Underclassmen beware

Two University of Tennessee football players who decided to bypass their senior seasons in favor of the NFL Draft must be seriously regretting those decisions right about now.

Guard Rob Smith and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel were projected to be second-day picks but neither was selected during any of the draft's seven rounds last weekend. Instead, both settled for bottom-dollar free-agent contracts. Had they remained at Tennessee and played reasonably well in 2006, each almost certainly would've been taken in the middle rounds of the 2007 NFL Draft, earning fat signing bonuses as a result.

You have to wonder if Vol teammate Robert Meachem noticed the misfortune that befell Smith and McDaniel because they left school prematurely. Meachem is a rising junior receiver who already is being pegged as a possibility to jump to the NFL following the 2006 season.

Perhaps he'll think long and hard about doing so, based on what happened to Smith and McDaniel.

The two undrafted Vol juniors weren't alone, either. Although nine of the underclassmen who opted for the 2006 Draft were picked in Round 1, nearly half – 22 of 49 – were not selected at all.

Several others, like Florida cornerback Dee Webb, might as well have been overlooked. Webb skipped his senior year because he thought he'd go on Day 1 of the draft. Instead, he was one of the last picks in Round 7. As a result, his first pro paycheck will be just a few dollars above those of Smith and McDaniel.

Odds are the misfortune that befell Smith, McDaniel and Webb will give Meachem pause next January, when the "go or stay" decision will be his to make.


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