As we approach the time of the year where the top prospects in college football decide to either declare for the draft or return to school, there is an interesting case study to be discussed regarding Alabama Wide Receiver John Metchie III, who suffered a devastating ACL tear in the SEC Championship.
Metchie led the Crimson Tide in receptions and was being discussed as a potential first round draft pick in the 2021 Draft. With injury clouding his stock, he has to make a choice that will influence both the Alabama Football program and the 2022 NFL Draft.
Metchie is an uber-talented, 6-foot, 195-pound receiver with a great catch radius, excellent twitch, and ability to separate, but after freshly suffering a significant injury, his stock will surely be affected.
The third year junior was projected as a potential first round pick, and if he was picked in the mid-20s, he would have made around $12.9M with a $6.7M signing bonus over four years (the contract of the No. 25 overall pick in 2021 — Travis Etienne).
Now it is reasonable to assume he would fall at least to the range of around the mid-40s. This payout structure would be far less lucrative, a 4-year deal worth around $7.6M with a $2.9M signing bonus (the contract of 2021 No. 45 overall, Walker Little).
Why would Metchie stay at Alabama instead of getting what is almost guaranteed money in the NFL? Well, if this were prior to July 1st of 2021, the argument is null and void. Now, the answer could lay in the rules that were passed this past offseason regarding Name, Image and Likeness.
The Case to Stay At Alabama
With his name recognition, profile, social media reach and star power at the most prominent program in all of college football, Metchie would be set to make top-tier NIL money if he were to stay. With Nick Saban saying earlier this year that Bryce Young, an unproven sophomore at the time had an NIL worth upwards of $1M going into the season, could Metchie come close to the same… or earn even more?
We’ve seen situations most recently with the No. 1 recruit in the country Travis Hunter flip his commitment from Florida State to Jackson State on the back of a possible NIL deal with Barstool Sports. NIL is helping shape the landscape of college sports. If Metchie goes back to school, he would stay in Tuscaloosa and be able to rehab in the familiar Alabama facilities, which are some of the best in the country. His rehab process would not be potentially interfered with by possibly rushing him back, as he’d be allowed to wait to play until fully healthy. Likewise, next year at Alabama he could be playing with one of the top 15-20 QBs in the world in Heisman winner QB Bryce Young. With two years of eligibility remaining, it would be entirely reasonable to assume that playing at Alabama for one more season, proving that he is healthy post-injury, and having high-end production in back-to-back seasons could potentially even raise his draft stock higher than before.
Jake Butt is one example of a similar situation. A terrific Tight End at the University of Michigan from 2013-2016, Butt amassed over 135 catches and 1,600 yards in his career in Ann Arbor. In his bowl game, the Orange Bowl against Florida State, Butt tore his ACL. He was coming off of a first-team All-American season and won the Mackey Award for the nation’s best tight end. Prior to the injury, NFL teams and scouts across the country had him as a sure-fire top 50 pick. Even post-injury, he was still suspected to be a Day 2 pick. As the draft rolled around, he was not selected until the 5th round by the Denver Broncos. Butt battled injuries throughout his career in the NFL and retired from professional football in June of 2021.
Other examples such as Jeffrey Simmons, Sydney Jones, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Poindexter and Caleb Farley show that injuries towards the end of the season, in the year a player declares, can set them back during the draft.
The Case for Declaring
With modern day doctors, medicine and surgical procedures being taken into account, it is highly reasonable to assume that Metchie will be similar, if not the same player, after recovering from his ACL injury. If he were to declare for the draft and be selected in the range that I expect (between 45-50), he would sign a 4-year contract worth around $6.7M—$7.6M, with between a $2.2M—$2.9M signing bonus. This would allow Metchie to possibly hit free agency a year sooner than he possibly could have prior to the injury (first round draft picks have a 5th year option that a team can pick up on the contract, while second round picks do not).
The decision will rely on what John Metchie and his family think is best for his future. Will he choose the path of staying at Alabama for his senior season, foregoing the draft, getting healthy, showing he can play at a high level, and entering the 2023 Draft? In this scenario, he would be stacking up NIL deals to make some money in the interim. Or will he make the decision to declare for the 2022 Draft knowing that his questionable medicals may cause him to fall, while assuring that he will make his dream of playing in the NFL and getting guaranteed money a reality?