College Football Players and their Decisions to Leave or Stay

By David Ford

Last week, Ohio State University defensive end Nick Bosa announced he would not return to school, but instead focus on getting healthy and preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft.

During the early stages of the college football season, Bosa suffered an injury that sidelined him for an unknown, but extended period of time.

Despite announcing he will not return to college, the majority of every player, college or professional, as well as every NFL draft expert, believed Bosa made the correct decision. As it stands, Bosa is projected to be the number one pick in next year’s NFL draft, even after his recent announcement. Why would other players of Bosa’s caliber even consider risking further injury in “meaningless” college games?

In 2016, however, the fans and media weren’t so kind to these players. During that same season, star running backs Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Leonard Fournette (Louisiana State) announced they would skip their school’s bowl game to not only prepare for the upcoming draft, but also to avoid any chance at injury.

Their decision was met with initial criticism, but both players were still selected in the top-10 back in 2017. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Fournette with the #4 pick in 2017, while the Carolina Panthers selected McCaffrey eighth overall. As you can see, their decisions clearly didn’t impact the teams interested in selecting them.

On the other hand; however, a few other players who decided to play their final collegiate game weren’t so lucky.

When the University of Michigan faced Florida State University in the 2016 Orange Bowl, one particular Michigan player, Jabrill Peppers, decided to sit out. While some people question if he had an injury or not before game time, Peppers never played that game.

He was the #25 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. To this day, Michigan University tight end Jake Butt will never second guess his decision to play, despite what happened next.

In the early stages of the game, Butt suffered a torn ACL; his draft stock plummeted, his potential NFL salary drastically decreased, and despite being drafted, Butt never played during his rookie season. On Sept. 27, 2018, he sustained yet another ACL injury during the Denver Broncos practice. If he never returns, Butt will have finished his NFL career with only eight catches for 85 yards. He never scored a touchdown.

During his senior season, Butt was projected a first or second round pick. He also won the John Mackey Award in 2016, awarded to college football’s most outstanding tight end. While his decision to play his final game will be critiqued, Butt would never do it differently.

In his article, “Nobody Wants to be a Comeback Story,” published on The Players Tribune last December, Butt didn’t see anything wrong with the decisions both Fournette and McCaffrey made; however, he didn’t share the same mentality.

Now, I know I wasn’t a projected top-10 pick like those guys, and there’s no way for me to honestly say what I would have done if I had been. But I know that in my heart, I wanted to play in that game — for my teammates, for Coach Harbaugh and the rest of my coaches, and for the University of Michigan,” Butt wrote.

As a Michigan fan, I fully supported Butt’s decision, in the midst of other players forgoing their final game.

The argument to either leave the university early to focus on the draft, or play it out until the very end will continue to be up for debate. In most cases, players don’t want to risk further injury; Fournette and McCaffrey’s initial decision didn’t have any effect on their draft stock either. Injures, on the other hand, do.

When Bosa announced he would leave Ohio State to focus on the draft, almost nobody questioned his motive. Bosa is an incredible talent, and even if he stayed, his draft stock wouldn’t improve much, if at all. He’ll likely be the first selection in the 2019 draft, unless the team with the top pick desperately needs a quarterback.

Each player is unique; their decisions reflect that. It’s increasingly likely more players will continue to follow Bosa’s path.