A bombshell dropped from Baton Rouge today, as Ja’Marr Chase, a lock to be taken early in the first round, decided to skip his junior season to prepare for the NFL Draft.
That is the proper phrasing, too, since COVID seemingly had nothing to do with it. From Dennis Dodd at CBS:
Sources said Chase’s decision is not specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, it is believed agents may have simply convinced Chase to leave before his third collegiate season. NFL rules state a player cannot be drafted until three years after his high school graduation.
To be sure, the timing of this decision is odd. It’s possible that the almost fully rebuilding LSU squad, and more specifically QB Myles Brennan, isn’t looking quite as strong as he’d hoped in camp. Chase’s stock couldn’t be much higher after last season, and if he believes that the team won’t be competing for much this season and/or Brennan won’t be able to get him the football, there is little reason to risk an injury.
Still, it seemed inevitable that some high profile player would eventually make this choice. Back in 2017, Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette made headlines when both decided not to return to their respective teams after recovering from injury. Neither Stanford nor LSU was in contention for a national championship that season, and those choices were generally applauded.
Alabama WR Devonta Smith was recently asked about his intentions, and he was adamant about playing the season. Some in sports media have suggested that Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence should also sit, but he seems to be all in, and the other top QB prospect in Ohio State’s Justin Fields started a petition hoping to have the Big Ten reverse its decision not to play. Thus far, none of the contending teams that are still pushing toward a fall season have had notable opt-outs, for COVID or otherwise. Whether that continues remains to be seen, but in general competitors aren’t likely to voluntarily miss a chance to play for a ring.
For those few elite players on teams who have little chance at winning it all, though? This could easily become a trend, and it makes plenty of sense.
The gap between the haves and have nots continues to grow.