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Joe Hortiz: Expanded Junior Class Not A Problem


The Ravens are rolling up their sleeves and digging into examining the 2014 junior draft class.

It's a big one.

This year, there's a record 102 juniors that were granted exception by the NFL and thus allowed to enter the draft early. Last year, 73 juniors declared early for the draft. The year before, 56 did.

The first round is expected to be dominated by the underclassmen.

Some pundits and Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage have raised concerns over the swelling number of juniors, but Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz doesn't see it as a problem.

"I think it's just a trend that's started and grown every year," Hortiz said at the Senior Bowl.

"It's not like there was a spike and then a dip. More and more come out. Eventually they'll hit a tipping point when there are too many and guys won't get drafted and they'll be more apprehensive about coming out. We may find that this year, and we may not."

For the Ravens, more juniors simply means more work for the scouting department and coaches.

When the team's scouts go to schools during the fall, they're specifically watching the seniors, knowing they could be in the draft. While doing that, juniors stand out and the team takes notice. Sometimes a college coach will recommend watching an underclassman he thinks may enter the draft.

The Ravens' first scouting reports are due in December when the college regular season ends. It's about that time that buzz spreads about which juniors may enter the draft. At that point, the Ravens start more intently studying the juniors.

"We get at least one look on them, hopefully two, by the time we get into meetings in February," Hortiz said. "It's not the years' worth of background of developing a profile on a player. It's a more condensed time frame."

Since the Ravens – and all NFL teams – have less time to study the juniors, they have to shift into overdrive to develop a full profile on them.

"It's more hours of work," Hortiz said. "In a good way, the draft is two weeks later, so maybe that's your built-in time for the juniors."

The Ravens don't have a problem with drafting underclassmen high. In last year's first round, they took junior safety Matt Elam, who was just a two-year starter at Florida.

Often times, especially for juniors at the top of the draft, they have just as much experience as the seniors because their talent got them on the field sooner. If a senior and junior both have three years starting experience, what does it matter?

"I think it's a case-by-case scenario of who the player is," Hortiz said. "If you get a one-year starter as a junior, you probably wish he stayed in another year."

Those are the players that Savage is concerned about. The juniors that could be hurt by coming out early are the ones projected to be taken in later rounds.

"I thought it was bad to see 100-plus juniors come out into this draft," Savage said at the Senior Bowl. "I'm not talking about Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowny. I'm talking about the guy that's going to go in the fifth, sixth, seventh round. Had he stayed in school, he'd go in the second or third round the next year."

Savage has an invested reason to want more seniors. He oversees the senior All-Star game and wants as many good players as he can get. For those in NFL personnel offices, the influx of juniors in the draft is simply a fact of life.

"Obviously you like the guys that have completed their career and gained as much experience as they can," Hortiz said. "But it's a reality and you just deal with it when it happens."

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