KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With the news Monday that Stanford tailback Christian McCaffrey would sit out the Hyundai Sun Bowl to prepare for the upcoming NFL draft, Tennessee players were asked their opinions on two marquee college players skipping the postseason.
Three day earlier, LSU’s dynamic tailback Leonard Fournette announced he would not play in the Citrus Bowl against Louisville. McCaffrey and Fournette have battled injuries throughout the year and have already declared for the NFL draft.
“I really don’t have an opinion on it, to be honest,” Vols senior center Dylan Wiesman said.
“It’s their life. It’s their choice. I would never leave my teammates like that if I had one more game, but that’s definitely up to them. They have a lot of money on the line, so it’s their life decision.”
Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. echoed a similar sentiment saying, “It’s those guys’ personal decision. Personally for me, it would be different. But it’s college football these days.”
Perhaps most candidly, nickelback Rahsaan Gaulden said, “It’s a business decision.”
McCaffrey’s announcement sparked debate Monday wondering if the recent decisions by two notable draft-eligible juniors would become a trend in college football.
Both players are projected as first-round picks, and their choices were made almost exclusively to avoid any injury risk. Just last year, former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was a projected top 5 pick until he tore his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Smith dropped to the second round, losing millions of dollars.
Tennessee has a pair of players most people believe will forgot their senior seasons for the NFL draft, but Derek Barnett and Alvin Kamara have delayed any decisions until after the Vols play Nebraska in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
Barnett is looking to become Tennessee’s all-time sack leader, while Kamara returned from a knee injury to help spearhead an explosive offense late in the season.
Wiesman seriously doubted Barnett or Kamara would ever make a similar choice as McCaffrey or Fournette, but Tennessee’s senior center, who has minimal pro prospects, acknowledged it’s different for every guy depending on the situation.
“We’re so close,” he said.
“This is my last game. If it was going to be their last opportunity to play, I would want to go to war with my brothers for one last hurrah. I would definitely not leave my team.”