Ridgeway’s slide presents cautionary tale to those who decide to leave college early

Jacob Martella

Hassan Ridgeway left Texas a year early for the draft because the NFL College Advisory Committee gave him a second-round grade.

But the former Longhorn defensive lineman didn’t hear his name called during the first round last Thursday. Nor was his name called in the second or third round
on Friday.

Finally, the Indianapolis Colts selected Ridgeway in the middle of the fourth round, much later than he had hoped to go. And the slide ought to serve as a cautionary tale toward others looking to potentially leave college early for a shot at the pros.

Predicting the draft is no sure thing. Of the hundred or so mock drafts published in the days leading up to the draft, most, if not all, were inaccurate, especially after the first round.

Take Baylor’s Andrew Billings, also a defensive lineman, as an example. He announced he was foregoing his senior year on Jan. 12, a decision that was lauded by many who thought he could be a first-round pick.

But Billings fell six picks past Ridgeway, getting picked by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Others, however, weren’t so fortunate. Just under a third of the 96 players who gave up their remaining eligibility for a shot of the pros went undrafted, and most of them likely won’t be on the 53-man roster come September.

They now face a conundrum. They don’t have a set income, and they no longer have an athletic scholarship to finish out their degree. And now their situation is a lot tougher than it would have been if they had simply stayed for their last year on campus.

And then there’s the developmental side of things. Of those who left early and weren’t drafted, most, if not all, would have been better off staying and getting another year of development in the collegiate realm rather than in the pros, where the learning curve is steep, even for talented rookies.

Of course, there are many factors that go into the decision to leave early for the pros. Players aren’t paid by the NCAA — a debate for another day — and sometimes the short-term opportunity to earn money to support their families seems like the better play.

But those who are making that decision need to realize that the risk is real. Ridgeway and Billings were fortunate to get drafted, but not everyone will be as lucky. And it should stand as a reminder to future players who have to make that decision, that going pro early isn’t always the best option.