5 Most Interesting Underclassmen Declarations

Photo: © Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

You call it the holiday season. Peppermint coffee, Mariah Carey on shuffle, tinsel and baubles and trees. Quality time with family as well, or something like that.

I call it Draft Szn -- namely, underclassmen declaration season. As a matter of face, we had our first significant declaration just earlier this week.

Isn't it beautiful? Like the first snowfall.

As underclassmen begin submitting their names to the College Advisory Committee to get an initial read on where they might fall come April, we can look at a few of the names likely to swing the balance. Underclassmen are declaring at an increasing rate every year, but that doesn't mean those decisions are easy or without nuance. Here are five underclassmen with interesting, class-altering declaration decisions awaiting them at the end of the season.

Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia (Junior)

I toyed with Jacob Eason here -- an interesting dynamic, in that he was Fromm's predecessor at Georgia -- but the layers of Fromm's declaration are just too interesting to pass up; Eason, on the other hand, would be returning to a Washington team bereft of five, six senior starters, if not an underclassman or two on offense. I don't think it's likely he returns, even if he's not fully ready for the NFL.

Fromm, on the other hand, has a suddenly complex decision to make. Less likely than not to be a Top-3 QB off the board, Fromm's draft position is strengthened by the injury to Tua Tagovailoa; and of course, Tua electing to return to school would only further raise Fromm into the national spotlight and first round conversation. That said, if Tua enters the 2020 NFL Draft pool, Fromm would have a clear window to return to the SEC as the most talented passer in the conference, barring a huge transfer to fill Tagovailoa or LSU QB Joe Burrow's shoes. That, coupled with a young Georgia team that will be grabbing experience entering 2020, is an enticing sell for the Bulldogs.

Fromm has, of course, won an SEC championship as a freshman in 2017 -- Alabama and Tagovailoa got the best of Fromm in the National Championship, however. If Fromm does have strong enough aspirations for the natty -- a hunger he's unlikely to sate this year, with Georgia's fringe No. 4 seed team -- that could push him into a return as well.

There's a lot nudging Fromm to stay, and given his current standing in this loaded 2020 class, I wouldn't be surprised if he does.

Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama (Junior)

Two things I know to be true: I think Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III will be better pros than Devonta Smith; and right now, Smith is playing ball like a potential first-rounder. Crazy what that tells you about Ruggs and Jeudy, huh?

Devonta is likely to come crashing back down to earth this season -- even before the Tagovailoa injury, he was gonna experience a regression to the mean in such a loaded receiving corps. But, when we take a quick glance over his season stats -- 56 receptions, 1026 yards, 18.3 yards/catch, 11 touchdowns -- and junior season film, we see the building blocks of a stud NFL Z: speed, release moves, fearless hands in the air and through contact, great body control and ball tracking ability. Dude's a field-stretcher on a team with college's best field stretcher already rostered; a short-area route-runner on a team with college's best short-area separator.

That's just unfortunate -- or maybe it's poor planning? Either way, the embarrassment of riches should encourage Smith to stay -- I'd imagine he gets a Day 2 grade from the advisory committee, while Ruggs and Jeudy both leave school with 1s. That said, Smith has out-produced both this season, and likely will again remain a secondary target at best on next year's Bama roster, with stud underclassmen Jaylen Waddle rising into a bigger role. So that big stay impetus may lose some of its edge when you remember the iron is here, hot, and now.

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State (Sophomore)

"But Ben, you silly tosser! This guy doesn't even have a link! He's a true sophomore, you knobhead! Get your act together!"

Right you are, right you are. Allow me to explain.

The NFL mandates that prospective NFL Draft applicants be removed from their high school graduation by at least three years before they declare. As such, the youngest college class level we typically see is the redshirt sophomore, in that three years passed from the redshirt year, the freshman year, and the sophomore year.

Freiermuth is a bit of an odd case: he spent a year at prep school between his high school graduation and his entrance into the Penn State football program, and accordingly, he is now finishing up his true sophomore year three years removed from his graduating high school.

If Freiermuth declares, he changes the landscape of both the tight end class and potentially the first round. Even from casual viewings, I can tell you that Freiermuth is a plus athlete for the position with soft hands, a big catch radius, and impressive YAC ability. I imagine I'll like him more than my current TE1, Purdue's Brycen Hopkins. And if he tests like Evan Engram and holds a candle to Evan Engram's film, I'll like him as a potential first-rounder as well.

Marvin Wilson, iDL, Florida State (Junior)

The DT class is wild, right? Derrick Brown, Javon Kinlaw, Raekwon Davis, Neville Gallimore: all seniors, all studs, all potential first-round picks.

So why would Marvin Wilson join it? Wilson is one of only two underclassmen in the TDN Consensus Top-10 iDL (Texas A&M redshirt junior Justin Madubuike) and if he were to return to school, I have no doubt that he would open the 2021 NFL Draft cycle as DT1 and a potential first-round pick in summer and fall mocks.

However: Florida State, you may have heard, is not doing too great at football this year; or last year; or the year before that. In fact, Florida State is experiencing a coaching change, having fired Willie Taggart, and likely will not be competitive next year in the ACC under whomever they end up hiring for the rebuild. Wilson wasn't recruited by Taggart's staff, but he did play for them for his entire career, and could look to make a clean break of it, instead of risking a new scheme biting into tremendous junior season numbers: 8.5 TFLs, 5 sacks, and 4 PBUs in 9 games.

He's only played in nine games because of a hand injury that sidelined him for the remainder of this season, however -- so he has to feel healthy enough to dominant the pre-draft process to declare. A lot to consider with this one.

Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State (Redshirt Sophomore)

And last but certainly not least, another potential first-rounder in Shaun Wade. While Wade's decision may not be terribly interesting -- it's more cut and dry than the rest -- it is worthy of a close eye for one simple reason: Wade is very, very good.

I think Wade is at least as good as teammate Jeffrey Okudah, which is a big deal, because Okudah's going Top-5 in mocks at this stage. Now, Wade has far less tape, and far less tape lined up on the outside than Okudah, which is gonna freak teams out. But that play which is available seems special to me: wade is the ideal size, has unbelievable ball tracking instincts and skills in the air, ridiculous click-close and hip-flipping action, and the necessary physicality to withstand bully-ball receivers. He's all that and a bag of chips.

If Wade elects to declare, it will be on the back of his redshirt sophomore season, with just over 20 games played. While teams will question that longevity and experience, to declare at that stage indicates that the advisory committee gave Wade a high-enough grade (read: Round 1) to justify the scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Ohio State will lose all three of its starting corners from this year's (championship?) run in Wade, Okudah, and Damon Arnette, who has parlayed a strong senior season into a likely Day 2 selection. Wade could have incentive to return to the Buckeyes to become CB1, but CB1s play WR1s and don't look as good as they did against WR2s and 3s -- that may prove a counterintuitive approach.

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

Director of Special Projects

Director of Special Projects and Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast. The 3-Wide Raven.

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