College football or baseball? Decision looms for ESPN 300 RB Jerrion Ealy

Jerrion Ealy, the No. 19 player in the ESPN 300, is a top-flight baseball prospect as well. Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

All eyes have been on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray this offseason.

Many watched intently as Murray recently declared for the NFL draft despite having signed a contract with the Oakland Athletics, with a $4.66 million signing bonus, to play major league baseball.

The owner of one set of eyes that has observed Murray's decisions might be affected by the choices the Heisman winner is making.

Jerrion Ealy has been projected as high as No. 8 in the 2019 MLB draft, but he also happens to be the No. 19-ranked football prospect as a running back out of Jackson (Mississippi) Prepatory. Ealy has been going through two different processes as the college football signing day approaches in February, entertaining college football recruiters while meeting with MLB scouts and representatives.

He, too, will have a choice to make in the near future on whether he wants to pursue professional baseball or accept a college football scholarship.

"People say Kyler and I are in the same positon, but we're kind of not," Ealy said. "Kyler has already played college football and won a Heisman, and he has a chance to be a first-round pick in football as well. I don't really have as much leverage as he does. The only option I have is that I'm projected to be a first-round player and a college football player."

Ealy might not have the same leverage given that he is a senior in high school, but he still wonders whether Murray's decision will impact his draft status and signability with an MLB team.

Ealy's mother, Vanessa Simmons, says they haven't gotten that far in the process yet, as baseball teams are only building the relationship with the family and her son. The conversations have been more geared around who Ealy is as a person and getting an idea of what his future intentions will be.

But that time will come, as the MLB draft approaches in June, where executives and scouts will need to determine if Ealy is going to choose football over baseball.

"If [Murray] goes into the NFL draft, if that puts a sour taste on future players with the same background as Kyler Murray," Simmons said. "How does that affect them? Because now, the MLB is saying we invested and he said he wanted to do this, we allowed him to play football, and now it's going to be hard for the next man."

That next man could be her son. Although as Ealy points out, he is in a different situation than Murray and doesn't have the option of an NFL contract.

MLB scouts are aware of that situation. According to one scout, who wished to remain anonymous, the next several months will be used to find out what Ealy's intentions are and whether an organization feels they have a good chance at signing the talented athlete.

"A big part of it is going to be getting to know Jerrion and building that relationship," the scout said. "Each team, certain teams will probably feel more comfortable than others depending on how the relationship unfolds. I certainly wouldn't say teams will take a step back [because of Murray], just because of the potential of what you'd be getting with Jerrion and investing in would be huge."

That's where Ealy might have the most leverage, as his baseball upside is through the roof. Because he is young and could play college football and professional baseball simultaneously, MLB teams might be more willing to take him higher in the draft. The same scout gushed about Ealy's ability on the field and the athleticism that has the interest of most teams.

"The fact that he has split time, and not dedicating 100 percent of his time to baseball, we as an industry feel there is a lot of upside here coupled with the athleticism," he said. "It's upside and athleticism you do see go very early in the draft just because there are such few kids like that throughout the country."

Ealy has heard comparisons to Mookie Betts and Andrew McCutchen, which is very high praise.

That assessment is echoed on the football side, as Ealy was committed to Ole Miss but decommitted and is now considering Alabama, Clemson, Mississippi State along with the Rebels.

As he has gone through the football recruiting process, he has made each coach aware of the importance baseball plays in his life and that there is a chance he could choose to play it professionally instead of playing college football.

Each coach has been understanding of his position, and the coaches in his top four have told him if there's no way he should turn down life-changing money if it's offered. The fact that they are recruiting him knowing there's a decent chance he will never step foot on their campus says a lot about his ability.

"I plan on signing in February on signing day, so whatever school I choose and sign with has a chance of losing a scholarship for that year," Ealy said. "If I sign, but then go play baseball, they could lose out on one scholarship."

Ealy doesn't know what decision he is going to make, mainly because he needs to get through the spring evaluations in baseball and find out what the MLB draft will hold for him in June. The draft for baseball is very different than it is for the NFL, where there are slotted dollar amounts for how high you go in the draft.

Ealy could be chosen with the No. 21 pick and still make more money than the No. 10 pick if the team that selects him values him that highly.

The options that are being considered right now are playing college football and college baseball, play college football and pro baseball, or deciding to put his sole focus on professional baseball and skip football.

NCAA rules would allow him to play football on scholarship and participate with his MLB team in the spring and summer.

Ealy's parents haven't expressed any preferences and are letting him make his own decision. It's a tough decision for a high school senior to make considering that there could be millions of dollars on the line, although his parents have warned him of potential pitfalls money can bring.

"You have to be real comfortable with yourself to give that up, but sometimes those millions might not be the best," Simmons said. "Once you pay taxes, your agent fees, once you pay everybody, you have to live off of that money for the next two, three or four years because as a baseball player, after that bonus it's $1,100 a month. You have to think of your future, don't just look at those dollar signs."

For now, Ealy is focused on the four remaining teams on his list and which school he will sign with in February. Once he signs in February, he and the college he chooses will wait until June to see where he lands in the MLB draft and what a team is willing to pay him.

All of that will play itself out, but it's up to Ealy to make the best decision for him and his future.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do, and all options are on the table right now," Ealy said. "As we get closer to the draft in June, the further I get to narrowing down the options and figuring out which option I want to take."