Mac Engel

A TCU player has never skipped a bowl game. Now one may be good enough to justify it.

Top overall draft pick? TCU’s Lucas Niang has high hopes

TCU right tackle Lucas Niang believes he's the top player in college football. He wants to prove he's worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.
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TCU right tackle Lucas Niang believes he's the top player in college football. He wants to prove he's worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.

Only a few remaining to-dos still exist for a Gary Patterson team at TCU, one of which will happen even though he would prefer otherwise.

TCU has had players leave school early to declare for the NFL draft, but not one of them has ever skipped the final portion of a season, or ducked a bowl game, in an effort to “protect the family business.”

The Horned Frogs have one, possibly two, such candidates this season in receiver Jalen Reagor and offensive lineman Lucas Niang. The latter may be the best offensive lineman in the state.

Both players are projected as late first or second round selections in the 2020 NFL draft. If one or both has a great season, their status should only improve — same for their chances of bailing.

At Big 12 Media Days this week at Jerry’s Club, I asked Niang if he would play in a bowl game. The question now is valid for any senior, or junior, of note.

“Personally, I think I will. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I plan on it,” he said. “I plan on participating in it. I’m doing it for my brothers. I feel like it would be cheap to leave them at the end. If I have to, I have to.”

He wisely gave himself an out.

“It’s a personal decision; it depends on every athlete,” Niang said. “If you are banged up and hurt through the season, you don’t want to play an extra game. You have to get ready for the draft. If you are feeling healthy, there is no reason not to.”

Considering that neither Reagor nor Niang is expected to be a top-15 pick, at least right now, it would be a surprise if they bailed on any game to avoid injury. If either of them has a shot at a high pick, and the next game is a trip to Barf Bag Bowl, skip it.

When Niang has chatted with ex-TCU players who made it to the NFL, the advice was this:

“A couple of people have told me to be more selfish than you typically tend to be in the past,” Niang said. “If you are hurt you have to really take care of yourself. You have to be smart. It’s already a business, but now it’s a business for us because you’d be getting paid.”

As much as coaches hate the idea of one of their best players bailing on a game to avoid injury, there are exceptional circumstances when a young man’s best decision is to sit.

A young man will not bail on a playoff game, a Rose, Cotton, Orange, Fiesta or a Sugar, either. The rest are debatable ... sorry Peach.

As college football continues to add bowl games so networks will have live programming, the potential high draft pick can’t be knocked for sitting out these dates.

Last December, Houston All-American junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver skipped the Cougars’ appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl. Oliver had dealt with a knee injury during the year and scaled it back when his team was not pushing for a memorable season.

Iowa tight end Noah Fant skipped the Hawkeyes’ bowl game last year, just as Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey did in 2016, the same for LSU running back Leonard Fournette that same year.

Although they were asked by NFL GMs why they skipped and a few people thought it was a selfish look, all of these men were first round draft picks.

The fear of becoming another Jake Butt, or Jaylon Smith, is too great.

In 2016, Butt, a senior tight end at Michigan, suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl. Projected as a potential first round pick, he fell to the fifth round and, eventually, landed with the Denver Broncos.

He spent his first season as a “redshirt” and didn’t play. In 2018, he played three games and suffered another torn ACL.

In 2019, the Broncos spent a first round pick on a tight end. That tight end? Noah Fant.

Jaylon Smith was projected as a top-five pick, but he suffered a torn ACL in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl game on Jan. 1, 2016, against Ohio State.

He dropped to the second round, where the Cowboys selected him. He didn’t play as a rookie and was ish his second season. Last year, he played like a top-five pick.

“Injuries are freak accidents. If you are not going 100 percent, more than likely you are going to get hurt,” Niang said. “If I dominate and play the way I know I can, I can stay healthy. If I give 100 percent and have the best game I can have every week, I am going in the first round. There is no point in stressing over things you can’t control.”

Expect Niang and Reagor to play when TCU makes a bowl game, but don’t blame them if they don’t.

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