Running back Ezekiel Elliott has shown that he has an NFL future. To best secure it, he should say farewell to college football in the present.
In order to properly ingratiate itself with the custodians of the free farm system known as college football, the NFL prohibits players from entering the draft until three years have passed since their high school class graduation. Elliott finished high school in 2013; he can’t be drafted until 2016.
With nearly 700 total rushing yards in three high-stakes game played on a big stage, Elliott demonstrated the ability to compete in the NFL. Given the physical demands of the position he plays, he should avoid absorbing further punishment — and losing additional knee cartilage — by playing football for compensation far less than the value he has brought to his school, the Big 10 conference, and the NCAA.
The issue has come up in recent years with players like Jadeveon Clowney and Jameis Winston, both of whom arguably made it to the top of the draft board only two years removed from high school. Staying in college entailed not only a significant injury risk but also the reality that another year of play and scrutiny may have resulted in the player’s stock falling.
If, of course, a player like Clowney or Winston ever decides to skip that third year after high school, fans, media, and scouts would be aghast, calling him selfish and stupid and everything but a young man possessing a keen sense of business and the guts to indulge it.
To be sure, questions over whether the player truly “loves football” could result in a plunge in draft stock. For a player like Elliott, who already has a limited ceiling based on the position he plays, taking a year off wouldn’t entail the same financial risk. And any possible impact on his draft positioning after a year away from the sport would be offset by avoiding the risk of a Marcus Lattimore-type knee injury or some other impairment that limits Elliott’s eventual NFL career.
Football fans won’t like the idea of players making decisions that advance their own interests, because it limits the pool of talented players we all can enjoy watching on our increasingly large flat screens as they assume significant physical risks without fair pay. But if Elliott was your son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson, godson, husband, fiancée, boyfriend, or friend, the best advice would be to tell him to retire from college football and begin the process now of getting ready for the 2016 draft.