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What College Stars Can Learn from NFL Players Ditching Millions to Retire Early

If you’re Myles Jack, UCLA's gifted linebacker who's less than a year away from being allowed to leave for the NFL, the past week provided much food for thought. It provided yet another reminder that playing football at the professional level can be incredibly lucrative. It’s also showcased that the career window for these same professionals is shrinking at a frantic pace.

Watching all the money thrown at NFL free agents has been a magnificent circus—an unending  parade of champagne, private jets, steaks, guaranteed zillions and a showcase for all the work required to make it that far. Any talented player currently operating in the NFL’s farm system has probably spent a good portion of the last few days gazing at all those zeroes scrolling across the bottom of their televisions, wondering if one day that might be them.

As the spectacle consumed the sporting world’s interests, however, another significant and far more impactful development took shape. Three NFL players, all with the opportunity to earn millions of guaranteed dollars on the table—some through existing contracts and others as free agents—decided that, despite the market for their services, they had endured enough.

For reasons only important to them, Jake Locker (26), Jason Worilds (27) and Patrick Willis (30) all announced that they were leaving the NFL in unexpected fashion.

Locker, despite his struggles to develop at the next level, would have been given millions to continue playing quarterback. Worilds, one of the best free-agent pass-rushers available, would have been given a parking lot fill of Brinks trucks in guaranteed income. And Willis, still operating on a lucrative deal with the 49ers, had millions of reasons to play just a few more seasons.

He also had plenty of reasons not to continue his career anymore.

“Honestly, I pay attention to guys when they’re finished playing, walking around like they’ve got no hips and they can’t play with their kids. They can barely walk,” Willis told reporters when announcing his retirement. “People see that and they feel sorry, but they don’t realize it’s because he played a few extra years.

“For me, there’s more to my life than football. It has provided an amazing platform for me to build on, but it’s my health first and everything else just kind of makes sense around it.”

If you’re Myles Jack, maybe the most athletic collegiate linebacker to take the field since Willis gobbled up running backs at Ole Miss, this decision certainly carries weight. It shouldn’t alter the way the sport is viewed, although it does provide something to mull over.

I still remember watching Willis work in the SEC, closing at remarkable speeds and doing so with a giant club on his hand to protect a body that was already breaking down. At the time, he seemed invincible. That feeling carried over into his professional career when he was almost always the best player on the field. We haven’t seen many like him.

But now he is retired, and the superstar many current student-athletes grew up watching has essentially stated that, even with mounds of guaranteed money there for the taking—the kind of money most of us can’t begin to even wrap our minds around—it is no longer worth it.

That’s a powerful message, and it’s one not just reserved for a single player.  

None of the three recent retirees has gone as far to recommend a different career path to stars of the future, nor would you expect them to. The reason they are able to walk away without remorse is thanks in large part to the sum of money they acquired during their tenures.

The fact that they were able to say goodbye with large bank accounts isn’t everything, but it is something. It made the choice a little more tolerable—at least from an outsider perspective.

Worilds, while trying to explain his decision through social media, explained as such.

There's a problem. But if you constantly factor in money you'll never figure the equation.

— Jason Worilds (@WorildsGreatest) February 6, 2015

The risks haven’t necessarily changed. Since 2006, the last time we saw Willis terrorize the SEC, we’ve become familiar with the very real dangers that come with a prolonged career in the sport.

We know more about head trauma than we did back then, although there is still so much to learn. We know more about the impact it can (and almost certainly will) have on the body, but again, we’re generations away from understanding the full picture. The fact that players are willing saying goodbye in the primes of their careers underscores this increase in knowledge…and also the vast sums of money poured into the sport.

The strange combination has created a brand of football that will almost certainly (and likely for the better) shorten the careers of the average NFL player. If more players are interested in preserving their bodies and minds for life after football, that’s a quality development in the sport.

Losing stars earlier than ever is not a reality the average fan wants to stomach, although the reasoning behind it is impossible to argue.

While all of this transpires, the future of the NFL is watching. Underclassmen are told when they are allowed to leave, and they have until a certain date after their third year of eligibility to decide.

While we often throw on our scout hats around that time of year—proclaiming each and every decision to leave early as either good or bad— it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the biggest risk exists in allowing the football clock to tick away another year.

Even those without a first- or second-round grade have more reason than ever before to see what’s out there.

For years, I have preached the same message to successful products of the NFL’s farm system: leave as quickly as you can if there’s a living to be made or even if you’re on the cusp of making one. Playing football for the price of a degree is not a worthwhile trade.

Education, as callous as this is to type, can wait.

That message has not wavered. If anything, given the direction the sport is headed and youth becoming one of the game’s great commodities, it’s only intensified.

College football stars of now and of the future, don’t just leave when you can: If you’re remotely close to making a living out of this—and that’s the desired path you want to take—sprint toward that goal as quickly as possible and don’t look back at the rest of us.

Education will always be there, even if an early departure results in some money out of pocket down the line to complete a degree. While we often assume that a fringe NFL player returning for his senior year of college will capitalize on enormous wealth, the risk of being patient is a different kind of gamble entirely—at least for some.

This theory does not apply for everyone. It’s not directed at you, backup right tackle on South Dakota State. But an “amateur” athlete close enough to turning his craft into a profession should explore those options if that’s the life he wants.

He doesn’t have to be the next Patrick Willis to make that decision—in all but a handful of rare cases, he won’t be. Even a minimum salary in the NFL will net nearly a half-million dollars in one year these days, which is enough to pay for a house, support a family and go back to school if and when that time comes.

Selfishly, I don’t want these players to leave. Star power and personality are what drives the sport. Their presence makes my job easier and it improves the overall quality of the game.

I would love to see Myles Jack exhaust his eligibility at UCLA, quite simply because it’s fun watching exceptional players do exceptional things. I would love two more years of Robert Nkemdiche, Joey Bosa, Laremy Tunsil, Ezekiel Elliott, Laquon Treadwell and countless others who will be allowed to leave soon.

But deep down, we know. The NFL’s recent run of unexpected and early departures only helped solidify those thoughts.

If you can get paid to play football, go get paid to play football. There is a fortune awaiting those lucky enough to make it that far and, more importantly, a limited time to make it.

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ACC Football: Ranking Conference's Best Rivalries

Over the years, ACC football has managed to put together some impressive rivalries. Some have been building for years now, while others are just starting to heat up. Regardless, the excitement leading up to the following games is always incredible.

Expect to see these rivalries continue to keep us on the edge of our seats for years to come. While some teams may dominate for stretches of 10-plus years, the best part of these matchups is that things can truly take a turn at any point.

Let's look at the best rivalries in the conference, not only of all-time, but also the ones that have begun to heat up in recent years.

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The Unknown 2016 WR Turning Heads at the Opening Regional

Dock Luckie (class of 2016) is an unrated WR out of Gainesville, Florida, who is not exactly on many schools' radars. But after an excellent performance at the Orlando showcase, Luckie is a name that many on the recruiting trail will now know. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Luckie's game and what type of trajectory he expects for him entering the summer. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

New SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey Is Perfect Fit

The search for the next leader of college football's most powerful conference is over, and all it took was a walk down the hall of the SEC office in Birmingham.

Greg Sankey, who currently serves as the Executive Associate Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the conference, will take over for Mike Slive in August after Slive retires, the conference announced in an emailed statement on Thursday.

Sankey commented on his new role within the conference in the statement:

The universities of the SEC represent the greatest combination of academic and athletic excellence and I am honored to be selected to follow Mike Slive as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. The SEC is poised to make a difference in the lives of student-athletes for generations to come.  We must ensure that the lessons they learn from their achievements in competition and in the classroom translate into success in life after college.

He's the perfect fit for the SEC and college football.

A native of New York who earned his bachelor's degree at State University of New York College at Courtland and a Master's from Syracuse, Sankey served as the commissioner of the Southland Conference from 1996-2002. 

He's already been received well from the SEC's heavy-hitters, most of whom are gathered in Nashville at the men's basketball tournament.

"Greg Sankey has a wealth of experience in college athletics and has a better knowledge of the NCAA policies and procedures than anyone in our profession," Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs told Bleacher Report. 

Over the last few years in his role with the SEC, he has been at the forefront of many pressing issues in college athletics.

He has served as the vice-chair on the NCAA Division I Legislative Council and been a member of the Division I Committee on Infractions, according to AL.com's Bob Carlton. More recently, he's been leading the charge to promote player welfare, the quest for full cost-of-attendance stipends and the push for autonomy for the Power Five football conferences.

"Anytime we’re in a meeting and the agenda comes up with NCAA issues whether it’s legislation or autonomy discussions, it’s the Greg Sankey show," Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said in October, according to the Associated Press (via the Marietta Daily Journal). "He’s the guy that walks us through things that a lot of times can be a lot of minutiae."

Simply put, he's been groomed for this from Day 1, which is a big reason why Bleacher Report, CBSSports.com and several other outlets had Sankey pegged as Slive's successor from the moment Slive announced his retirement last fall. 

Like Slive, he walks softly but carries a big stick.

He has a firm grasp on the history of college athletics, what needs to be preserved and what could be changed to benefit the student-athlete, the school and the bottom line. He's a visionary who is pragmatic with how he approaches his job.

"He has been a tremendous resource for the SEC member institutions when we have navigated through complex issues on campus and at the conference and national level," Jacobs said. "A man of great integrity, Greg is the most intelligent athletic administrator I know and is the perfect person to lead the Southeastern Conference."

Simply put, Sankey is a "Mike Slive clone" and the right fit to lead the SEC into the new age of college athletics.


Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Auburn Spring Buzz: Muschamp Takes Control of Defense; Who Breaks out at RB?

The Auburn Tigers are looking to rebound from a disappointing end to their 2014 season. With Will Muschamp hired to lead the defense, this team is bound to show some promise in the upcoming season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee offers his thoughts and observations from Auburn's spring practices. 

Who emerges at running back? Is Jeremy Johnson the man at QB? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Coaches Who Could Easily Recruit for School's Basketball Team

Even though spring practice is well underway for college football teams throughout the country, March belongs to college basketball. The gridiron game takes a back seat to the madness on the hardwood, yet many football coaches still find a way to integrate themselves into that other sport.

Earlier this month, when Georgia's basketball team hosted top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky, Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt capitalized on the excitement by taking several notable recruits to that game.

Richt is one of a handful of college football head coaches whose recruiting savvy is such that they could probably help the basketball program land top talent as well.

Who else is on that list? Scroll through to see our picks.

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Alabama Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2015 Schedule

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s not too early to look ahead to the 2015 season. It never is in Tuscaloosa.

Fans have been doing so since the last seconds ticked off the clock in New Orleans.

Unlike in previous years, this year’s schedule does the Crimson Tide few favors. Gone is the SEC East rotation of a down Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Vandy. This year, Alabama has to go to Athens, Georgia.

Tennessee is on the rise, and the SEC West is as brutal as ever.

Let’s look ahead to the slate and rank Alabama’s toughest games of 2015.

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What to Make of Braxton Miller Refusing to Talk to the Media

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A few minutes into his meeting with the media on Thursday, Cardale Jones was asked what he thinks is going on in Braxton Miller's head as he attempts to rehab from an injury while preparing for an unprecedented quarterback battle.

Jones was honest, admitting it was a tough question for him to answer.

"I have no clue. No clue at all," Jones responded. "He always comes out here with a great smile, and he's always leading guys in a positive direction, but I don't know what he's thinking."

And at the moment, neither does anyone else.

Ohio State quarterbacks were scheduled to meet with the media on Thursday after the Buckeyes took part in their second practice of the spring session. But while it was originally anticipated by OSU officials that Miller would talk to reporters, he opted to return to the OSU locker room, leaving Jones and J.T. Barrett to answer about his future.

"I think it's ridiculous, honestly," Barrett said of speculation Miller would use his ability as a graduate transfer to take his talents elsewhere this offseason.

It very well may be. But there's no reason why Miller couldn't have been the one to say so.

Miller hasn't spoken publicly since tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder last summer, bringing an end to his 2014 season before it ever got started. That's not necessarily uncommon, as injured players don't have reason to comment on a season they aren't taking part in, but Miller's refusal to talk on Thursday raised the eyebrows of many media members in attendance at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

The questions for the introverted Miller wouldn't be the same as they were for Jones and Barrett, as there's simply more uncertainty surrounding his situation. But his decision to duck the media left the impression that as of now, nothing has been decided when it comes to his future.

It remains unclear whether his shoulder will even recover to the point where the two-time Big Ten MVP will be able to play quarterback again, and if it does, it's unknown whether or not he'll do so at Ohio State. The circumstances were different, but when Russell Wilson transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin in 2011, he didn't do so until the summer before the start of the season.

The transfer speculation surrounding Miller was abundant all winter and perhaps hit a peak when the senior signal-caller accidentally favorited a tweet indicating he was rooting for Oregon and against Ohio State in the national title game. Miller took to Twitter to acknowledge that favoriting the tweet was an accident but has yet to speak—or tweet—about the speculation itself.

Thursday gave him an opportunity to do just that with a platform to publicly deny that he would consider taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule that would grant him immediate eligibility at another school. Had Miller spoken to reporters, it would have been a strong indication that he intends on remaining in Columbus this fall, no matter how painful the questions may have been for him to answer.

Instead, Miller's refusal to answer questions—just as he did in open locker rooms at the Big Ten Championship Game and subsequent playoff games—gave the impression that he's keeping his options open for the foreseeable future. If Miller wants to see how his shoulder heals before going on record with anything, that's certainly understandable, but that's far from a guarantee he'll be back with the Buckeyes this fall.

Miller's only public statement since last August came at Ohio State's national title celebration on Jan. 24 when he told fans in attendance it was a, "privilege and honor to be part of this team. Guess what, we've got another year to do it. So go Bucks."

Afterward, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer downplayed the Huber Heights, Ohio, native's statement, admitting that his status for 2015 was still unclear.

"He's in a unique situation," Meyer said. "We'll cover that later."

At the moment, Miller remains at Ohio State, rehabbing his shoulder while taking part in a limited role in the Buckeyes' spring practice. Meyer even said there was something special about seeing the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year back in a scarlet and gray helmet and his No. 5 jersey for the first time since he injured his shoulder last summer.

"I just love seeing him out there," Meyer said. "I love Braxton Miller. I always have. He's always done what I asked him to. He's a selfless guy who works really hard. I am excited to see that guy out there going through the drills."

For now, that may be enough for Miller, as he attempts to rehab and recover to the point that he's able to resume his career as a quarterback.

But until he speaks, the speculation about his future is only going to continue. And there's only one way for him to put it to an end.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ole Miss Spring Buzz: Chad Kelly 'Perfect Fit' for Offense, Who Steps Up at RB?

The Ole Miss Rebels are coming off one of the most successful seasons in their program's history. But this is a new season, and it starts with spring practice. 

Bleacher Report college football analyst Barrett Sallee offers his takes on Ole Miss' key issues and hot topics in the video above. 

How will new quarterback Chad Kelly fit in Hugh Freeze's offense? Check out the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: 10 Biggest Defensive Battles in 2015 Spring Practice

The pads are popping, whistles are blowing and spring football is in the air around the SEC.

On the defensive side of the ball, that means positions battles are raging among players who have the talent to develop into stars in the SEC.

What are the best position battles in the conference?

Our picks based on talent, opportunity and importance to a team's overall outlook are in this slideshow.


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NFL Coaches Who Should Come Back to College

Chip Kelly's not on the list.

Before we start, let's get that out of the way. No matter how one feels about the former Oregon and current Philadelphia Eagles head coach, he's not going anywhere—and he shouldn't. He's won 10 games in each of his first two seasons.

There are, however, a handful of NFL coaches whose best choice would be dropping back to college. They proved they could succeed at the FBS level, but they haven't attained as much success in the pros.

That doesn't mean they can't succeed in the pros at some point. All it means is that, currently, their best opportunities lie in college.

Certain coaches just belong there.

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Devin Funchess: Breaking Down Michigan WR's Pro Day Workout

Devin Funchess wasn't at his best during this past February's NFL combine in Indianapolis. But according to several reports, the former Michigan receiver gained some ground during his NFL pro day workout at Michigan. 

The 6'5", 232-pounder blew away his previous 4.7-second 40-yard dash in front of scouts Thursday at Al Glick Field House in Ann Arbor, per DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline:

Prior to working out for scouts, Funchess trained with strength and conditioning coach Jim Kielbaso of Total Performance Training Center. Kielbaso was clearly impressed with what he saw during Funchess' sprint: 

Several scouts, per Kielbaso, clocked Funchess in the 4.5-range:

Shaving roughly two-tenths of a second from a 40-yard dash is nothing short of incredible. The additional boost could push Funchess back into the first-round conversation. He indeed proved that he possesses "sneaky" speed to complement his prototypical frame. 


See to Believe  

Delonte Hollowell, a defensive back, and Devin Gardner, a quarterback/receiver, also joined Funchess during pro day at Michigan. 

Former Wolverines star wideout Roy Roundtree showed support with fewer than 140 characters:

Michigan football Twitter posted shots of the action:


Getting Results

Funchess left the workout with a positive outlook, per ESPN's Michael Rothstein:

During the NFL combine, Funchess posted a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, 12 bench reps of 225 pounds, a 38.5” vertical leap and 10’2” broad jump—respectable marks, no less, but not what most expected. Once thought to be a mid-first-rounder, Funchess left the combine looking like a second-rounder. He was rated the No. 66 overall prospect of the draft, ranked No. 11 among receivers.

At 6’5” and 232 pounds, Funchess has deceptive speed that isn’t always recognized by a stopwatch. He’s a player who can turn on the jets during stressful situations, which comes in handy; however, he’s certainly an on-again-off-again type of receiver who needs to work on consistency, not flash.

Funchess finished his junior year with 62 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns, a mere fraction of what he could have done. But to be fair, he was relentlessly hampered by a lower body/leg injury for most of the season.


Draft Guys' Thoughts

Dane Brugler of CBS broke down the strengths and weaknesses of the towering down-field threat, calling Funchess a high-risk/high-reward type of player. The following is a quick summary of Brugler’s thoughts:

  • Funchess has ideal size, which is his No. 1 strength.
  • Funchess has shown “route development,” but still lacks focus during the catching process.
  • A “lean build” could be an issue down the road for Funchess, who could stand to add bulk to his frame.
  • Funchess’ reach and catch radius is an absolute plus—and so is his “freak” flexibility.

In short, Brugler feels that Funchess has the tools to be an NFL receiver—he says that Funchess just needs to work on absorbing contact and completing catches. Drops were a major issue for Funchess in 2014.

NFL.com analyst Mike Huguenin feels that Funchess could be a fit for the New Orleans Saints, who recently traded star tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks.

“There's some definite upside with Funchess, and he would be an interesting fit for the Saints with their second-round pick,” he wrote prior to Funchess’ pro day.

Huguenin also noted that Funchess played just one full season as a wide receiver at Michigan—that could certainly influence the perception of Funchess come draft day.

Then again, when you're 6'5", 232 pounds and run a legitimate 4.5-second 40-yard dash, there's not much left to question. He has first-round talent. That's never been in doubt.

There are only two big questions surrounding Funchess: 1. Does he have first-round hands? 2. Does he have a first-round work ethic? 


Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Note: Official results will be posted Thursday night on MGoBlue, per Michigan's athletic department. Check back for the updated stats and information. 

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