J.T. Barrett, Chris Worley Would Be “Shocked” If Any Ohio State Players Skip Cotton Bowl to Prepare for NFL Draft

By Dan Hope on December 4, 2017 at 8:35 am
Tyquan Lewis, Chris Worley and Jalyn Holmes

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett could only shake his head in disbelief at the question he had just been asked.

“The trend of players maybe skipping the bowl game to maybe tend to their own personal matters, do you foresee that happening here?” a reporter asked Sunday, as Barrett rolled his eyes before the question was even complete. “What would you say to somebody who might be thinking of doing that?”

As Ohio State prepares to play USC in the Cotton Bowl, a non-College Football Playoff bowl game that some might say doesn’t matter, it’s a valid question to be asked. In recent years, a trend has started to gain momentum – a trend that began in part because of Ohio State’s last non-playoff bowl game, the Fiesta Bowl two seasons ago, when Notre Dame linebacker and projected top-10 NFL draft pick Jaylon Smith suffered a serious knee injury – of players who are projected to be top NFL draft picks choosing to skip their final bowl games in order to stay healthy and begin preparing for their pre-draft workouts.

Most notably, former LSU running back Leonard Fournette and former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey – who both went on to be top-10 picks in the 2017 NFL draft – chose to skip their teams’ bowl games last year. Texas left tackle Connor Williams, a projected high first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, announced last week that he would forgo the Longhorns’ bowl game to begin preparing for his professional football career.

For Ohio State’s potential 2018 NFL draft picks, however, Barrett – who did the opposite of protecting himself for a potential professional football career by playing in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game just six days after undergoing knee surgery – does not expect skipping the Cotton Bowl to even be a consideration.

"I don't know what the people have done in these past couple of years. I don't know them personally. But I guess the brotherhood and the bond that we have in the Ohio State locker room, I would be very shocked," Barrett said. "If somebody was like, yeah, I'm not going to play in the bowl game, Cotton Bowl against USC, I think that would be wild."

Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley – who, like Barrett, is set to play his final college football game in the Cotton Bowl before attempting to earn a job in the NFL – expressed the same sentiment as Barrett, citing the Buckeyes’ bond as a reason why he would not expect any of his teammates to voluntarily end their collegiate careers one game early.

"I don't see any guys on this team doing that. The love for the brother here and brotherhood, that's real," Worley said. "We've got a bunch of guys that love playing football, love the game, just to be around the game. To just think about a guy sort of saying, I'm going to take a step from a game, if he's not legit hurt, then I really doubt that would happen here."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer didn’t rule out the possibility that any of his players could make the decision to skip the bowl game if they intend to enter the 2018 NFL draft, but he too said that was not something he expected to see happen.

"Those are all situations that you handle on a case-by-case," Meyer said Sunday. "I would hope not, but once again this is all happening real fast. And I think our players are very close and they want to go out to find a way to win this game."

Although Meyer and Worley said Sunday that the Buckeyes were “devastated” that they were left out of the playoff field after defeating Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, they also said they expect their team to rally together and finish the season strong as they practice over the next few weeks before their game against the Trojans on Dec. 29.

"This is a team that we live by a brotherhood that they love each other, they care for each other, and they're going to go play their best," Meyer said. "One thing about our players, they're excited to represent each other and Ohio State. That's all you can ask from a team."

“We've got a bunch of guys that love playing football, love the game, just to be around the game.”– Chris Worley

Ohio State has plenty of players who are candidates to be selections in the 2018 NFL draft. In addition to seniors like center Billy Price, defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes, left tackle Jamarco Jones and Worley, Buckeyes with remaining eligibility who could be early-round draft picks if they declare for the draft include cornerback Denzel Ward, defensive end Sam Hubbard, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones and linebacker Jerome Baker.

Denzel Ward
Denzel Ward could be Ohio State's top prospect in the 2018 NFL draft.

As of now, though, there’s no indication that any of those players would consider skipping the Cotton Bowl. Playing in the Cotton Bowl might actually give those Buckeyes more potential to bolster their draft stocks than to hurt them, as it’s an opportunity for those players to demonstrate their skills on a national stage against another team that features plenty of NFL talent.

The affirmative assertions by Barrett and Worley, however, suggested that they expect their fellow outgoing players to participate in the Cotton Bowl simply because it is one more opportunity for them to compete for a victory with their Buckeyes teammates.

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