size, in jumps. I do everything here.
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