On Thursday, Nebraska football fans collectively let out a sigh of relief when I-back Ameer Abdullah announced he was returning to Lincoln for his senior season. As reported by the Omaha World-Herald, Abdullah said:
I have come to realize that life is bigger than football, and that my chances of long-term success in life will be greatly enhanced by completing my college education.
Although I have always wanted to play in the NFL, at this time I would like to formally announce my intentions of returning to Nebraska for my senior season.
If playing in the NFL is truly in God’s plans for me, then God will again present this opportunity to me after I complete my college education.
Abdullah is a smart and thoughtful kid, and it is clear from his statement (which you can read in full at the World-Herald site linked above) that he put a lot of thought into his decision. But there are a number of reasons, even beyond what Abdullah said, as to why a return for his senior season was the right call.
His Draft Status Was Questionable
From a purely practical standpoint, the biggest question about Abdullah leaving early for the NFL was where he would be drafted. Matt Richter of The Prediction Machine said that Abdullah was “at best, a third-round pick.” The position rankings for draft prospects at CBS Sports had Abdullah ranked as the No. 10 running back … in the 2015 NFL draft. Abdullah isn’t listed in the 2014 draft, but if you look at 2015 players who are also listed in the 2014 draft projection, Abdullah projects as a seventh-round pick or a free agent.
Of course draft projections are just that, projections. And Abdullah certainly informed his decision with information from the NFL itself in terms of where its experts projected Abdullah to go if he came out after his junior year.
But it is fair to say that Abdullah’s draft stock in 2014 is far from certain. If he had given up his senior year to enter the draft, he would have been taking a huge risk.
He Has A Chance For Glory
After his junior season, Abdullah has 2,997 rushing yards, putting him at No. 8 all time in Nebraska history. He would need 1,783 yards—a massive, but not inconceivable accomplishment—to pass Mike Rozier and end his career as Nebraska’s all-time rushing leader. Abdullah is also third on Nebraska’s all-time total yardage list, and is on pace to set the record at the completion of his senior campaign.
Additionally, Abdullah is just now getting on the radar screen nationally, particularly after his performance against Georgia in the Gator Bowl. A strong senior season, combined with a successful Nebraska season, could see Abdullah in line for major national awards, perhaps even Heisman Trophy consideration.
And then there are the team goals. After the Gator Bowl win, head coach Bo Pelini said that he was looking forward to “championships to come.” It’s pretty clear that Pelini is bullish on 2014, with a lot of defensive talent returning and the chance to mold an offense around Abdullah with either Tommy Armstrong or Johnny Stanton at quarterback.
So, did Abdullah do the right thing by returning to Nebraska for his senior year?
If Abdullah is the key offensive component in the team that returns Nebraska to a conference championship—and perhaps even a longshot berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff—his place in Nebraska lore will be cemented. And he could have the chance to be legendary on a national stage as well.
Sure, coming back to college for his senior season is a risk. Abdullah could get hurt, or just underperform, and see his draft stock fall. But the opportunities for glory in his final year in college—and the rise in his draft stock that would surely follow—seem to make it worth the risk.
Certainly Abdullah thought so, which is why he will be wearing scarlet and cream in 2014.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.