Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey made history last week. The Jaguars drafted Fournette fourth overall, while the Panthers took McCaffrey at No. 8. Both were outstanding prospects who were expected to be selected in the Top 10. What’s significant is that both had skipped their meaningless, non-playoff bowl games at the end of last season—and it didn’t affect their respective draft statuses in the slightest. Which means future elite prospects are now much more likely to follow suit.
Albert Breer of The MMQB asked a couple of agents how they’d advise clients from next year’s class on this matter. Both agents agreed top 20-caliber talents had far more to lose than they stood to gain by playing in some worthless end-of-season exhibition. There’s what happened last year to Jaylon Smith, and then again this year to Jake Butt. As one of the agents told Breer:
“If you’re a top-20 pick, where’s the value in playing? One, there’s the risk of injury, which is the biggest component. If you suffer a serious injury, it could hurt you a little, or hurt you tremendously … Second, what do you have left to prove? That’s a big piece. Fournette, McCaffrey, I wouldn’t be sure there was anything else they could do. Maybe elevate yourself a little? Put that vs. the risk.”
Top prospects have for years made similar calculations by avoiding the January all-star games like the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.
NFLPA president Eric Winston told Breer that players need to make “the right business decision” for themselves about whether to play in non-playoff bowl games, and that schools ought to buck up for insurance policies against any potential injury-related loss of draft value. Breer calculated that Butt probably lost about $600,000 in potential salary by sliding to the fifth round after a knee injury, though he reportedly will collect $543,000 tax-free from an insurance policy he took out on his own. But the time may have come for players to take complete control of their future job prospects by removing that kind of injury risk altogether.