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Draft King Analysis
September 25, 2015
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

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In front of a national television audience last Saturday, it only took one play for LSU RB Leonard Fournette to make a huge impression... and stir up debate once again about the NFL policy that will keep him from joining the league until 2017 at the earliest.

Fournette, a true sophomore from New Orleans, was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. With great size (6'1" 225) and incredible speed relative to his frame, Fournette has the skills to be starting in the NFL right now.

Unfortunate for Fournette, and other elite young players, the rule that prevents players from joining the NFL until three years after their high school class graduation isn't going anywhere. It's a quid pro quo with the NCAA, which serves as a de facto free minor league system for the league.

When that rule was finally challenged in court by Maurice Clarett in 2004, it felt like something that was long overdue. He won on an initial ruling, but on appeal the NFL got the nod from the courts. When the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Clarett, or even issue a stay allowing him and USC wide receiver Mike Williams to enter the 2004 NFL Draft, that sealed it up.

So, just like Ezekiel Elliott and Adrian Peterson and Marcus Lattimore and other great running backs who have come along over the past decade plus, Fournette will have to wait to turn pro. And it was Lattimore who immediately came to mind to me when Fournette took a hard hit to one of his legs as he scored his third touchdown on the day against Auburn.

Much like Fournette, Lattimore was NFL-ready after his true freshman season at South Carolina. But the rules kept him in place with the Gamecocks, and he went on to suffer a torn left ACL as a sophomore before sustaining a horrific right leg injury as a junior.

Lattimore was drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. But he was unable to recover from the injury that ended his college career, and Lattimore never played a down in the NFL. It's a sordid story that makes me angry every time I think about it.

Obviously there are many reasons to keep young players in college, but there really should be something in place for the true outliers, guys like Fournette or Ohio State DE Joey Bosa who have NFL-level talent but are kept out of the pros. I would call that restraint of trade, but the courts didn't see it my way.

But the reality of the situation is that the "three years removed" rule benefits both the NCAA and the NFL. Much like people who were anti-playoff in the BCS era (which, thankfully, finally ended last season), there are some who support the arbitrary NFL eligibility restriction based on the power of the status quo. And, short of creating a committee for special consideration (and just imagine the politics involved with that), or the rise of another pro league, things aren't going to change.

Had the XFL made it as a viable alternative football league, today's elite players would have had leverage similar to what guys in the mid-1980s had with the USFL. But that didn't happen, and other efforts like the UFL likewise have failed to find success. And, considering the remarkable start-up costs involved with creating a professional league, not to mention concerns about health-related liabilities, it's unlikely that a viable contender will emerge anytime in the foreseeable future.

At Penn State, the iffy play of QB Christian Hackenberg will almost for sure lead to him dropping out of my next mock draft update. But there is a star emerging there at running back: true freshman Saquon Barkley from Whitehall, PA. Against Buffalo on 9/12 he carried 12 times for 115 yards and a TD, and then against Rutgers on 9/19 he had 21 rushing attempts for 195 yards and two TDs. Not a bad start at all for Barkley.

In a day packed with thrillers last Saturday, it was Cal QB Jared Goff who emerged from Austin, TX looking like a strong contender for the top QB slot in the 2016 NFL Draft. The stat line is impressive: 27/37 passing for 268 yards and three TDs with zero interceptions. And while Cal's defense nearly allowed Texas to complete a frenetic rally to force overtime, a missed extra point allowed Goff and the Golden Bears to escape unbeaten with a 45-44 win.

The knock on Goff has been about his frame and if he has the size to handle NFL-level hits. Time will tell on that, but at 6'4" 215 he has NFL prototype-range height. No one will mistake him for Cardale Jones bowling over defensive backs on a QB keeper, but it's his great accuracy that has people really buzzing. And rightly so.

There is a notable contrast between Goff and Michigan State QB Connor Cook, who has similar size (6'4" 220) but lacks the accuracy that Goff has shown. Cook has eight TDs against only one interception, but with him sitting at a 58.1% completion rate on the season as of this writing, he hasn't shown improvement in a category that is more vital than ever in the NFL.

Cook could very well go on to be an excellent NFL quarterback, and he led the Spartans to victory against Oregon in an early-season test. But there is also the curious issue of him not being voted a team captain, a very peculiar turn of events that (fairly or not) might raise a red flag for some about Cook in the leadership department.

In short, I would suggest that, at this point, Cook has more to prove than Goff. But it's a long season and we're still in September.

Last night's football options featured a college football thriller on ESPN and a dud of an NFL game on CBS. In a game with a dozen lead changes and more than 1,300 yards combined, Memphis remained unbeaten by knocking off Cincinnati 53-46. Memphis' defense is suspect, but they have some playmakers on offense. And, if the Tigers win at USF one week from Saturday, it sets up a fascinating home matchup against Ole Miss that could potentially be a battle of unbeatens.

Of course, there is the troubling reality that Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel, one week removed from a reported concussion, suffered another head injury in a scary-looking play that led to him being taken to a nearby hospital for observation. Here's hoping Kiel will be okay. Football is an inherently violent game, which is part of the thrill of it both as a spectator and a participant. But with that violence comes some very real injury risk.

As for the Redskins/Giants game, the poor quality of play drew plenty of criticism on social media, just as many of the terrible Thursday night NFL games did last season. But those Thursday night NFL games are not going to disappear anytime soon, not with the cash that they are generating, even if it means sub-par game quality and the perplexing overexposure of color commentator Phil Simms.

For now, I leave you with this without further comment.

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