Only 1.6 percent of all college football players make it to professional football — and once they get there, the odds of a lengthy NFL career are stacked against them.

“An education — not football — is your best path to financial freedom,” said Troy Vincent, a former Pro Bowl defensive back who is now the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.

That was the theme of Vincent’s Twitter chat on Dec. 19, 2014, that emphasized the importance of college players completing their education.

Baltimore Ravens fullback and Harvard University graduate Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-round draft selection in 2013, joined Vincent for the chat. Juszczyk decided to leave college for the draft a semester short of completing his coursework; he finished his requirements and received his degree in economics after his rookie season.

During the chat, Vincent and Juszczyk emphasized the importance of making an informed decision when college underclassmen consider applying for early draft eligibility, which they must do by Jan. 15 each year.

The league’s College Advisory Committee, which consists of NFL scouts, projects the likely draft position for underclassmen considering entering the draft. The committee’s advice to those players: Stay in school if you’re not a potential first- or second-round pick. Players projected to be drafted later than the top two rounds face greater uncertainty and longer odds in being selected at all; if they aren’t selected after declaring early, they lose their remaining eligibility to play in college — meaning that they can’t play another year to improve their draft status.

NFL Football Operations’ College Outreach Program helps develop college players as athletes and individuals and encourages them to make informed decisions. While coaches, agents and scouts can aid a player in his decision whether to enter the NFL draft, Juszczyk cautioned that student-athletes should be wary of where their draft evaluation is coming from.

In recent years, NFL teams have drafted fewer undergraduates who have declared for the draft — from 82 percent in 2012 to 70 percent in 2013 and 62 percent in 2014. In both 2013 and 2014, the majority of underclassmen evaluated as likely picks in the fourth round or later went undrafted.

Even if players make it to the NFL, their careers are likely to be short: The average length of a career in the league is less than five years.

“At some point, players have to move to careers beyond football,” Juszczyk said. “This is when my college degree will be critical.”

Vincent regularly hosts Twitter chats on football and NFL Operations. Follow him on Twitter at @TroyVincent23, and follow his conversations with the hashtag #TV23Chat.