And so we bid a fond farewell to Cal tailback Jahvid Best, who will skip next week's Poinsettia Bowl, then huddle with his inner circle to assess his career options. That onerous deliberation figures to go something like this:
Best: What do you guys think I should do — come back to Cal for my senior year, or declare for the NFL draft?
Inner circle: Go pro.
Best: Yeah, me too.
It's an easy call all the way. Short-term, he hasn't practiced since his heart-stopping injury on Nov. 7, the one that left him with a severe concussion and a sore back. Best-case scenario, pun marginally intended, he'd have five days of practice to knock off 40 days of rust. That's an overly ambitious timetable. It's especially overambitious in that Best's most concerning injury is the one to his brain. He fell from a height of more than six feet, landing on his back and head with enough force to cause his helmet to come shooting off like a cork propelled from a champagne bottle. There are times when you can rush a guy back from a sprain, or a strain or even an arthroscopic procedure. There are times when doctors tell a player, "You can't make it worse. So if you can handle the pain, you're good to go." None of that applies to what happened to Best. Trying to rush him back — and this would have been rushing him back — would have been a mistake. But, you say, it's the Poinsettia Bowl! Doesn't matter. Whatever the bowl and no matter the stakes, the timing isn't right. But, you say, he has to come back to prove to the NFL that he's fully recovered! Not really. Doctors forecast a complete recovery, so ultimately his concussion should be no more worrisome to NFL teams than the hip injury that forced him to miss spring practice in 2008 or the foot and elbow surgeries he had last offseason. Whatever concerns they have can be alleviated at the scouting combine, where prospective draftees are weighed, measured, drilled and subjected to psychological testing. Even a personal workout would do the trick.
Long-term, he was born to play on Sundays. Like former Cal teammate DeSean Jackson before him, Best was never a candidate to stick around for his senior year. Oh, maybe if he thought he had an unaccountably bad season and felt he needed to kick-start his career arc. But that didn't happen. In 21 starts as a sophomore and junior, Best had 13 games in which he topped 100 yards rushing. He scored 35 touchdowns. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry for his career. He created a collection of mouthwatering highlights — a 73-yard touchdown run, a five-touchdown game, a 144-yard performance. And that was just September. Of this year.
Best has taken the first step toward a pro career, contacting the NFL advisory committee to gauge his draft prospects. Draft expert Phil Steele already has Best pegged as the No. 4 running back in next spring's draft. The fourth running back chosen last spring was LeSean McCoy, by Philadelphia late in the second round. According to reports, McCoy signed a four-year, $3.48 million contract ($1.73 million guaranteed). No doubt Best will want to consult his inner circle on that as well.
Best: Do you think I could live on $1.73 million guaranteed?
Inner circle: That's more than you're making now, last time we checked.
Best: Yeah, me too.
It's difficult to project Best as a pro. He was a slender, glorified track star as an underclassman, almost frail by football standards but breathtakingly fast. He beefed up as a junior, but continued to operate better in the open than between the tackles. He's explosive but not routinely so — he might run for 1, 2, 5, minus-2, 3 and no gain before breaking free for 52. And then he might go underground again. Does that make him an every-down back? A change-of-pace guy? A slash guy? One thing it no longer makes him, it says here, is a college guy. That was probably the first thing his inner circle made clear after he woke up from his injury.
Inner circle: The next time you make a crazy move like that, we think you'd best be getting paid to do it.
Best: Yeah, me too.