Sitting out doesn’t negatively impact draft stock
Star college football players have started to recognize that sitting out an exhibition during bowl season won’t negatively impact their NFL draft stock.
Once a team has officially been eliminated from the national championship hunt, the risk greatly outweighs the reward. Serious injuries have occurred in bowl games, dropping high-round possibilities to Day 3 project picks.
And that slip can be worth millions of dollars. The 2018 bowl season will be missing more than a handful of excellent players.
Nick Bosa is not included because he left the Ohio State program while recovering from a season-ending injury, but he’s worth the mention.
Here’s who decided to skip the bowl game.
Noah Fant, tight end, Iowa
The impressive trend of Iowa tight ends is poised to continue with Noah Fant. He will be the ninth Hawkeyes player from the position to hear his name in the NFL draft since 2000. After snaring 30 passes for 11 touchdowns last season, he scored seven times with career-high marks of 39 catches and 519 yards. Fant earned first-team All-Big Ten status this season. Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, they can overcome his absence in the Outback Bowl and lean on sophomore stud T.J. Hockenson. In all likelihood, he’ll continue the Iowa pipeline next year.
Rashan Gary, defenive line, Michigan
When he arrived as the No. 1 prospect in the 2016 recruiting class, Rashan Gary looked like a future All-American. Although he didn’t quite match that billing, the lineman secured a pair of first-team All-Big Ten selections from the coaches. By no means was Gary’s college career a disappointment. Over the last two seasons, he collected 110 total tackles with 19.5 takedowns for loss and 9.5 sacks. It’s particularly smart for Gary to skip the Peach Bowl because he’s battled injury this year. One last appearance isn’t worth risking his first-round status.
Kelvin Harmon, wide receiver, North Carolina State
Perhaps he’s not a familiar name. Kelvin Harmon is every bit a star, however. Entering bowl season, the junior is one of only seven players who recorded 1,000-yard years in both 2017 and 2018. Harmon tallied 69 catches for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. This season, he bested all of those outputs with 81 receptions, 1,186 yards and seven scores while helping NC State to a 9-3 record. Harmon’s absence will be noticeable in the Gator Bowl, but the Wolfpack have four other receivers who caught at least 22 passes.
N’Keal Harry, wide receiver, Arizona State
Long considered one of the prized receivers in this draft cycle, N’Keal Harry lived up to his potential in 2018. The 6-foot-4 target hauled in 73 passes for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns. In five of Arizona State’s last six games, he posted 91 yards or more. Plus, Harry gathered at least five catches and 80-plus yards in nine of his 12 appearances this season.
NFL front offices will covet the two-time first-team All-Pac-12 star’s consistency. Arizona State must replace his steady production opposite a stingy Fresno State defense in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Justice Hill, running back, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s year mirrored that of standout junior Justice Hill: decent, yet frustrating. Although the Cowboys grabbed marquee wins over Texas and West Virginia, they also limped to 6-6 while losing at Kansas State, Baylor and TCU. Hill rattled off five 100-yard showings but effectively sat three games due to injury. Still, after piling up 3,843 yards from scrimmage in three seasons as the starting back, Hill has nothing left to prove at this level. The Pokes will turn to Chuba Hubbard as the lead runner against Missouri in the Liberty Bowl.
Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Houston
This decision should come as no surprise from someone who declared for the 2019 NFL draft in March 2018. Ed Oliver is that good. The defensive tackle spent three seasons obliterating AAC competition and becoming the most feared interior player in the nation. Oliver racked up 53.5 takedowns for loss, which included 14.5 this year despite only appearing in eight games due to injury. Given his ability to disrupt up front, suffice to say Houston will miss him in the Armed Forces Bowl opposite Army’s grinding triple-option offense.
Deebo Samuel, wide receiver, South Carolina
Injuries have already delayed Deebo Samuel’s development enough. There’s no reason for the versatile wideout to risk another. Hamstring issues limited him to 15 total appearances as a freshman and sophomore. Last season, a broken left fibula sidelined Samuel after a stunning start to the year. He’d accounted for six touchdowns a receiver, runner and returner in just three games. Samuel bounced back with a healthy 2018, racking up 1,478 all-purpose yards for a five-loss South Carolina team. The Belk Bowl isn’t worth any more pain.
Greedy Williams, cornerback, LSU
Some players are ready to contribute immediately. Others, like Greedy Williams, need a year out of the spotlight to develop. No path to stardom is the same, but the redshirt sophomore found center stage anyway. In 2017, the cornerback had 11 pass breakups and snatched six interceptions. This season, he collected nine and two, respectively, while helping LSU to the Fiesta Bowl. Thanks to the combination of his lockdown coverage, ball skills and 6-foot-3 stature, Williams will be touted as a potential top-five pick in the upcoming draft.