In November, Michigan State running back LJ Scott was asked about players, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, for example, who skipped bowl games in preparation for the NFL draft.
Would he consider doing the same? More and more players have jumped on that bandwagon, with numerous NCAA players sitting out this postseason. Scott smirked at the idea.
“Those guys were in a better situation than I am now,” he said, “so we’ll see what happens.”
There continues to be no indication that Scott will sit out the Holiday Bowl on Thursday. It seems he has too much to gain. After showing gradual improvement through his freshman and sophomore seasons, Scott flatlined this season as a junior. Despite 200 plays from scrimmage, his highest total in three years, he has 905 yards, 236 yards below his total from 2016.
But every so often, as in a 194-yard rushing performance on Oct. 14 at Minnesota, Scott shows the dynamic ability that has had NFL scouts excited since he arrived in East Lansing, Mich. And even then, he fumbled.
“His inconsistencies are things that will be troublesome to people: his fumbling, inconsistent hands and things like that,” Ourlads’ Dan Shonka, a former NFL scout, said. “But on the other hand, they like the way he runs between the tackles. Here’s a power guy that runs with his pad over his toes, good zone type of runner.”
The game Thursday (9 p.m. ET, FOX) pitting No. 16 Michigan State against No. 18 Washington State will be as good an opportunity as any for Scott to show NFL scouts what he can do. The Cougars allow a modest 146.2 yards on the ground per game, but they’ve also recovered more fumbles (13) than any other Pac-12 team this year.
Scott hasn’t said with any semblance of certainty that he will leave Michigan State a year early. Unofficially, the Spartans have over-signed for next season, suggesting roster attrition is to come. Whether it comes in the form of their standout junior running back leaving soon remains to be seen.
“It’ll be sometime after the season. I’m not sure when,” Scott said of his decision. “I’m just focused on the moment right now, focused on the bowl game. And I’ll handle [the NFL decision] when that time comes.”
More than just on-field production comes into play when considering Scott’s draft stock. He’s had off-field issues, for one. But in the scope of all the legal problems that plague football players, nonviolent issues such as numerous driving infractions don’t seen too cause NFL teams to shy away from a player.
Shoulder problems might, though. Scott has had surgeries on both of his and missed the Spartans’ game against Michigan with discomfort. Another year in college might not be in his best interest with the short shelf life of an NFL running back.
“In the NFL, if you’re clean going in from college, you’re probably going to get beat up,” Shonka said. “But if you’re kind of beat up going in, that’s a definite concern.”
All that said, Scott still seems to be an intriguing draft prospect — that is, if he declares. The Holiday Bowl could be his final game for Michigan State, and if so, he’ll need to show NFL scouts that he hasn’t regressed.
“With his inconsistencies and his ball security problems, he’ll probably end up being a fourth-round draft choice unless some team really fell in love with him and took him in the third,” Shonka said. “But I think he’s probably in that fourth-round area.”