Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey have each opted-out of participating in their team’s bowl games. To be honest, I can’t say that I blame either one for their decision. Fournette is considered to be the best running back prospect in the 2017 draft and McCaffrey is rated as the third-best running back prospect. What does either player have to gain from playing in an extra game? Nothing.
The argument against supporting their decisions is that football is a team sport and they are letting their teammates down. That seems to be a noble argument, but it’s one that isn’t in the best interest of either player. Neither Fournette nor McCaffrey have anything to gain from playing additional college games but have plenty to lose. Not only do I not fault them for looking out for themselves, I commend them for deciding to do what is in their rational best interest.
Both players have dealt with injuries during their careers. With each additional game they play, they risk additional injuries. And nobody knows if those potential injuries would be severe enough to end their playing careers or just bad enough to cause their draft stock to slide. Either way, they risk losing a substantial amount of money.
I have previously written about Fournette and how I thought he should manage his college eligibility. It wasn’t a popular opinion, but I stand by it. Fournette had absolutely nothing to gain by playing multiple years of football at LSU. The argument was made that he would never consider sitting out a full year because playing at LSU is what he really wanted to do. I’m sure he did want to play at LSU, but to assume that he wanted the wear and tear of college football on his body isn’t an assumption that I was willing to make.
For players like Fournette and McCaffrey, there was nothing to gain by continuing to play college football. NFL scouts knew what they brought to the table and that hasn’t changed. And for all of those people that say that NFL scouts care deeply about on-field performance? I say that is over-blown. All too often we see marginal players shoot up the draft board after wowing NFL general managers at the combine. That’s right. How fast a prospect runs the 40-yard dash in their underwear carries weight with a player’s draft position.
This would have held particularly true with players the caliber of Fournette and McCaffrey. Pretend you’re an NFL general manager for just a moment and ask yourself which version of the player is most attractive. Is it a version of Fournette and McCaffrey that have as much wear and tear on their bodies as possible or is it a version of each player that has stood minimal physical abuse? And remember, the version with minimal wear and tear will run the 40 in their underwear and will pump out as many bench press reps as possible at the combine.
Todd Gurley is an example of what an injury can do to a players reputation and draft stock. Gurley was once believed to be the first or second best player in the 2015 draft. But his injuries scared teams away. His weaknesses included durability due to his ACL tear. The ACL tear was an injury that occurred during his junior year after having nagging injuries during his sophomore year.
I’d say that an NFL general manager would take the proven but preserved version of Fournette and McCaffrey. Especially considering that we’re talking about running backs. These players are investments and running backs are not players that a general manager invests in with a long-term mindset. The average career length for an NFL running back is just under three years. Perhaps a player like Fournette or McCaffrey can give their NFL team an additional year or two if they enter the draft with more tread on their tires.
While others may label Fournette and McCaffrey as selfish, I won’t be one of those critics. I’ll instead applaud each player for doing what is in his best interest because sometimes it should be all about you.
E-mail Seth at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.
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