Great football players inevitably face a choice between leaving school early for the NFL draft or completing their education. It’s a personal decision for each individual and most Duck fans support whichever direction the player goes, but the 2014 roster comes as a surprise to some of us. Some Ducks, such as DeAnthony Thomas (DAT), should have stayed. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, however, probably should have entered the draft this year. Then there is the quarterback, Marcus Mariota, for whom a case could be made either way.
All eyes were on DAT when the season began. His blazing speed became synonymous with Duck football in 2011 and 2012, but there is no way to analyze his 2013 season without citing a noticeable drop in performance. In 2012 he was known for single-handedly changing the outcomes of games; in 2013 he was almost an afterthought.
Injured early in the season, he missed several games, but the Ducks dominated their opponents in every one of those. When the team needed a game-changing player in November, DAT was often on the sidelines. Some fans blame the coaches for under-utilizing him, but according to the Washington Post, he rushed the ball four more times from scrimmage than in 2012 but with 100 fewer yards gained; his average dropping from 7.6 yards-per-carry to 6.2.
Some would say he was never built to be a running back to begin with, but with only 22 receptions and one receiving touchdown (as compared to 45 receptions and five receiving touchdowns in 2012), it’s hard to say. One thing that is clear is that if he had another chance to repeat his sensational 2012 season, he would likely be entering the draft as more than a potential kick returner.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is another one of those special players everyone expects to see playing on Sundays. Indeed, NFLDrafstock.com lists him as the second-best cornerback prospect in the nation and projected him as a first-round draft pick. He was expected to go as high as No. 13, according to Dane Brugler at CBSSports.com. Conventional wisdom says if you expect to be picked in the first round, you should probably declare for the draft. Ekpre-Olomu defied convention, to the joy of Duck fans everywhere, but was it the right decision?
He has received some criticism for being overly aggressive at times, which could lead to penalties and biting on fakes at the next level, but presumably that’s something his pro coaches would address immediately. With 84 tackles, six interceptions and six pass-breakups in his junior season, some might argue that he underachieved relative to his skill level, but many experts expected the Chargers or the Bears to give him a shot, anyway.
According to Ekpre-Olomu, he turned down the potential millions this year so he could obtain his degree and improve his draft stock. Both are laudable goals and Duck fans certainly aren’t going to argue with him, but when wisdom is conventional, there are usually good reasons.
Compelling arguments could be made either way regarding Marcus Mariota. One one hand, he is clearly a very talented quarterback in a complex offense that demands a great deal from that position. He was expected to go in the first round, perhaps even in the first 15. According an anonymous high-ranking NFL source, “Marcus could be the first quarterback drafted this year . . . that may not happen next year,” meaning that he would likely be up against 2013’s Heisman winner, Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
On the other hand, Mariota was considered a likely pick for the Heisman in the first part of the year, prior to his injury. Another year as a Duck may very well garner that coveted award, which would be a first for the University of Oregon, and of course there is another opportunity to lead what will be a highly-ranked Duck team to the National Championship. If he is able to avoid injury in the coming year, he is on pace to enter the record books as the greatest quarterback in the history of a school known for talent and quality at that position.
Any way you look at it, the 2014 Oregon Ducks roster is a dream come true for many fans who were expecting some star players to leave early. It’s easy to make observations from the cheap seats, but the opportunity costs for the ones who decided to stay, and the ones who left early, may prove very high. Regardless, we wish nothing but success for the 2013 Ducks, wherever they are playing this year.
Top photo courtesy of Craig Strobeck.