Some college players wouldn’t even consider skipping a bowl game to protect their NFL draft stock. Others, however, won’t dismiss out of hand the possibility.
Count Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in the latter group.
“I would have a hard time doing it,” Barkley, one of college football’s top returning players, told Sports Illustrated. “But I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”
If Barkley’s remarks come across as lacking certainty, forgive him. After all, there are all kinds of factors, which don’t unveil themselves in May, that would weigh heavily in such a decision. Is the player regarded as a high draft pick? Is the player fully healthy? Is a championship at stake? And how might college teammates react to an early exit? These are questions Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey had to answer for themselves before skipping their bowl games, and their draft outcome (chosen Nos. 4 and 8 overall, respectively) was none the worse for it. This year’s most prominent example of a player whose draft value fell resulting from a bowl injury was Michigan TE Jake Butt, who was a fifth-round selection after tearing an ACL in the Orange Bowl.
According to at least one NFL personnel director, top players like Barkley will now be all the more tempted to make the choice Fournette and McCaffrey made.
Barkley (5-foot-11, 223 pounds) ran for 1,496 yards for the Nittany Lions last year with 18 touchdowns. The school has clocked him at a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash, and he enters his junior year this fall. He’s got a long way to go before even making the decision about whether to turn pro, much less whether to sit out a game before doing so.
But for now, he’s leaving all options open.