Sunday, March 27, 2016

To Play or Not to Play

Marcus Lattimore post injury
This article comes on the heels of reports about the injury that Jaylon Smith suffered and the unlikelihood that he plays his rookie year in the league. If you are unfamiliar, Smith is a linebacker who plays for Notre Dame who was an extremely coveted prospect. The number three ranked prospect in the country at any position according to rivals, Smith was considered a top ten prospect by almost every NFL Scout. Mike Mayock compared his game to that of Patrick Willis and said that prior to his injury, Smith was worthy of going first overall. However, during the Fiesta Bowl this past year against Ohio State, Smith suffered a rather gruesome knee injury. On a fairly routine play, Smith was pushed forward from the back by an OSU offensive lineman and hyper extended his knee. He was immediately taken off the field and did not return. As I was watching this game, I figured that he had simply strained his knee from the injury, but head coach Brian Kelly stated after the game that there were some tears that occurred. At the Combine, it was further revealed that there could be nerve damage and that his career might be in serious jeopardy before it even began.

This begs the question: Should star players play in bowl games that are not semi-final or championship games? We hear this article almost every year, especially when there is a player that is considered a sure fire first round pick. A couple of years ago, there was an argument as to whether or not Jadeveon Clowney should sit out for an entire year, let alone just for a meaningless bowl game. And like clockwork, every year some high profile player gets hurt. A few years ago, Marcus Lattimore was considered a sure fire first round pick before a second ACL tear sent him plummeting into the fourth round. Last year, Todd Gurley suffered an ACL tear and dropped to ten when he could have easily gone in the top three of the draft. Now, it is looking increasingly likely that Smith could drop into the second round, and that is if a team is willing to take the risk on him.

Too bad we may never experience this at the NFL level
There is no easy answer to this question, and it seems to me that it the game is rigged against the player pretty much no matter what. Should they play in the game, what do they really have to gain? How often is a guy going to be propelled ten draft spots because of how they played in a bowl game? Unless it is an absolutely dominant performance, one game likely isn't going to override several years of game tape. More than often than not, they can only lose by having a bad game, whether it is through a mediocre game or suffering a nasty injury. On the flip side, if a player doesn't want to play, then they are labeled as selfish which can negatively affect their draft stock. To me, this is the biggest load of bullshit that a prospect can face. It is constantly acknowledged that the NFL is a business whenever a star player is released or when a player decides to take more money to play for a less competitive team. But for some reason, that same mentality isn't extended to college players. Maybe it is because they are still considered amateurs and haven't yet made it to the pros, so there is the feeling that they still have something to prove. I just personally don't think that it is fair that a guy who wants to have some sort of insurance for his future gets penalized for doing so by a group of people who would have no problem cutting his ass the moment he rolls his ankle in a contract year. I'm not advocating that anyone who wants to be in the NFL should be able to skip their bowl game as that would dilute the quality of the bowl games. Could you imagine if Ohio State and Notre Dame didn't have all of their NFL caliber players for the Fiesta Bowl? But the fact is that these guys typically get their draft grades before their game. If they get a draftable grade, why risk their future? This is geared more towards first round guys, but now that I think about it, shouldn't this apply more to guys who get a fifth through seventh round grade? Guys who are already on the cusp of getting a roster spot? Seems to make more sense to me. At least these guys can get insurance policies now.

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