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Could Rudolph and Washington’s Decision to Return in 2017 Reveal Path for Justice Hill?

The highly-touted running back’s decision looms.

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In December of 2016, Oklahoma State’s two most highly-regarded offensive prospects pondered the 2017 NFL Draft. After submitting their names for evaluation, both James Washington and Mason Rudolph elected to return to Stillwater for the 2017 football season. Could such a decision two years ago still have an influence on a significant current player evaluating his draft stock?

Justice Hill did not walk with the seniors last Saturday on senior day against West Virginia despite the fact that he plans to graduate this upcoming Spring.

The 21 year-old Hill finds himself high on many draft boards. But do such draft boards translate to the actual draft night? In 2016, Mike Gundy compared discussion of such draft boards on talk radio to North Korean Missiles

“I would guess that most of those mock drafts are fabricated,” Gundy said. “There’s probably only one or two of them that really have a clue of what they’re talking about. Most of it is good for talk radio, which is about as accurate as a North Korean test missile.”

One cannot predict with any certainty whether or not Washington and Rudolph’s decision to return bolstered their draft status in the 2018 Draft. But if anyone could, Walter Football would be one of the top candidates. In a recent study evaluating the accuracy of Mock Drafts after last Spring’s draft, Walter was ranked second. Walter Football currently places Hill at 45th overall to the Texans. Last years 45th pick signed a four-year deal worth in excess of $6 million.

It’s safe to say Washington and Rudolph’s decision to return was one Gundy encouraged and one that didn’t hurt either’s stock much, if any. The respective prospects returned and eventually earned major postseason awards in 2017 — Washington the Biletnikoff and Rudolph the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm.

Gundy’s advice to Washington and Rudolph may prove relevant to Hill over the next few months as well. While Hill has torched opponents for 930 yards through the first 11 games, averaging just under 6 yards per carry, he has missed action against Oklahoma and West Virginia, which could (?) cause his stock to fall over the next few months.

On the other hand, as Kyle Porter mentioned on this week’s podcast, the running back position is different than quarterback or wide receiver. The length of the average professional running back’s career is shorter. Spending another year in a Cowboy uniform would cause Hill to take hundreds more hits before cashing in (literally) on his talent. And as mentioned above, Hill will graduate this spring, thus, the opportunity to finish his degree as a student-athlete will be irrelevant in his decision-making process.

While many predict Hill to be NFL bound in 2019, including our own Kyle Boone reporting this week that sources indicate it’s likely he will declare for the draft and forego his final year at OSU, recent developments on the Cowboy depth chart create an added complexity to the discussion. Another Cowboy running back, JD King, just elected to transfer at the conclusion of this season. If Hill was indeed departing, King would have been a veteran running back on the 2019 squad in a position to receive a good amount of carries. Perhaps King’s decision stemmed largely from the increase in Chuba Hubbard’s utility, but could it have anything to do with Hill?

And might the decision of Washington and Rudolph — which eventually resulted in the duo landing side-by-side at a historical franchise in Pittsburgh — entice Hill to consider coming back in 2019? Only time will tell. But you can be assured someone rocking a mullet will advocate for it come decision day.

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