Opinions among NFL coaches and personnel staff would be split if LSU star running back Leonard Fournette were to sit out his junior season in 2016, but the prevailing reaction would not be favorable, according to NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock.
Pundits suggested this week that the Tigers star sophomore should sit out his junior year to preserve his health and draft status for the 2017 NFL Draft. NFL rules require prospects to be three years removed from high school to be draft-eligible, and as a true sophomore, Fournette won't be eligible until 2017 at the earliest. Fournette, for his part, has made it clear he has no such inclination, and his coach Les Miles, can't fathom it, either.
Mayock told The Rich Eisen Show that while such a move by Fournette would lead NFL clubs to question his competitiveness, the low mileage on his legs as a rusher, brought about by a year off the field, might be an attractive factor as well.
"I think a lot of the league would be turned off by that. I think there would be a lot of coaches, especially, that would say, 'What kind of competitor is this kid? What kind of leader is this kid, what kind of teammate am I drafting?'" Mayock told Eisen. "However I think there would be another core group of individuals and teams that say, 'Wait a minute, not only can we draft a kid that might be a once-in-a-lifetime type talent, but there's less tread (wear) on the tires. He didn't take the beating of 12, 13, 14 games in the SEC. I think it would be a mixed opinion. I think the more vocal opinion would be negative. But I think there would be a lot of teams throughout the league that would say 'Hey, that's OK with me.' They're just not going to say that publicly."
The three-year eligibility rule means that redshirt sophomores and true juniors are the youngest of applicants for the NFL draft each year. Fournette is just three games into his true sophomore year and 16 games into his college career. He has rushed for 631 yards in three games this season, including back-to-back 200-yard games against Auburn and Syracuse the last two weeks.
Mayock supports the three-year rule.
"I feel very, very, very, very strongly that for every Leonard Fournette that may be ready, there are 100 kids that think they are ready, and are not," Mayock said. "In our game of football if you're a 19-year-old kid, and you're not a man, and you can take that whole UnderArmour all-star high school team, and I would tell you that once out of every two or three years out of the best in the country, maybe one kid could step into the NFL out of high school, or even a year later. The problem is, unlike basketball or baseball, if these kids are allowed to do that, they could get hurt badly. They're not men yet, most of them, physically, emotionally, psychologically."
Miles said this week that Fournette has had discussions about investing in a loss-of-value insurance policy that would protect him from lost draft status in the event of a career-threatening injury. Cleveland Browns rookie Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is expected to become the first player to cash in on such a policy claim, to the tune of $3 million, within two months.