When Donovan Warren declared for the NFL draft many assumed he would be taken somewhere in the first 3 rounds. After displaying disappointing athleticism and speed at the NFL combine his stock has dropped, at least in the eyes of some analysts.
There have been a variety of reactions to this development, with most tending towards “he made a mistake”, “how sad for him”, and “is it too late to come back to Michigan?” This line of thinking makes no sense to me.
The implicit assumption is that Warren would have been better off had he returned for his senior season. But is that true?
Returning for a senior season brings a lot of risks to it, most notably the possibility of a major injury. It also includes a significant opportunity cost by missing a season of potential earnings in the NFL. Furthermore, the NFL may be implementing salary restrictions on rookies beginning in 2011 that further hinder his potential earnings.
The potential gains for returning for one more year are:
- Another year of college life / experience
- Potential improved draft stock
Reason 1 is a big deal to some people and a number of athletes (including Chris Webber) have expressed regret about leaving college life behind. OTOH, some kids hate putting up with school or for some other reason are ready to move on (e.g. don’t get along with college coach, family financial need). Warren didn’t seem to love school THAT much, so we can probably dismiss this issue in his case.
Reason 2 is often cited for guys that turn pro early, but its not like Warren is forever locked out of getting a college degree. If he wants a diploma he can still get one. Assuming he’s approaching graduation, he’d be able to go back to school easily after football (especially considering the money he’ll be making as a pro football player for at least the next few years. The signing bonus alone will cover it). In short, Plan B is still Plan B if football doesn’t work out. It’s just a few months further off. And he’ll probably get more out of school when not spending 40 hours a week on football.
Reason 3 is where the debate really begins.
Some players do have a lot to gain by performing well in the their senior seasons, particularly if they can make it into Round 1. However, Donovan has already proven to be a very good college player. Coming back for another season wouldn't make a major change in perceptions about him in that regard.
The reason he is (reportedly) falling in the eyes of evaluators is his 40 time. No matter how much magic you want to attribute to Barwis, there isn’t much he can do to change speed and considering Warren has been around for 2 years of Barwis, he’s probably progressed as far as he can.
As a result, Warren’s draft stock won’t be significantly different in 2011. You can argue that improved play would have bumped up his stock, but it might have done just as much to hinder it if he didn’t play any better or played worse. It’s a gamble, especially when you consider he’d be a year older and therefore viewed as having diminished “upside”.
The bottom line is that Warren considers himself an NFL player (and most talent evaluators agree); he'll be drafted and have a chance to prove himself as a professional. If hes not good enough, he'll be cut whether he's a 2nd round pick or a 5th round pick. It really doesn't make a huge difference. The pay differential from his rookie contract is offset by an additional season of playing football professionally (look at the differences between lower 2nd round picks to 3rd and 4th round guys - http://www.macsfootballblog.com/2009/05/2009-nfl-rookie-signing-status-team-by.html
- they generally aren’t that huge)
Warren didn't make a mistake. Most guys who are drafted are not making a mistake when they turn pro. The decision is the correct one when all the costs and benefits are factored in for most. The decision is only a mistake is if you’re immediately cut and never earn a penny as a pro football player or are really enjoying life as a collegiate athlete and will miss it more than you’ll appreciate the money you’ll earn as a pro.
While we as fans may have desperately wanted Warren to return for the sake of Michigan football, he made the right decision for himself. He's going to make a lot of money compared to most of us in a very short time frame. I wish him nothing but the best. Go Blue!
EDIT: Fixed spelling error and link