Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette have decided not to play in their team's bowl games this season, beginning immediate preparation for the 2017 NFL Draft. Both players declared early to avoid the bowl distraction, and while the latter has an ankle injury (and a fresh Roc Nation contract), it's been McCaffrey's decision to sit out the Hyundai Sun Bowl against North Carolina that's drawn the most visceral reaction.
Critics of McCaffrey's decision point to his teammates, even though his teammates support the decision, as a reason for the 2015 AP Player of the Year to suit up one more time with the Cardinal. Others have come to the defense of McCaffrey, understanding the toll a bowl game injury can take on his draft stock. In many cases, this argument has been made with Jaylon Smith's story as the cautionary tale.
Smith suffered a horrific knee injury in Notre Dame's bowl game against Ohio State last season. The lingering effects and recovery from the injury impacted his projected draft position and led to questions about his ability to ever reach that same first-round potential he showed while anchoring the Irish defense in college.
But given another opportunity, even knowing everything he knows know, Jaylon Smith says he'd play again.
Honestly. With Everything I've been through, If I could go back to Jan. 1st I'd play again. #ClearEyeView— Jaylon Smith (@thejaylonsmith) December 20, 2016
Using Smith as an example of why NFL Draft hopefuls should not play in a bowl game, or calling his injury a "tipping point" in the draft evaluation process can be problematic. These decisions should be viewed as a case-by-case basis, and in the case of each Fournette and McCaffrey there have been injuries during the 2016 season that caused the running back to miss time and both have the apparent support of players and staff.
Players have been criticized for years for "making business decisions" on the playing field late in the season and in bowl games. Not every team has a Bryce Love -- Stanford's stud sophomore running back ready to explode with more touches coming his way -- but shouldn't a non-playoff bowl game be the perfect opportunity to give some reps to the next guy up?
Smith's severe injury put a recent and recognizable face on the deliberation of bowl participation for future pros, but if he doesn't want to be a part of this debate then it's unfair to speak on his behalf. These tough decisions are up to players, their families and their teammates, not pundits, writers and know-it-alls without pads.