Michael Ford Should Have Returned to LSU Instead of Entering 2013 NFL Draft

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 16, 2013

Former LSU RB Michael Ford
Former LSU RB Michael FordRonald Martinez/Getty Images

In the span of two weeks, LSU went from a 2013 national title contender to a team in full-on rebuilding mode, thanks to its 23-22 loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the news that 10 of the 75 early entrants in the NFL Draft wore the purple and gold in 2012.

Some of those players declaring early—like defensive ends Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and linebacker Kevin Minter—aren't exactly shocking, considering all three of those stars are projected to go in the first round, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.

But one stood out as especially shocking to me—running back Michael Ford.

Ford was LSU's third-leading rusher in 2012, gaining 392 yards and and scoring three touchdowns—one spot ahead of fellow running back Spencer Ware, who also left early.

But unlike Ware, Ford's playing time as a running back dwindled to almost nothing as the season progressed. 

"I gave all my talents to LSU," Ford told NOLA.com. "I feel there is a higher ceiling out there for me. I have speed, I can catch, I can block and I can run through tackles."

Over LSU's final five games, Ford had only 11 carries for 35 yards, but did see more time in the kick return game, returning 13 kickoffs for 361 yards. But the importance of kickoff returns in the NFL has been diminished thanks to new rules, as is the case at the college level. Unlike former South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders, who also declared early, Ford didn't have the luxury of returning punts.

Don't get me wrong, Ford needed to go somewhere. He fell behind Jeremy Hill and Kenny Hilliard this season, and with those two players along with Alfred Blue returning from injury next year, getting an increased workload in Baton Rouge wasn't likely.

CBSSports.com ranks Ford as the No. 31 running back and the No. 416 player in the draft. There were only 253 players selected in last year's draft.

He was on the brink of being academically ineligible in 2012, according to NOLA.com. But he has the talent to stick around in the NFL. He would have been much better served to get his academic situation straightened out, transfer down, or even stay at LSU to see what happens. 

After all, did anyone expect Jeremy Hill to be the star of that backfield at this time last year?

I'm typically a fan of players striking while the iron is hot, warm or even room temperature. The goal for nearly all college football players is to play professional football, and capitalizing on that opportunity is never something I'm going to criticize.

I'm just not so sure that Ford has that opportunity right now.