In anticipation for this weekend’s matchup with the Vikings, it’s another opportunity to thank Al Davis for ensuring that the Broncos have only had to face Adrian Peterson once every four years. (Last week, we could say the same for Calvin Johnson!) There’s little doubt that he is a rare physical talent that doesn’t come around very often. If you watched any of Peterson’s play at Oklahoma, or even his high school highlights, you would have known that he had special talent.
If you’ve watched any LSU football this year, you’ll also know that their star running back Leonard Fournette is the early Heisman candidate, and he is receiving praise from experts as respected as Gil Brandt on the levels of Peterson. This, naturally, has raised the question of whether players like Peterson or Fournette could play in the NFL at a younger age. Peterson, for his part, said with an aura of confidence that he could have.
While Peterson may have been right or wrong, he should have still had the chance to enter the NFL early if he so desired. And so should Fournette or anyone else.
The NFL rule that of course stood in the way of Peterson, and now stands in the way of Fournette, is the one that mandates that players must be three years removed from high school before they can enter the league. Ostensibly the rule exists for paternalistic reasons, to allow the player to “grow” both physically and mentally to handle the rigors of the NFL. More cynically, the rule can be interpreted as one to allow the NFL to use the NCAA as a free farm system so that they don’t have to resort to starting their own development league.
Whatever the purpose, the rule is a bad one that shouldn’t exist. Players should have the opportunity to offer their services to the NFL whenever they see fit. Each of the NFL teams are, of course, under no obligation to acquire that player’s service if they do not wish do to so. But they should not collectively collude on a blanket ban on all such players. It’s a rule that’s especially troublesome for the position that Peterson and Fournette play, as running backs are notorious for having shorter careers than normal. Marcus Lattimore is the most acute example of being screwed over by this rule.
Of course, this isn’t a rule that’s going to change any time soon, as arguably the worst draft pick in Denver Broncos history found out. So the question then turns to what players can do to to navigate the rules that are stacked against them–not only in the NFL, but in the NCAA, an organization that has plenty of indefensible rules that would take a separate article altogether to properly address.
Mike Florio has been beating the drum for quite some time that young college running backs that have already proven their draft worth should sit out a year in order to avoid the risk of injury. He recently did it with Fournette, and did it last year with Ezekiel Elliott. There can be reasonable debate as to whether such a move is wise as individually applied to Fournette, Elliott, or anyone else. And Fournette, for his part, appears to be quite content playing for LSU and looks unlikely to take Florio’s advice. Still, the core of Florio’s general argument is sound.
Practically, however, there’s a fatal flaw in Florio’s plan. Any college player that sits out a year would have his scholarship promptly revoked–and rightly so, I might add. This leaves the player with little, if any, resources to continue to stay in football shape. However, I can think of a possible way to circumvent this problem: transfer to another Division I-A school. According to one of many bad NCAA rules, any player that executes such a transfer must sit out a year before he can play for his new school. Usually, this is a rule that disadvantages players, but in this case it would be exactly what the player wants. He would almost certainly burn bridges with the school that he transferred to, but it wouldn’t impact his goal of making it to the NFL draft unscathed.
Attempting to join the NFL early is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and I would guess that almost all football players would wisely decide against it, with a few choosing poorly. But the choice should still be there for the gifted few like Adrian Peterson that could have pulled it off.