On Jan. 1, 2016, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered a gruesome knee injury during the Fighting Irish’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, tearing his ACL and LCL while also suffering nerve damage. Entering the game, he was considered a top-10 prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft. Suddenly, there was a chance he would never play a down in the NFL.
Smith would fall in the draft, going to Dallas in the second round while missing his rookie season. He has returned this year, but his injury has served as a cautionary tale for those with legitimate NFL aspirations.
Although Smith is far from the first player to suffer a significant injury in what equates to an exhibition game, his injury has seemingly opened everyone else’s eyes. Over the past two years, it has not been an uncommon occurrence for a player to declare for the NFL Draft and announce that he will skip the team’s bowl game. Leonard Fournette did it with LSU last year and there are conflicting reports that UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen planned to skip the Cactus Bowl before a concussion ruled him out, and for some reason, this is drawing ire from fans, ranting about how he should be “loyal to his team,” “be a good teammate” or anything else along those lines.
But here’s the thing, skipping the Cactus Bowl doesn’t make Rosen a bad teammate. He has shown up for UCLA all season and there are no benefits to winning this game. This isn’t the College Football Playoffs. Rosen isn’t taking away the opportunity for the Bruins to win a national championship. This isn’t even one of the more prestigious bowl games like the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl. Ranked teams don’t even participate in this game.
If anything, Rosen is being smart. Projected to go as high as first overall in the draft, Rosen risks way too much and receives way too little in return by playing in the Cactus Bowl. A significant injury could cost him millions of dollars and on top of that, he’s already recovering from a concussion and a potential bad game could hurt his draft stock. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
Rosen has never been one to be afraid to speak his mind, and he discussed the topic last Saturday during a press conference:
A lot of people bash them, but some of them have to realize that some of these guys have families, some of these guys have kids. Some of these guys really have to support the people around them. Some of them maybe have been put in unfortunate circumstances where they can’t afford to be in school for another year. They might want to…If they feel like they’ve locked in their future earnings to take care of their kids, or families, sisters, brothers, whatever, then I think people should really look into their story and see how football is affecting their life.
The truth is, these college players need to do what is best for themselves and you can’t blame them for that. While football is entertainment for us, for them, it’s a potential career.