No one can ever fault a running back leaving early for the NFL draft if his stock is high enough. Running backs don’t have the luxury that Andrew Luck had; a running back only has so many carries in his career and it is difficult to use them up for free when you can get paid for them.
Hits on a running back are not like vacation days for normal people—you can’t cash them in at retirement. You play till they’re gone, and once they’re gone your career is over.
Traditionally this short shelf life is even smaller for backs with smaller physiques. At 5'9" and 185 pounds, James has already carried the ball 746 times. As a result, it is understandable that he would consider leaving early.
However, would this be the right decision? Would James regret the decision to leave early should he choose to? This question is impossible to answer as we do not have a crystal ball. With that said, he would be leaving a great deal on the table.
There are two things that James could be leaving on the table if he declares early. First, he could become the NCAA’s all time leading rusher.
James only needs 1,474 rushing yards to surpass Ron Dayne, who has 6,397 yards. The 1,474 yards is going to be even less at the end of the Rose Bowl.
To have your name on top of all the running backs in the history of college football is something most running backs dreams of. Every time someone looks up collegiate records, your name will forever be immortalized.
Wisconsin's Dayne never rushed for even 800 yards in an NFL season but his collegiate legacy will always live on.
Should LaMichael James come back one more season?
The second thing that James could be leaving on the table is another shot at a national championship. Glancing over the Oregon Ducks schedule, there only appears one team standing in their way next year, and that is USC.
There is no LSU, or any other powerhouse—they have been replaced with Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.
With that type of schedule, James could put up the type of numbers Barry Sanders did his junior season at Oklahoma State.
There are other risks to coming back for James. He already sustained one injury this season and could have another next season. Any wear and tear means less money down the road.
However, there is also risk in leaving. He could be out of the league in three years regardless of when he leaves. There are no guarantees in football, and certainly not with undersized running backs.
The legacy of one more season at Oregon could help if his NFL career is short or forgettable.
With that said, I expect great things on the next level for James. However, my selfishness wants to see him come back for one last historic run at the record books.