Morgantown, West Virginia – The most notable West Virginia football player to opt out of a bowl game is Will Grier, who decided to skip the Camping World Bowl against Syracuse in 2018. When Grier announced that he would miss the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, West Virginia fans and critics blasted him for abandoning the team.
This year, West Virginia’s starting running back and leading rusher, senior Leddie Brown announced that he would miss this year’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona against the Minnesota Gophers. Brown, like Grier did previously, announced that he would opt out to prepare himself for the draft.
Unlike Grier’s announcement, however, Brown’s decision to opt out was met mostly with understanding from the West Virginia fanbase. Perhaps West Virginia fans have gotten soft, or maybe there is another reason why Grier’s decision was met with hostility and Brown’s was not.
While this year’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl is seen as a meaningless game, the 2018 Camping World Bowl was no more significant or meaningful to West Virginia.
Ultimately, regardless of the importance of the game, it’s extremely disappointing that a player would choose to leave the team before a bowl game. The risk of injury is always a concern in football, so missing a game to prevent a potential injury is soft any way you look at it.
NFL scouts and general managers see this timidity and it likely negatively impacts the player, or it should. A player too frightened of injury and too focused on personal gains rather than the good of the team is a red flag. Despite Leddie Brown being an outstanding team player by all accounts during his time in Morgantown, this is a terrible way to leave the Mountaineers.
In addition, Brown is not considered one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft. In fact, most mock drafts and early projections project him as a Round 5 through Round 7 pick. Walter Football has rated Brown as the 24th best running back in this class and calls him “a well-rounded back for West Virginia. He’s solid but unspectacular.”
While Brown can certainly improve his draft position with a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Bowl and at the NFL Combine, as well as during individual team workouts, it’s extremely unlikely that he will be a 1st round or Day One pick.
In other words, playing in the NFL is a possibility for Leddie Brown but it’s far from a guarantee. With that said, it’s hard to imagine giving up the chance to play one more time with his teammates for the slight risk of an injury.
While it will be interesting to see young running backs Tony Mathis and Justin Johnson, Jr. get real, significant playing time to see if they are capable of carrying the load for the Mountaineers in the future, it would have also been nice to see Leddie Brown suit up one more time and give West Virginia the best chance of beating Minnesota in the bowl game.