Oklahoma football: How extra year of eligibility could impact several Sooners

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 29: Caleb Kelly #19 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 29: Caleb Kelly #19 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The 2020 Oklahoma football active roster contains 14 players designated as seniors or redshirt seniors, all of whom could receive an extra year of eligibility based on a landmark NCAA ruling on Friday.

The NCAA decision to extend an extra year of eligibility to all fall student-athletes, even those who compete this fall, does not only potentially impact seniors, of course, but that is the group that is most directly affected by the ruling.

The eligibility extension for fall athletes parallels a similar action taken by the NCAA earlier this year affording an extra year of eligibility to spring student-athletes who had their seasons cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All fall sport student-athletes will receive both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it,” the NCAA said in a press release.

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors also announced on Friday that it is working on plans to host scaled-back fall championships in the spring. It was not clear in the initial information put out by the NCAA whether the plan to host spring championships for fall sports would also include football, especially given that two major conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, have opted out of playing football in the fall and said they would attempt to play in the spring.

As far as Oklahoma players who would be facing their final season of eligibility this fall and could be most benefited by another season of college football, we have identified five Sooners who could potentially help their NFL draft stock with an extra year to show what they can do.

Offensive lineman Erik Swenson and defensive lineman LaRon Stokes are both seniors but appear to have a good chance of being drafted next spring in the 2021 NFL Draft. So the NCAA eligibility waiver is likely of little consequence to them.

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson accumulated 515 yards on the ground last season and led the Sooners with an average of 8.0 yards per carry. He played in 13 of the 14 Oklahoma games last season, but missed the final game — the College Football Playoff game against LSU — because of a suspension.

That suspension carries over through the first five games of the 2020 season, and with just five more regular-season games after that, assuming no disruptions to the season, it may not be enough time for him to boost his draft stock. That’s why he could potentially benefit from another full collegiate season.

NCAA eligibility waiver could benefit several Oklahoma football seniors.

Redshirt senior linebacker Caleb Kelly played in just four games last season while rehabbing from an ACL injury he suffered in 2019 spring practice. He suffered another ACL injury in training camp this year and will miss most if not all of the 2020 season.

The former five-star recruit out of Fresno, California, hasn’t received a lot of playing time the past couple of years because of injury and trying to find the right position for his skills and talent. Kelly will probably receive a medical waiver for 2021, so it is not clear whether the eligibility extension waiver would apply to his situation beyond next season. If it does, however, and with his goal of playing at the next level seriously waning, a couple more seasons of showcasing the expectations he came to Oklahoma with could strengthen his draft resume.

With a young and inexperienced receiving corps heading into the 2020 season, the Sooners picked up a pair of redshirt senior wide receivers from the transfer portal to add some experience to the mix. Theo Howard from UCLA and Obi Obialo from Marshall have had good but not great college receiving careers.

One year might not be enough time for the pair to show what they are capable of in Oklahoma’s high-powered offensive system. That’s why an additional year in the OU offense and working with quarterback Spencer Rattler could be just what Howard and/or Obialo might need to strengthen their NFL resume.

Senior defensive back Tre Brown has been a solid performer in his first three seasons at Oklahoma. He is a preseason candidate as an invitee to the 2021 Senior Bowl, where the best college seniors are put on display to showcase their talents for NFL scouts and general managers. At this point in his career, Brown is just a marginal NFL prospect. Had he been eligible this past spring, Brown would not have been drafted and likely would not have hooked on with any team as a free agent.

Depending on the year he has in 2020, it might be worth him taking advantage of another season of college eligibility if, in fact, he has dreams of playing in the NFL.

Along with the extra year of eligibility, the NCAA also said the additional year of eligibility will not count against scholarship limits. The ruling did not mandate, however, that the schools fund the scholarships of seniors for an additional year, which could be a problem for schools faced with severe budget cutbacks caused by athletic cancellations from the coronavirus pandemic.

Fortunately, Oklahoma is in a much better position, although financially impacted like every college, than many other college programs.

The extra year of collegiate eligibility could be just the chance and the break some student-athletes need, whether it is to extend their passion to play one more season of college football or an additional opportunity to show they are NFL worthy.