Stanford RB Bryce Love sitting out bowl game to prepare for NFL draft

Bryce Love has decided not to play in Stanford’s bowl game.

Love, the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up, announced that he won’t play in the Sun Bowl against Pittsburgh on Dec. 31.

“I will not be playing in our upcoming bowl game and will instead focus on being completely healthy and prepared for the 2019 NFL draft. God has blessed me with an incredible opportunity to play the sport I love at the highest level — it is a surreal feeling to be on the cusp of seeing my dream come true,” Love wrote. “I am completely devoted to this next chapter of my career, and I will always keep the Stanford community, my family and my faith by my side throughout.”

After huge season, Love decided to return for senior year

Love was one of the game’s breakout stars in 2017 when he rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns. His historic season included 12 efforts of at least 100 yards, including a 301-yard performance against Arizona State.

Love, who dealt with an ankle injury throughout the 2017 season, opted to bypass the draft to return to Stanford for his senior season.

[Full list of college football players sitting out bowl games in 2018]

“As a player, I felt like I could improve on a lot of different aspects of my game. Above all else, I just wanted the opportunity to compete with my teammates one last time,” Love told Yahoo Sports before the season. “I wanted to win games. I wasn’t really satisfied with how we played last year. On top of that, I get to graduate and be able to concentrate fully on football at the next level.”

There were lofty expectations, but Love again was hampered by injuries. His production – 739 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games – dropped off significantly. Love’s rushing average dropped from 8.1 in 2017 to 4.5 this year for the Cardinal, who went 8-4 and finished third in the Pac-12 North.

What does the NFL think of Bryce Love?

Back in September, Yahoo Sports’ Terez Paylor watched Love play vs. USC and asked some NFL scouts about his pro potential.

Here’s the good:

Love seemed to get stronger as the game went on, showing comfort as both a zone- and gap-runner who runs with strength for his stature. He has the speed to take it the distance, sure, but more important, he regularly makes the first defender miss — a key for any NFL running back. Love also flashed a strong stiff arm and the ability to run with patience and tempo, which should translate to the next level.

“An explosive runner,” one scout told Yahoo Sports. “Very good speed and contact balance.”

One scout told Paylor he had Love as a second or third-round pick in last year’s draft. To elevate as a prospect, Love has some things to work on.

He’ll need to prove his athleticism in drills and tests during the pre-draft process. Teams want to take players with both elite physical traits and tape in the first round, a philosophy that is generally thought to lower bust potential with those picks. Secondly, he will also need to prove he can be a factor as a receiver, as he caught only six passes last season and a grand total of 20 during his entire prep career as a star at Wake Forest High School in North Carolina.

“Wish you saw more [from him] in the pass game,” one scout admitted.

Scouting reports are fluid and can change over the course of a season. If Love carries the label of “injury-prone,” it could hurt him when the draft rolls around. Scouts already love Love’s character. And with plenty of time to get healthy, Love can make a big impression with how he performs in the pre-draft testing. Love has an invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, but has yet to accept.

Bryce Love #20 of the Stanford Cardinal runs for yardage during the 121st Big Game between Stanford and California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Bryce Love #20 of the Stanford Cardinal runs for yardage during the 121st Big Game between Stanford and California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

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