still gathering information about whether to leave school for the draft but all intend to compete Dec. 29 in Atlanta.
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said he thinks all his NFL prospects — including potential firstround picks defensive end Montez Sweat and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons — will play in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl, but things are always fluid with 20-year-olds.
“I think it’s just part of the way that the game has progressed,” Moorhead said Thursday before the Outback Bowl’s contract signing ceremony. “Certainly when guys are in line to progress their careers at the next level and have an opportunity to make a lot of money to play the game that they love — I don’t want to say it’s surprising (they choose to skip a bowl game), but I can say it’s understandable, if that makes sense.”
It definitely makes cents, or at least minimizes the chance of a player losing out on money because of injury. That’s what happened to Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, a projected top-five pick who fell to the second round after seriously injuring a knee in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2015 season.
McCaffrey and Fournette were among the first players to avoid that risk by skipping their bowl games. Both were injured during the regular season, and running backs are known for having short NFL careers.
The NFL didn’t seem to care about their choice. Both were drafted in the top eight, and both have had success in the NFL. Fournette was a 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie for the Jaguars, and McCaffrey leads the Panthers in rushing and receiving yards this year.
The NFL didn’t care last season, either, when Florida State safety Derwin James ignored the Independence Bowl. The Chargers drafted him at No. 17. James is the favorite to be named the league’s defensive rookie of the year.
The other players who have chosen to skip their bowl games this season: Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry (Las Vegas Bowl), Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver (Armed Forces Bowl), North Carolina State linebacker Germaine Pratt and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon (Gator Bowl), Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill (Liberty Bowl) and South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel (Belk Bowl).
Their decision has left their teams with holes to fill. Fortunately for Iowa, that’s an easy fix. Though Fant is extremely talented and could be chosen in the first round next year, he might not be the Hawkeyes’ best player at his position. Teammate T.J. Hockenson won the John Mackey Award this week as the nation’s top tight end.
For Ferentz, there are no hard feelings about losing a great player before the end of the season.
“I don’t think a player owes anybody anything,” Ferentz said. “It’s like a real job. What you owe your employer is showing up every day and doing a good job. But if you decide the next day you don’t want to work anymore, that’s your prerogative.
“You’ve got to do what’s best for you.”
Iowa tight end Noah Fant has said he won’t play in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl in Tampa to protect his interests for next year’s NFL draft.