NFL AM: Could Prospective Draft Picks Skip Bowl Games?


Will Jaylon Smith’s Injury Teach Players A Lesson?

Aside from the four teams playing in the College Football Playoff, bowl games are little more than exhibitions for profit of universities that often exploit their star athletes.

The bowl game is sold as a “reward” for college players and although most of the guys have a good time spending a week in cities that range from Detroit to Miami (the obvious 0-10 fun spectrum), there are the dangers that come from playing a contact sport in a meaningless game.

The worst of those fears may have been realized by Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was a lock Top 10 draft pick before suffering a major knee injury in the team’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.

“It’s the game of football and it happened,” Smith explained in his media session at the NFL Combine. “I have no choice but to live with it. I’m just moving forward. That’s all I’m focused on.”

Smith admitted to tearing his ACL and LCL ligaments, but the bigger fear is nerve damage, which he denies having.

“I feel great,” said the Notre Dame star. “There’s no soreness in the knee or there’s no pain. I’ve been off pain pills for almost a month. It’s the matter of the recovery process.  I don’t know when the nerve and everything will heal, but it’s just a matter of me taking it day-by-day and controlling what I can control.”

It has been rumored that a handful of teams have removed Smith from their draft boards entirely.  Still, he feels like his stock hasn’t been damaged all that much.

“I’m hoping to go Top 10,” said Smith. “I view myself as the best player in the draft, you know? It’s just a matter of waiting and enjoying the process and controlling what I can control. I’m having a blast with all the fellas out here.

“It’s a long-term decision for whoever drafts me. I’m a guy who will be around for a while playing at an elite level. An impact player. It’s great watching a guy like Todd Gurley do it last year and come back almost mid-season and perform. It’s very encouraging.”

It’s great that he is confident about this April’s NFL Draft, but if Smith goes in the Top 10 of the third round it would be considered an upset victory.

Even though he has an insurance policy that protects him from falling out of the first round and beyond, it’s possible and actually likely that Smith will never be the same player that he was prior to the injury. Again, an injury that occurred during a bowl game that was little more than an exhibition.

An AFC head coach told Football Insiders that it was simply too risky to spend a high pick on Smith.

“If he is there in the fifth round, we’d be all over it,” the coach said.

Although no top draft prospect who is an underclassman has been so bold as to skip a potential junior season to stay healthy, skipping a meaningless bowl game is quite another story.  If a player like LSU’s Leonard Fournette is fortunate enough to make it through another season mostly healthy and if his Tigers are not playing for the national title, why would he risk injury to play in a meaningless game?

Why would any high pick?

It’s a simple risk-reward proposition.  Nobody’s stock rises considerably from any bowl game performance. Especially if it’s a game that doesn’t have title implications.  Look no further than Smith to see the potential risk and just imagine if you’re a player that doesn’t have one of those insurance policies.  It would simply be irresponsible to play in that meaningless game.

Colts Say Thanks But No Thanks

An NFL Media report states that the Indianapolis Colts are ready to move on from free agent veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

Normally a team moving on from a 40-year old backup quarterback is the right move and a non-story, but Hasselbeck was pretty solid in relief of the injured Andrew Luck.  He is quite possibly the perfect backup quarterback.  The veteran can step in and run any offense without being a threat to the starter.  He is also a respected voice in the locker room who is a team leader and coach on the field and the sideline.

The Colts will reportedly put their eggs in the Josh Freeman basket as Luck’s primary backup.  Freeman had a near unbelievable decline as he went from solid NFL starting quarterback in 2012 to a guy who didn’t look like he belonged in the league in the span of one offseason.  Rumors of extracurricular night life ran rampant during his time in Tampa Bay, and he is trying to rebuild his career, even if it’s as a backup quarterback.

Freeman is only 28 years old and it’s entirely possible that he can be a valuable member of an NFL team.

As for Hasselbeck, he’s unsure if he wants to continue his playing career in another city.  If he does decide to keep playing, there are plenty of teams who should be interested.  The 40-year old would be a solid fit with the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.