Canzano: Undrafted Oregon Ducks got 'horrible' NFL agent advice
Underclassmen should have returned to UO.
Verone McKinley, a fourth-year sophomore, gave up his final two years of eligibility at the University of Oregon and declared for the NFL Draft.
Nobody picked him.
Same thing for Mykael Wright, Devon Williams and CJ Verdell. All four Oregon players opted out of college early, went undrafted, and found themselves scrambling for free-agent invitations to NFL camps over the weekend.
“They got horrible advice,” said one UO program insider.
The Ducks had only one player — Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5 — selected among the 262 players picked in the 2022 NFL Draft. The alarming number of undrafted, early-entry candidates from Eugene raises questions.
Are NFL agents to blame?
Were there other factors?
And are there lessons that other Pac-12 underclassmen might benefit from learning?
The answers: Yes, Yes, and… Yes.
One agent who asked he not be identified, told me on Monday that bad advice “is a big problem” in the industry. He said that agencies are so desperate to represent a limited pool of new clients that they’ll routinely overpromise and underdeliver. It’s why getting unbiased advice is key for underclassmen.
“You are spot on with the premise — agent advice is the biggest issue,” the agent said. “They’re being overvalued by agents.”
Another year in college might have helped improve the draft standing and rookie earnings of all four Oregon players.
Consider that University of Georgia players Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis were both encouraged by agents a year ago to declare early for the draft. They were projected at the time as third-to-fifth round draft picks but both players opted to stay at Georgia for one more season.
They didn’t just win a national title together, they made millions by staying in school. Davis (6-foot-6 and 341 pounds) was selected in the first round, No. 13 overall, by the Philadelphia Eagles. Wyatt (6-foot-3, 304 pounds) was picked at No. 28 by the Packers. They end up a wonderful example of how patience and betting on yourself can pay off.
Are there other factors?
Williams, for example, was a fourth-year sophomore at Oregon. He was playing for his second university and facing a change of head coaches. Despite having only 577 receiving yards last year, he declared for the draft.
Said the agent: “A lot of guys have put in five years due to the pandemic and some guys are tired of college.”
Williams lost his mother to cancer last year. In the Instagram post announcing he was leaving college, the receiver noted that ex-UO assistant Bryan McClendon told him: “Tomorrow is not guaranteed, nobody promised you that.”
The former Ducks’ receiver wasn’t picked but signed a free-agent deal with the Ravens over the weekend. McKinley signed a free-agent contract with the Dolphins and Verdell inked with the Colts. They’ll go to mini-camp and fight for a roster spot or a place on a practice squad.
Previously those practice squads were limited to 10 players but during the last two COVID-19 affected seasons the NFL has allowed teams to carry 16. The prevailing thought is that the league will again have an enlarged practice squad so there may be a handful of extra opportunities for players who went undrafted.
Still, there’s a massive financial hit here.
If McKinley had been the fourth-round draft pick of the Dolphins — pick No. 121 overall — he would have made $927,000 in his rookie season. If he ends up on the Miami practice squad he’ll be paid $11,500 a week. McKinley may stick on an NFL roster but he’d have been far better off drafted.
Even dead last.
The 49ers picked Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy with the No. 262 pick of the draft. As the final selection, he gets the “Mr. Irrelevant” nickname and, more significantly, an NFL paycheck. He’ll make $727,655 his rookie season and that includes a $90,000 guaranteed bonus. The total estimated value of Purdy’s four-year rookie contract is $3.75 million.
“A draft pick is an investment in a player,” the agent said, “and GMs love their picks.”
It’s a draft-day lesson that Pac-12 underclassmen should study closely. The booster collectives that have formed in association with new name/image/likeness rules can play a positive role here, too.
Verdell rushed for 2,929 yards and 27 touchdowns in four seasons. He’s the program’s No. 6 all-time leading rusher. I’m wondering if the Ducks’ players who now find themselves in a scrap to make an NFL practice squad might have negotiated more than $11,500-a-week next season from Oregon’s booster collective (Division Street, Inc.).
“Bad agent advice is the biggest issue,” said the agent I spoke with.
The Oregon head coaching change from Mario Cristobal to Dan Lanning factored in at least one decision. Wright told reporters at the NFL Combine that he planned to come back for a final season in Eugene until Cristobal left for Miami in early December.
If he stayed in Eugene, Wright would have played for his third defensive coordinator in four seasons. I think he’d have been better off sticking around for Lanning, who has proven experience developing top defensive players. I doubt an agent vying to represent Wright would have told him that.
I reached out to several of the undrafted Ducks’ players and will update should they offer input. But I would be ticked if I were McKinley, Wright, Williams or Verdell.
It’s possible an agent gave them terrible advice. Or maybe they were all weary with the college experience and eager to get to the NFL. But there’s something about how this all went down that feels unsettling.
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This is a sad story that happens over and over and over again. Most players not only would benefit from staying in school to improve their draft prospects, but also to complete their educations. You have to be an exceptional college player just to make an NFL camp. Most major college players don't seem to grasp the quantum difference between the two levels. And even if a player makes a roster, the average career is over almost before it starts. JC blames unprincipled agents, and they do deserve blame. I also blame college recruiters who sell their programs as stepping stones to NFL stardom.
Sad for those young men but a hard lesson learned. Hopefully younger ones coming up will watch, read and digest what went on before them.