It used to be that skipping your last year or two of college football eligibility to enter the NFL Draft raised eyebrows.
Now for the most part it’s — yawn — almost expected for the best of the best.
Enter the newest trend that could be spawning a movement: Forgoing one’s final career game to immediately begin training for the draft. In other words, protecting your body, draft stock and future earnings.
Junior star running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, within the past week, announced they would skip their bowl games to prepare for the draft. And on Tuesday, Baylor senior running back Shock Linwood, the school’s career touchdown rushing leader, reportedly did the same.
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University of Miami coach Mark Richt, whose Hurricanes (8-4) are preparing to meet West Virginia (10-2) in the Russell Athletic Bowl, said he doesn’t like the bowl-skipping idea one bit.
“I think it’s sad, personally,” Richt said after practice Tuesday. “Football is the greatest team sport there is, and I think until the season is over, you should be with your team, really and truly.
“You can take out whether I want a guy to stay to help us win and all that. Football is the greatest game. It’s the greatest game because it’s a team game. Everybody is counting on each other.
“I bet their teammates are like, ‘I understand. I understand.’ Maybe face to face. But I bet you when they lay their head on the pillow, they’re like, ‘Why is that guy doing that? We’re a team. We paid the price together.’
And what about the idea of protecting yourself from injury?
Last season, for instance, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith tore his medial collateral and anterior cruciate knee ligaments in the Fiesta Bowl and dropped from being a projected top-5 draft pick to an early second-rounder (No. 34 with the Cowboys), “an $18.5 million differential!!!” wrote Patrick Rish on Tuesday for Forbes.com.
Said Richt: “Football is football. Something could happen Game 1. What? Are you going to quit the team Game 1?”
Other Hurricanes were asked their opinions.
“One more game with my brothers, that’s always special,” said Corn Elder, a senior cornerback expected to be drafted in the mid rounds. “I love this team, the coaching staff and the whole program. So, any chance I get to play another game with them, I always would. I don’t know those guys’ situations, it might be injuries or something, but for me, I’m always going to play another game with my brothers.”
Fellow corner Malek Young, a true freshman who has started the last three games, seemed to empathize that those players are “just trying to get better and not get an injury as they move to the next level.
“But at the same time,” Young said, “I think they should stay to finish and bond with the team. They’ll never have that again and never be able to play another game with them. I think they should end with the team, but it’s up to them to do whatever they want.”
One more game with my brothers, that’s always special. I love this team, the coaching staff and the whole program. So, any chance I get to play another game with them, I always would. I don’t know those guys’ situations, it might be injuries or something, but for me, I’m always going to play another game with my brothers.
Corn Elder, senior cornerback
Sophomore defensive tackle Kendrick Norton, who has 10 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble, said the subject “doesn’t really have anything to do with us, but I don’t feel any of my guys would do that, so it’s not really a factor. We’re just a different group of guys.”
Added senior safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who missed the 2014 season because of preseason back surgery: “They know what’s best for them and their families. I’m pretty sure they made their decision based on that. Everyone has their own situations.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left a perspective that seemed right on point for many who dream of being drafted but whose chances of it happening might be in doubt.
The solution, according to Diaz’s logic, would be to play in that last game and draw some attention.
“We know the team we’re playing … and the way they can move the ball on offense,” Diaz said of the Mountaineers. “It’s one last great audition for our guys, especially in the secondary, to prove that they can stop a high-powered offensive attack.”