NEW YORK -- Cam Newton and Nick Fairley of national champion Auburn are among 56 non-seniors who applied for April's NFL draft - a record total, but only three more players than left college early a year ago.
The uncertainty surrounding the league's labor situation does not appear to have had a significant effect on underclassmen opting to declare for the draft. The NFL released the names on Wednesday, and it's the fifth time in the past seven years that more than 50 players were granted what the league calls "special eligibility.''
There were 53 players in 2010 and 2008, the previous high; 52 in 2006; 51 in 2005.
Newton, a quarterback, and Fairley, a defensive tackle, are joined by three other All-American juniors heading to the draft: Kentucky receiver-returner Randall Cobb, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.
There weren't any surprising additions to the list - or omissions. Most underclassmen who were deciding whether to enter the draft had made their choices public by Saturday's deadline to tell the NFL they wanted to leave school early. Players then had 72 hours to withdraw their names, but no significant players changed their minds.
One top underclassman not on the list: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who had said he would be returning to school. His father, former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, said they discussed the possible lockout in the league but that wasn't a decisive factor in Andrew's choice.
The draft is April 28-30, even if there is no new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires in early March. If owners lock out the players - as the union expects - rookies wouldn't be able to sign contracts until a new CBA is in place.
Among the factors underclassmen might have considered:
- It's possible there won't be a 2011 NFL season at all, so players leaving college could wind up sitting out an entire year.
- Even if an agreement is reached in time for next season to be played, the timing of a deal might result in shortened training camps or no minicamps, so a rookie would have less time to learn his new team's system and prove he deserves to start - or, in some cases, even make the roster.
- Owners are intent on having a rookie wage scale be part of a new CBA. Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote about "the outrageous sums paid to many unproven rookies'' in a recent letter sent to fans about the labor situation, and such a change could apply to the 2011 draft class.
- Entering the pros sooner starts a player's NFL "clock'' sooner, moving him closer to his second contract and free agency, which could be particularly attractive if a rookie wage scale is created.
Still, in a telephone interview before last weekend's deadline, agent Peter Schaffer said he didn't think a potential lockout was affecting decisions.
"I really don't believe the uncertainty of the labor situation is skewing decisions one way or another in any significant proportion,'' Schaffer said. "It's pretty much been business as usual.''
The NFL Draft will start in primetime for the second consecutive year. The first round will be held on Thursday, April 28. The second and third rounds are set for Friday, April 29. Rounds 4-7 will be held on Saturday, April 30. The entire NFL Draft will be televised by NFL Network and ESPN.
Each of the 56 players has met the league's three-year eligibility rule and each has submitted a written application in which he renounced his remaining college football eligibility. The deadline for receiving applications was January 15.
The players granted special eligibility for the 2011 NFL Draft:
Adams, Darvin — WR — Auburn
Austin, Marvin — DT — North Carolina
Ayers, Akeem — LB — UCLA
Baldwin, Jon — WR — Pittsburgh
Bowers, Da'Quan — DE — Clemson
Brown, DeAndre — WR — Southern Mississippi
Burton, Brandon — DB — Utah
Casey, Jurrell — DT — Southern California
Clay, John — RB — Wisconsin
Claytor, Nick — T — Georgia Tech
Cobb, Randall — WR — Kentucky
Dareus, Marcell — DE — Alabama
Doss, Tandon — WR — Indiana
Evans, Darren — RB — Virginia Tech
Fairley, Nick — DT — Auburn
Gabbert, Blaine — QB — Missouri
Green, A.J. — WR — Georgia
Gurley, Tori — WR — South Carolina
Guy, Lawrence — DT — Arizona State
Hamler, Jamel — WR — Fresno State
Harper, Jamie — RB — Clemson
Harris, Brandon — DB — Miami
Hill, Will — DB — Florida
Houston, Justin — LB — Georgia
Hynoski, Henry — RB — Pittsburgh
Ingram, Mark — RB — Alabama
Jones, Julio — WR — Álabama
Keiser, Thomas — LB — Stanford
Leshoure, Mikel — RB — Illinois
Lewis, Dion — RB — Pittsburgh
Lewis, Javes — DB — Oregon
Little, Greg — WR — North Carolina
Liuget, Corey — DT — Illinois
Mallett, Ryan — QB — Arkansas
Moore, Rahim — DB — UCLA
Newton, Cam — QB — Auburn
Parr, Zane — DE — Virginia
Peterson, Patrick — DB — Louisiana State
Quinn, Robert — DE — North Carolina
Ridley, Stevan — RB — Louisiana State
Rodgers, Jacquizz — RB — Oregon State
Rudolph, Kyle — TE — Notre Dame
Sands, Robert — DB — West Virginia
Sash, Tyler — DB — Iowa
Siliga, Sealver — DT — Utah
Smith, Aldon — DE — Missouri
Smith, Torrey — WR — Maryland
Smith, Tyron — T — Southern California
Tarrant, Jerrard — DB — Georgia Tech
Todman, Jordan — RB — Connecticut
Vereen, Shane — RB — California
Watt, J.J. — DE — Wisconsin
Wilkerson, Muhammad — DT — Temple
Williams, Aaron — DB — Texas
Williams, Ryan — RB — Virginia Tech
Wilson, Martez — LB — Illinois