It is one of college football’s sharpest double-edged swords: If your program is good, often some of the players are too good to expect them to hang around until their senior year. Until recently, the Oregon Ducks haven’t had much of a problem with big impact players leaving before their eligibility had run out. Cliff Harris did it, but that is a story many would rather forget. LaMichael James did it too, leaving after his redshirt junior year, only to get a couple of carries per game for the San Francisco 49ers.
Oregon has four potential first-round picks in fan favorites DeAnthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota, Colt Lyerla and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Holding onto a player that is nearly guaranteed to be a high-round pick is a tough task for any program, especially one with the success the Ducks have had.
Along the offensive line, tackles Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher both have the talent to make the step to the next level. Johnstone redshirted his first year on campus before beating out current Chicago Bears starter Kyle Long for the Ducks’ left tackle spot, and Fisher has started since his true freshman year, completing the pieces to the outside run game puzzle.
Derrick Malone has made a name for himself, leading the Green and Yellow in tackles through the first three games of the season and could easily be a guy many wouldn’t expect to leave – but could make the jump anyway. And Terrance Mitchell, Oregon’s lockdown corner two years ago (before team’s stopped throwing his way), could easily declare for the draft; probably a mid-round pick at best, right now.
The easy money is on Lyerla, Ekpre-Olomu, Mariota, and Thomas to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft, but don’t be surprised if one decides to stay. Sometimes it is the less-talked-about players, the Johnstones and the Malones of college football – not the Black Mombas – who end up declaring for the draft as underclassmen and leave fans asking, “What are they thinking?”