Leonard Fournette won't be the only top college running back to skip his team's bowl game. Stanford star Christian McCaffrey announced Monday he will not participate in the Cardinal's Sun Bowl matchup with North Carolina so that he can begin preparing for the 2017 NFL draft:
McCaffrey rushed for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. His counting stats decreased from his breakout sophomore year, but he closed his Stanford career with five straight 100-yard outings to spearhead a five-game Cardinal winning streak to close out the regular season.
"The guy has had two of the best years in the history of college football," coach David Shaw told reporters. "He's done all you can do at the college football level. He's mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for this next step."
ESPN.com's Todd McShay currently has McCaffrey ranked as the No. 30 overall prospect in the 2017 class. He is ranked fourth among running backs, behind LSU's Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook and Texas' D'Onta Foreman.
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Fournette announced Friday he'll forgo the Citrus Bowl to rehab lingering injuries and begin draft preparations. Cook has made no such proclamation and is expected to be in the lineup for the Orange Bowl. Texas did not make a bowl game, so Foreman was not left with a similar decision.
Former Ohio State and current Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott weighed in on their decisions in a post on Twitter, saying he wished he could suit up for the Buckeyes again:
However, Elliott later backtracked on his statement after learning of Fournette and McCaffrey being dinged up:
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians told reporters it would concern him if a potential draft pick skipped a bowl game, saying it's a "team sport." However, he noted it's a case-by-case situation.
While Fournette and McCaffrey may wind up taking criticism for their decisions, the more interesting question is whether this begins a trend among players who aren't competing for a national championship. Both players have more than enough film for NFL teams to know what they're getting. There is nothing Fournette or McCaffrey could do in a relatively meaningless bowl game to improve his stock.
Despite Fournette and McCaffrey's decisions, Texas A&M's Myles Garrett announced he would play in the Texas Bowl against Kansas State on Monday, per Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News.
Fournette and McCaffrey are one major injury away from crippling their earning potential. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith suffered a catastrophic knee injury in last year's Fiesta Bowl that dropped him from being a likely top-10 pick into the second round. He is yet to make his NFL debut after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and hasn't even set foot on a practice field.
Given the short shelf life of running backs, it's hard to blame Fournette and McCaffrey for looking at their respective situations and deciding to move on. Fournette battled injuries all season long, while McCaffrey had problems of his own midway through the season.
McCaffrey has done more than enough for Stanford football over the last three seasons. There is something to be said for the spirit of competition, but that becomes less meaningful with millions of dollars on the line.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.