Bryce Love's release by Washington serves as cautionary tale for NFL prospects on the fence

Jason Owens
·4-min read

The Washington Football Team drafted running back Bryce Love in 2019, spending a fourth-round pick on the Stanford running back who suffered a torn ACL in his final college game.

On Monday Washington waived Love after he failed to log an NFL carry in two seasons.

The hope in Washington was that Love could spend a year recovering from the devastating injury and contribute by his second season. But he didn't play a single snap in 2020, and a Ron Rivera regime that didn't draft Love cut ties with him on Monday. 

Stanford running back Bryce Love (20) watches from the sidelines in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Utah Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
A former top NFL prospect, Love's career in Washington is over before it started. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A cautionary tale

The transaction marks a disappointing juncture for the Stanford standout who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting and won the Doak Walker Award as college football's top running back in 2017 as a junior.

At 23 years old, Love now faces the decision of trying to latch on with another franchise or giving up on his NFL dreams. Either way, his story stands as a cautionary tale for NFL prospects on the fence about declaring early for the draft or considering sitting out games at the end of their college careers.

Why Love returned to Stanford with his draft stock at its peak

Love was rated as one of the top NFL running back prospects ahead of the 2018 draft following his junior campaign. He tallied 2,118 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017 on a whopping 8.1 yards per carry, vaulting him to the top of Pac-12 and national awards lists.

Instead of declaring for the draft, Love returned for his senior season with his eyes on Stanford glory and back-to-back 2,000-yard campaigns.

"I couldn’t leave without trying one more time to achieve everything that my teammates and I have dreamed of — to win the Pac-12 North, conference championship, and a national championship," the North Carolina native wrote in a 2018 News & Observer essay explaining his decision to return. "In short, I have unfinished business at Stanford. More than anything, that’s what persuaded me to stay."

Great expectations come up painfully short

Playing behind an injured and inferior offensive line, Love's production plummeted to 739 rushing yards on 4.5 yards per carry as a senior. On his final college carry in Stanford's regular-season finale against California, Love tore his right ACL. Stanford did not compete for a national championship or a conference title. Its 9-4 finish was good for third place in the Pac-12.

Love's draft stock obviously took a hit. But Washington saw enough promise in that junior season to overlook the ACL injury once Love fell to the fourth round. That confidence unceremoniously expired on Monday.

The big bright side for Love

There's a significant silver lining for Love if he calls it quits on football. His backup plan is arguably better than the original. The upside of Love returning for his senior season was securing a human biology degree from a world-class university. As he wrote in that New & Observer essay, he has big plans for putting it to use.

"However, the reality of sports is that it does all come to an end, and this also informed my decision to stay," Love wrote. "This has been a difficult transition — to begin focusing on life after my playing days. As much as I wish to play in the NFL, I am also passionate about becoming a pediatrician — something I’ve wanted since my doctor cured me of pneumonia when I was little."

Plenty would argue that Love getting a jumpstart on medical school at 23 is the superior option to continuing to put his body and brain through the football ringer for a not-yet-realized professional football career. Love has not announced his plans.

But most NFL prospects facing life decisions over college football games don't have the prospect of a career in medicine in their back pocket. Love's story stands as a reminder of the downside the next time a fanbase blasts a player for skipping a bowl game or declaring early for the NFL draft.

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