When Florida center Mike Pouncey was deciding whether to return for his senior season or leave for the NFL, he was overwhelmed with advice — from the NFL draft advisory committee to coaches, family and friends. Like most underclassmen, he struggled to decipher conflicting information and separate fact from fiction.
Ultimately, Pouncey returned, saying he realized another season could elevate his draft status. His former SEC opponent, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead, came to the opposite conclusion — and was one of seven underclassmen not selected in April.
The two are prime examples of the pitfalls for underclassmen trying to navigate their way through NFL draft decisions and the difficult position of college coaches trying to help them make sound decisions.
"Ultimately, they are like my kids and it's about what's best for them," Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "We're going to roll on, but you can't ever get in a situation where you're steering somebody for the good of you and not the good of them. That's first and foremost."
When Snead informed Mississippi coach Houston Nutt he was bypassing his senior season, Nutt believed it was a mistake. At one point, he had been considered one of the SEC's top quarterbacks. But Snead struggled in the second half of last season and finished with 20 interceptions. Nutt was concerned he needed another season.
"(ESPN draft analyst) Mel Kiper (before the season) had him as the first quarterback to be taken, and then he was going the wrong direction," Nutt said. "He turned the ball over. I think that's the biggest thing they looked at. I wanted him to stay, wanted him to come back. But I was surprised (he wasn't drafted).
"With Snead, it's mind-boggling to me that he came out and left Ole Miss with eligibility in college still remaining," Kiper said. "You can't fool the NFL. They know who can play and who can't play, for the most part.
"So based on the way he performed this year, it was no surprise he went undrafted. It's a shame he wasn't aware of that."
Snead, who graduated in December and signed with the Bucs, said he has no regrets.
"None at all," he said during last month's minicamp. "I'm happy to be here.
"If I had a chance to do it again, I'd do the same thing."
Pouncey returned to Florida while twin brother Maurkice was a first-round pick by Pittsburgh.
"Everybody was telling me to leave," Mike Pouncey said. "I listened to the NFL people, but mostly I listened to my coaches. Coach Addazio talked to me about how I could get better with another year and I could be one of the best centers in the nation. That was important to me."
For college coaches, there is a fine line between advising an athlete yet allowing him to make his own decision.
"There's got to be a trust," Addazio said. "If there's no trust, then what you have to say is not very valuable."
The NFL provides feedback to players through its advisory board, but some question whether it's enough. South Carolina and former NFL coach Steve Spurrier said the league does everything it can.
"The players just don't listen," Spurrier said. "They get some little agent … that tells them they are going to be a first-rounder (and not to) listen to those coaches (who) just want you to play again. But all the statistics tell us and the facts proved that you should stay and play unless you are a first-round pick. It's as simple as that. But players don't listen."
Like Spurrier, many coaches have a simple rule when it comes to advising players: absent extenuating circumstances, first round or stay put.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher gave an example of extenuating circumstances from his time as LSU's offensive coordinator.
"In 2002, (receiver) Josh Reed left LSU. He … won the Biletnikoff (award), set the SEC record for yards; just a phenomenal player," Fisher said. "Even though he was going to be a late first, early second, because of his stature — he was a 5-foot-11, 205-pound guy, a 4.55 (40-yard dash) guy — no matter what he did (if he came back), he wasn't going to change a lot of that.
"Even if he had great numbers again, he was still going to be that same guy. So if it wasn't going to benefit you, he was ready to graduate, then you go."
The Bills took Reed with the fourth pick of the second round. Last season, his eighth with them, he caught 27 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown.
"If you're not in a situation where you can up your status and really move into that elite group and you're not in that first round," Fisher said, "then I don't think you should go."
Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report. Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.