Draft King Analysis|
January 14, 2015
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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The 2014-15 NCAA college football season is over. Columbus celebrated like crazy late Monday night into yesterday morning, with things unfortunately degenerating as dozens of fires were set and a group of young people reportedly broke into the Horseshoe and tore down a goalpost.
The police response was swift and, in some people's opinion, heavy-handed. Pepper spray was deployed in widespread volumes, causing problems not only for rioters but also for people peacefully making their way through the area. Not everyone was happy with the approach, but when you're dealing with dozens of arsons, I suppose swift action has to be taken.
I'm just glad I live far enough away from campus to where that didn't directly affect me, though plenty of Ohio State students and young alumni here at The Quarry were out celebrating late Monday night into Tuesday morning. And rightfully so: beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and then handling Oregon in the national championship game is one whale of a combo. Factor in the blowout win over Wisconsin, which was key in securing a playoff spot, and it's one amazing story about what a third-string QB like Cardale Jones managed to pull off.
There are some who are pushing for Jones to go pro, or at the very least are bringing up fair points about his draft stock and the inherent risks for returning to college versus casting his lot in the NFL. I would suggest this wouldn't go as well as many think, in part because in the NFL you can't lower your shoulder and go into Steamroller Mode on 3rd and 4 without those hits adding up fast.
Another, perhaps more unconventional opinion about an Ohio State player's future came from Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, who suggested that Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott would be best served by leaving Ohio State to concentrate on a pro career and readying himself for the 2016 NFL Draft.
This elicited plenty of anger, as you might imagine, particularly among Ohio State fans who don't want their celebration to be tainted. Perhaps most outspoken on the issue was former Buckeye RB Maurice Clarett, whose attempt to break the NFL's use of NCAA football as a free minor league failed more than a decade ago. Here's what he wrote on Instagram:
Ignore all of this Zeke.... I'm speaking from experience. You can't beat the machine (NFL). Go to class and focus on getting better as a ball player. Rather anyone likes it or not the system isn't going to change. Too much money and too many lobbyist are involved. Deal with it and stay focused my man..!!!
I don't think that Clarett quite understood the argument, which wasn't to challenge the system but instead for Elliott to proactively protect his health. The rule that prohibits college players from being eligible until three years after graduating from high school is harsh for top prospects, guys like Marcus Lattimore who showed so much talent as a freshman only to have his career derailed by a torn ACL in his left knee as a sophomore followed by a catastrophic right knee injury as a junior.
Look at Todd Gurley of Georgia this past season, who in reality should have closed up shop after the NCAA suspended him four games for receiving $400 in exchange for autographing 80 items. It would have actually been a blessing for Gurley had the NCAA suspended him for the rest of the season.
Instead? Gurley sat out four games, then suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in his first game back. Sometimes life isn't fair.
The flip side to the notion of Elliott sitting out to prepare for 2016 in the stark reality that running backs aren't being taken as highly in the draft as they used to go. Ten years ago, three of the top five players drafted were running backs. Today that would seem extraordinarily unlikely, in large part because of how rule changes made for safety reasons have tilted the NFL game so hard in favor of passing attacks.
There's another factor, though -- plenty of teams are finding quality running backs in either the late part of the draft or as undrafted free agents. With Ray Rice out of the picture, the Ravens plugged in Justin Forsett, a seventh-round selection by Seattle in 2008, at running back in 2014. The result: 5.4 yards per carry and the fifth-highest rushing yardage total (1,266 yards) in the entire league.
Forsett isn't a one-off, as there are plenty of examples out there of teams managing to plug-and-play at RB with success. And this isn't to outright denigrate the value of selections in the round 2-3 range being used on the position. DeMarco Murray, Le'Veon Bell, Shady McCoy and Eddie Lacy have all proven to be worthy of the top 100 picks used on them in their respective drafts.
But there is a difference between top 100 and top 32, particularly in pay. So, while Elliott sitting out and working toward 2016 might seem like a bold idea, the actual payoff for him might not be what some would expect.