98 underclassmen who met the NFL’s three-year eligibility rule and formally applied to enter the draft have been granted special eligibility, the league announced on Sunday. In addition to those 98, another four players who are underclassmen in terms of eligibility, including top QB prospect Teddy Bridgewater, will be eligible for the draft because they have already graduated, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes.
The number of underclassmen entering the draft represents a new record, and is a significant increase from the previous record of 73 in 2013. It’s the sixth straight year that the number of early entrants has risen, which can be partially attributed to the league’s new rookie wage scale. As Florio points out, the limits on salaries for draft picks under the new CBA means that there’s added incentive to get to the NFL early to put in time toward a second contract.
In addition to Bridgewater, underclassmen like Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, and Blake Bortles also declared their intent for the draft, and are expected to be top-10 picks. According to Jason Cole of the National Football Post, NFL executives expect about half the players selected in the first round to be early entrants.
The full list of underclassmen entering the draft can be found at NFL.com.