Column: NFL should abolish 3-year rule, ya feel me?

Samuel Gordon

Gophers redshirt senior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman has spent five years at Minnesota developing into a top NFL prospect.

Meanwhile, about 1,200 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been ready for two years.

And still, Clowney will have to ride out the rest of the season, playing on Saturdays when he should be playing on Sundays.

Clowney, who has dealt with nagging injuries all year, pulled himself from the lineup minutes before Saturday’s game against Kentucky to the dismay of head coach Steve Spurrier.

“If he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to,” Spurrier told the Associated Press. “If he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to.”

And the truth is he shouldn’t have to play.

The Rock Hill, S.C., native is an elite NFL prospect who, if he had been eligible, could have been selected No. 1 overall after his sophomore season.

But the NFL’s draft eligibility rules dictate a player must be three years removed from high school before he is eligible for selection.

The NFL is telling young men they aren’t allowed to try and make a living.

Though every other 18-year-old can take advantage of his or her talents, young football players have to wait.

This rule is especially egregious because the NCAA refuses to pay players. If players were compensated, then the rule would be somewhat justifiable.

But this is football, where injury risk is far greater than any other sport.

Clowney’s teammate Marcus Lattimore blew out his knee twice at South Carolina and, in turn, his draft stock plummeted.

Lattimore was one of the top running backs in the country as a freshman and already had NFL-caliber ability. Those two knee injuries cost him millions of dollars.

If a freshman or sophomore thinks he is ready for football on Sundays, then he should be able to declare for the draft.

Those NFL teams can draft these guys at their discretion. If a kid declares and isn’t picked, that’s his fault.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with denying players the right to pursue a career based on age when their careers can take a turn for the worse on any play.

The bone spurs in Clowney’s foot probably aren’t enough to discourage NFL executives from selecting him with a high pick in the 2014 draft, but a torn ACL might.

That’s a possibility Clowney must face every time he steps on the field this year.

And that’s the reality for several NFL-ready underclassmen every single week.

Ya feel me?