Florida State Safety Derwin James has announced he will enter the 2018 NFL Draft. James, who has widely been regarded as a top prospect since the summer, is a redshirt sophomore with a special blend of size and explosiveness for the Safety position.
Perhaps the more notable announcement from James was that he would be skipping the team’s Independence Bowl against Southern Mississippi on December 27th to get a jump start on his NFL Draft process preparations. Traditionalists will struggle with the idea that a player would pass on the chance to play with his teammates in favor of preparing himself for a series of athletic tests and interviews.
But take a moment to understand it from the player’s individual perspective. Playing at Florida State, there’s an expectation to compete for an ACC Championship and be in the College Football Playoff conversation. Yet the Seminoles had to bank on a rescheduled game against Louisiana-Monroe to qualify for a bowl game this season. This game is, for all intents and purposes, a meaningless game in the grand scheme of a program like Florida State.
We’ve seen players like Jake Butt and Jaylon Smith injured in late December bowls in each of the last two seasons, injuries that cost them their respective rookie seasons and in Smith’s case, millions of dollars. And the trend has seen players like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey sit out their bowl games last year as a result. Each of those players was chastised at the time, but still selected in the Top 10.
Is it selfish for a player to skip on a low profile bowl game? I would argue that as long as a player fulfills his original commitment to the team (the regular season) and the team does not have anything else on the line (a Conference or National Championship) a player is well within his right to step aside if his intent is to make the jump to the next level.
Compare Derwin James’ decision with that of former Oklahoma DL Charles Walker, who ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. once stated had first round potential.
Walker had an early concussion last year and was healthy before ultimately deciding to leave the Sooners in the middle of the season. Walker opted out of a run to the Big 12 Championship and a potential CFB Playoff spot. Fast forward to April, and Walker went undrafted and was cut before the end of August.
The debate between the merits of staying or leaving will battle on, but count me among those who aren’t bothered. That is, of course, unless someone sits out a CFB Playoff semi-final.