The number of first entrants in the NFL draft reaches its lowest level in nine years at 73 | Radio WGN 720

Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean is greeted by a large crowd of fans as he and his teammates return to the Georgia campus, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Athens, Ga., after defeating Alabama in the college football game NCAA College Football Championship. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The NFL announced Friday that 73 underclassmen have been granted special draft eligibility, the fewest in the past nine years.

All-American linebacker Nakobe Dean was one of four national champion Georgia players on the roster, along with receiver George Pickens, safety Lewis Cine and defensive lineman Travon Walker.

Mississippi’s Matt Corral is one of only two quarterbacks on the roster and a candidate to be an early quarterback selected in the draft scheduled for April 28-30 in Las Vegas.

Alabama, which lost to Georgia in the college football playoff title game, also had four underclassmen with special draft eligibility, including All-America wide receiver Jameson Williams, who tore a ligament in his left knee during the championship game.

Crimson Tide wide receiver John Metchie, who injured his knee in the Southeastern Conference championship game, also declared for the draft, along with Alabama tackle Evan Neal and linebacker Christian Harris.

Neal is expected to be one of the first offensive linemen drafted and a potential top-10 selection.

The number of players with special eligibility increased from 98 in 2021 to 99 in 2020. A record 106 juniors entered the draft without graduating in 2018.

Prior to this year, the only time since 2014 that the number of underclassmen entering the NFL Draft with special eligibility fell below 95 was 2015, when the number was 74.

27 other players, including quarterbacks Sam Howell of North Carolina and Carson Strong of Nevada and All-America defensive end of Oregon Kayvon Thibodeaux, enter this season’s draft with remaining eligibility after completing their diplomas and notified the NFL.

Thibodeaux was expected to be in contention to be the first overall selection in this year’s draft, although injuries limited him to 11 games.

The total number of players entering the draft early (100) is down from 128 last season.


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