Is Skipping Bowl Games Becoming a Trend for Draft Eligible College Players?

By Matt Paradise
Dec. 19, 2016

Leonard Fournette announced last week that he would be skipping LSU’s Citrus Bowl vs Louisville in order to prepare for the NFL draft. The news did not come as a huge shock, as Fournette has dealt with injuries all year. He is touted as maybe the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. He did not want to risk injury in a bowl game unless it was a New Year’s Six bowl game. After watching Jaylon Smith’s gruesome injury in the Fiesta Bowl last year, and injury that caused Smith to drop drastically in the draft, many believed Fournette made the right decision. Now, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey joined Fournette in skipping Stanford’s Sun Bowl game this season vs North Carolina. McCaffrey missed one game this season due to injury, and is expected to be a potential first round pick, but his decision to skip the game was more surprising. Is this going to become a trend? Are more players going to come out in the next week and announce they are also skipping their bowl games?

Let’s go back to why they are skipping the games. At major universities with playoff expectations such as LSU and Stanford, a non New Year’s Six bowl game is essentially meaningless. It serves as a consolation prize on an otherwise disappointing season. Had LSU or Stanford made the playoffs, or landed a major bowl game, the decision to skip the game would be extremely surprising. Going into the Fiesta bowl last year, Jaylon Smith was considered one of the best players in college football and a likely top 5 pick. In the game, he suffered a gruesome knee injury, tearing his ACL and PCL, and concerns about whether he would ever be the same caused him to slip to 34th in the draft. Smith has been forced to miss his rookie season, and though his $6.1 million contract over 4 years is still a nice chunk of change, the injury cost him as much as $20 million from what his contract would have been if he were a top 5 pick. 

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the argument for skipping the game, Fournette is a likely top 10 pick, if he tore his ACL in the bowl game and teams knew he’d be out for the season and may never be the same, where would he fall to in the draft? Remember, this is a strong year for running backs. Fournette has nothing left to prove. Whether he plays or not, he is a likely top 10 pick. If he plays and suffers a serious injury, he may slip even further than Smith did. McCaffrey isn’t the same type of elite prospect, but may make it into the first round of the draft and is likely to be drafted in the 20-40th range. If McCaffrey suffered a major injury in his bowl game, his stock would slip way more than Fournette in this strong year for running backs. If McCaffrey plays the game, he has nothing left to gain, but a major injury could make his draft stock drop until maybe the 4th round.

Then there is the argument against skipping the game, which states you should finish your commitment. Fournette and McCaffrey signed up to play for LSU and Stanford, and the season is not yet over for either of those teams. Many believe they should honor their commitment and be there for their teammates and play the game. It may not be the bowl game either school was hoping for, but the game is more meaningful for the players who will never make it to the NFL. By not playing, both are severely hurting their teams chances of winning the game, which in turn is hurting their teammates. NFL evaluators may not look at it as a lack of commitment, but that is essentially what it is.

I'd like to give credit to my friend Kris Krahling for pointing out to me that this looks like the beginning of a trend. Is this going to be a trend that continues? Might we see more top prospects from schools who had disappointing seasons drop out of their bowl games? Guys such as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook? Only time will tell. What do you think of the players skipping their bowl games? Should they protect their future or honor their commitment? Comment and let us know! Stay tuned for more current sports stories. Don't forget to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram @beyondthemetrics, and Twitter @byondthemetrics.