NFL developmental league could better protect players

By Assistant Sports & Health Editor

Some of the greatest college football players of the last decade have quickly gone from surefire first round picks to NFL washouts seemingly overnight. 

The NFL is still the only major sport without some type of developmental league, and players with ridiculous amounts of talent, athleticism and potential continue to be unfairly labeled as disappointments because they have no opportunity to develop their game to the fullest.

Free agent quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor, Tim Tebow and more recently Tajh Boyd are some of the best examples of this. All three put up incredible numbers in college and seemed destined for stardom but fell short when their numbers were called. 

To say that college football prepares its athletes for the NFL is like saying that high school prepares its students for college. Sure some do, but they are the exception to the rule. 

In college football, players compete against other students, some as young as 18 or 19 years old. In the NFL, players compete against grown men. The offenses are more complex to learn, and defenses can easily confuse a rookie with zone blitzes and disguised coverage.

In fact, it would not be far-fetched to say that the style of offense players run in college almost ensures they fail. Keeping a quarterback in the spread formation for the majority of his snaps does not translate to the NFL very well given that a good number of the plays are run from under center.  

MLB almost always place its first-round draft picks in its respective developmental leagues. For example, Kris Bryant—whom the Chicago Cubs picked second in the 2013 MLB draft—dominated the minors this year.

In 138 minor league games, Bryant hit a combined .325 batting average with 43 home runs and 110 RBIs but never came within sniffing distance of his first major league start. The Cubs want Bryant to develop his game and ensure that he is completely ready for the majors before it hires him. 

Meanwhile, in the NFL, how do first-round picks such as Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles develop their skills? They sit on the bench for an entire year, or at least until their team loses enough to forfeit any chance of playoff contention. New draft picks are tossed into a bunch of meaningless games and expected to perform at the highest level without any experience. 

The NFL needs to take a hint from the other major sports. Players are not going to learn how to master their craft on the field by simply watching other players do it. If it were that easy, anyone who watches football three days a week would be equally qualified to play in the NFL.

Players learn by doing, and with a developmental league, players like Pryor, Boyd and Tebow can do exactly what they need to do—develop their game. 

The NFL needs a developmental league. No, not the United Football League where NFL has-beens and burnouts used to take their careers to die. Not NFL Europe either, which was sort of backed by the NFL but not really supported because no one in Europe wanted to watch it and no one in America wanted to broadcast it.

The NFL needs a real developmental league—one that is fully funded, owned and operated by the NFL and its teams. Any TV station desperate for viewers or anxious to break into the sports market would happily televise it, and the NFL could easily charge them a few million dollars per season to do so. 

Many athletes, both those who make it in the NFL and those who do not, work hard to get a chance. A lot of them end up fumbling their dreams—and in most cases, the football—away.

Many of these athletes went to college on scholarships and skated by, if they graduated at all. While players like North Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton spend their offseason finishing their degrees, many do not.

To put it bluntly, when football does not pan out and they have a high school diploma, some college and no skills that translate to jobs off the field, there are not a great deal of realistic job opportunities.

A developmental league could prevent talented players from falling through the cracks or at least give them a better shot at success than they have now. It will not help every player, but it will help those who need more time to develop than others. Given all of the hard work and dedication these athletes put in, is that not the least the NFL can do?