- Tania Ganguli, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- What's been talked about a lot regarding this draft is how deep it is.
Part of the reason for that depth is the record number of underclassmen who declared for the draft. Eighty-five of them are at the combine.
Youth comes with pitfalls, though.
"Any time you're talking about juniors, that's a concern," Tennessee general manager Ruston Webster said. "Young players, players that are 21 or whatever. We have to do our research. Any of those guys that we draft, we have to feel good that they're mature enough to come in here and handle playing on an NFL team, being in an NFL city and being high profile."
They're definitely questions the Houston Texans will have to consider as they make the first overall selection. Two of the most talked-about options for that pick -- Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel -- are both underclassmen with some maturity concerns.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert went stronger in both his praise for the talent in this class and his concern about their readiness.
"I've been doing this for 30 years; this is the deepest draft that I've ever seen," Colbert said. "We felt that way even before. I wouldn't say it was the deepest draft before the underclassmen came in but even during the fall our scouts were talking about the senior class was a pretty good class. ... The juniors added into it make it a very talented group.
"The one thing you talk about with these juniors and underclassmen redshirt sophomores, we're very cautiously optimistic about their emotional and physical readiness for this. This is a huge jump. Even though it's a more talented group, the most talented group I've seen, I'm also worried it's probably the most immature group and we have to be prepared for more player development type of programs."
Knowing you're dealing with more immaturity is an important tool in making the most of the players you draft. I wouldn't shy away from a guy who isn't emotionally ready yet, but the team who drafts guys like that has to be prepared. Player development means more than developing skill on the field.
One aspect Colbert talked about that I think is especially important is that players might deal with failure early in their career, and bouncing back from that is a big part of how successful their careers will be.
"It's an educated guess. Experience has told us a lot of these younger players aren't ready for this," Colbert said. "It's a huge leap. I don't think a lot of them understand that until they actually get on a playing field and see the increase in the quality of the play. That's the physical part. But the emotional part of being a college kid and the next day being a professional, I think it's a little easier to transition from your senior year to the pros."