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NFL Draft: Air Force Academy reverses course, will not let athletes go pro immediately

In what’s already been a rough NFL Draft for the Mountain West, the latest development takes a couple of promising athletes off the Big Board.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After two days of the 2017 NFL Draft, everyone in the Mountain West is waiting for somebody from the conference to break through and be the first athlete selected. This morning, however, it seems that the pool of options will shrink.

As first reported by the Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala, the Air Force Academy has changed its mind on the decision to allow athletes like Jalen Robinette, Weston Steelhammer and Ryan Watson to defer their service in order to turn pro. The timing is surprising, given that NFL scouts were in Colorado Springs as recently as five weeks ago to work out the would-be professionals.

According to Jhabvala, the decision was made before the start of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, so the reveal on this, the event’s third and final day (when Robinette and others might reasonably have been expected to be selected) is equal parts peculiar and unsettling. Jhabvala also noted on Twitter that the Department of Defense didn’t play any particular role in the change of heart, either:

What this means in the long run for Robinette and others, as Jhabvala notes, is that anyone looking to establish an NFL career will have to follow the same path as current Atlanta Falcons lineman Ben Garland, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and served the prerequisite two years before joining the team for good in 2012. And if the delay pays off with a Super Bowl appearance as it did for Garland, it will be well worth the wait.

Obviously, however, many Mountain West fans would’ve hoped to see how Robinette’s and Steelhammer’s skill sets translated to the next level sooner rather than later.