Let me make this clear.
I have no problem with players who decide to leave school early. I am in no position to say anyone should turn down a 6, 7 or even 8-figure payday and return to school.
Having said that, there are certain players who I feel are more ready for the NFL than others. That’s not to say they won’t succeed at the next level. It just might take the perfect sequence of events for that to happen.
But today, we’re not going to focus on the players who left early. Instead, we’re going to take a look at the top B1G players who had an option to leave early but surprised me by electing to stay. More specifically, these are the 5 guys who I’m glad to see back in school. That could be for the selfish reason of how much I like watching them play or for the reason that I think they could use another year of development.
Whatever the case, here are those players:
1. Nico Collins, Michigan WR
Donovan Peoples-Jones left early, but Collins decided to run it back after leading Michigan in receiving. I thought someone with his size and speed would test the waters and ultimately make the move to the NFL. But it could’ve been the promise of increased volume without Peoples-Jones, or perhaps it was unfinished business after he was held to 6 catches for 80 yards in consecutive Michigan losses to end the season.
That’s huge news for a Michigan team who will have a new quarterback and a lot of turnover on the offensive line. Collins remains one of the country’s better jump-ball wideouts. Classmate Dylan McCaffrey and Collins could form one of the B1G’s top duos in 2020.
2. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State TE
Someone like Freiermuth who entered the year with all sorts of accolades and actually delivered would’ve been a natural fit to leave for the NFL. He had 507 receiving yards and 7 TD catches for a top-10 Penn State team.
And I’ll be honest. If I ever did this to a human being on live TV, I’d try and benefit off it in any way possible:
Pat Freiermuth legally owns the whole state of Tennessee after this play. Sorry, we don’t make the rules. pic.twitter.com/SLoswUSWHA
— Onward State (@OnwardState) December 28, 2019
Goodness, that was something.
The guy who already has comparisons to Rob Gronkowski still has 2 years of eligibility left, so that could’ve made his decision to return a little easier. When Freiermuth goes to the NFL and rocks his No. 87, he’s immediately going to get those kind of comparisons because that’s his idol.
Whether he’s part Gronk or part George Kittle, he’s clearly pretty talented. He’ll be a preseason All-American candidate, for sure. The addition of new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca will only help.
3. Whop Philyor, Indiana WR
I always wonder how much a bowl game can impact a player’s decision to stay or go. Go off and it’s like, “yeah, now is the time to cash in.” Get shut down and it’s like, “yeah, I’m not ready.” In the case of Philyor, it was the latter. Tennessee bottled him up, and he finished the night with just 2 touches for -6 yards.
That announcement came a few days after Indiana’s brutal Gator Bowl loss. But 2019 was absolutely a breakout campaign for the Tampa (Fla.) native. He had a team-high 70 catches and 1,002 receiving yards for Indiana’s much improved passing offense. He’ll return as one of the conference’s top wideouts, and with a healthy Michael Penix Jr., there’s reason to believe he could take another step forward.
4. Kwity Paye, Michigan DE
Why am I looking forward to Paye’s return? Have you ever heard Gus Johnson call out his name? It’ll change you.
(Of course I couldn’t find video evidence of this. Just take my word for it.)
Paye had a legitimate decision to make after he performed well in the post-Chase Winovich era. He had 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. For someone who put on weight to play the position and showed that he can do it at a high level, it would’ve made sense if Paye left. Paye’s had an atypical upbringing as someone whose family escaped civil war in Liberia.
But getting his degree and being an even bigger contributor in 2020 appealed to him. That announcement came before the Citrus Bowl, too, so it wasn’t postseason-dependent. Maybe another year of even more consistent play will result in a big pay day for the talented defensive lineman.
5. Shaun Wade, Ohio State CB
Has Wade played his best yet? That’s a fair question to ask about the former 5-star recruit.
In his defense, he was playing alongside Jeffrey Okudah, who was as good of a cornerback as there was in the country. It’s hard to look elite when you’re playing alongside someone that dominant. And even though his numbers were down from a year ago and he had the targeting call on Trevor Lawrence to end his redshirt sophomore season, he was still Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 6 cornerback prospect. In other words, he would’ve had plenty of NFL suitors.
But what this will give a chance for Wade to do is show that he can be a consistent, lockdown corner. He’ll match up on opposing No. 1s on a weekly basis for the first time in his career. He’s the only returning starter in a secondary that performed extremely well in 2019. For a defense that lost the likes of Okudah, Chase Young, Damon Arnette and several upperclassmen, returning the experience of Wade will be key for a team with legitimate national title aspirations.