COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sitting out a bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft is not a decision on Bryson Allen-Williams’ plate.
But the South Carolina junior linebacker knows what his decision would if it was.
“That’s just not something that I believe in,” he said. “If I was projected first-round pick, there’s a reason you’re going to be projected first round. Playing that last game with your team is something that you can’t get back.”
The question to sit or to play has come to light in the past week as LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey opted not to play in the final game of their college careers. Instead, Fournette and McCaffrey will start working toward the NFL draft and avoid the chance of suffering an injury in what amounts to an exhibition game.
“That’s their decision,” offensive lineman Zack Bailey said. “This game is their career. They have a chance to go up and make their lives. That’s a decision that they make. I don’t judge them or anyone for making that decision. If they go out and they play in this bowl game and they get hurt, that affects them and that affects the rest of their lives. I can’t say I disagree with them.”
In last season’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith tore his ACL and LCL in his left knee. Smith fell from a projected Top-5 pick to an early second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys. He has not played in the NFL yet as he continues to recover from the ugly injury.
South Carolina running back David Williams was watching the Irish play Ohio State when Smith was injured. He said he thinks players have been making these decisions previously, but it is more public now.
“You’ve gotta look at their point of view and you’ve gotta look at your point of view,” Williams said. “(Fournette) can go play in that bowl game and end his career. I feel like they know, he’s got a chance to go the NFL, so why risk getting hurt and being out for the rest of your life?”
Bailey thinks a decision on playing or not playing in a bowl game has a few influencing factors. It starts with the level of bowl game, as he believes any player would be playing if their team was in a playoff game. In the case of Fournette and McCaffrey, neither is playing in a significant bowl game.
Bailey, who could be looking at an NFL future in a couple years, also thinks it depends on the skill level of the player. A first- or second-round projected pick sitting out is understandable, he said, but a late-round pick could use a bowl game to increase their chances of making it at the next level.
Bailey, Allen-Williams, Williams and cornerback Chris Lammons all said they would not think differently of a teammate in Fournette or McCaffrey’s shoes if they elected to sit out the bowl game.
Allen-Williams and Lammons were sure though: They still would play in the game.
“Me personally, I like playing football,” Allen-Williams said.
Still, the Gamecocks understood how a player such as Fournette or McCaffrey could make a decision not to play after the regular season has concluded and the NFL Draft is on the horizon.
“This game is a team sport,” Bailey said. “But at the end of the day, it comes down to you. It dictates the rest of your life.”