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After Leonard Fournette & Christian McCaffrey, bypassing bowls could be new normal for top prospects

INDIANAPOLIS --It's a question that threatens to upend the competitiveness and prove the lack of necessity of college postseason bowl games: Should players with legitimate draft prospects simply sit out their bowls rather than risk injury in a game that has no bearing on title hopes that had sailed away at least one month earlier?

Leonard Fournette did.

After a season plagued by ankle issues that caused him to miss four of LSU's 11 regular-season games, Fournette opted to sit out the Tigers' Citrus Bowl appearance against Louisville. His absence didn't affect his team; it won 29-9. But it did spur plenty of public debate -- which he sought to deflect Thursday.

No team had asked about it, Fournette said. But he already had his answer ready.

"Like my normal answer: ask Coach O (LSU coach Ed Orgeron) about the whole situation," he said. "I'll tell them I take credit for it too. It doesn't matter."

Christian McCaffrey did.

When the Stanford running back opted to sit out the Cardinal's Sun Bowl game against North Carolina, it raised eyebrows; unlike Fournette, McCaffrey's season was dominated by gaudy numbers, not by injuries.

His decision saw him receive a standing ovation from his teammates.

"I got a lot of love from my teammates. That was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make," he said. "I was just real lucky to have a bunch of guys who have my back during it."

Unlike Fournette, McCaffrey said he had been asked by teams about his decision.

"It was a man decision, to try to protect my dream of playing and succeeding in the NFL. Whether it gave me an advantage or not, I stuck with it. I'm here now moving on, that's probably all I'll talk about that anymore. I'm moving on to NFL football now."

McCaffrey can move on to the NFL. So will Michigan tight end Jake Butt. But his path will have a short-term delay because of the torn ACL he suffered in the Wolverines' Orange Bowl loss to Florida State.

Butt's injury why Fournette and McCaffrey made their decisions -- and why others seem likely to follow in the years to come.

What those players will find among coaches and executives is more understanding of the decision to bypass the bowl game than seemed possible.

For example, note the evolution of Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway's perspective.

"You know what? I understand it now," he said. "When I thought about it, kind of the old school in me wanted to come out and say, 'Why would those guys not play? It's their last game,' this and that.

"But I tell you what -- when you look at where the league is now, and you talk about the value of these contracts of these players coming out and the risk that they're taking -- the old salty guy got flipped back to understanding why they didn't play."

The choices made by McCaffrey and Fournette will not hurt them one bit -- and could set a new paradigm for top prospects.

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