There’s a 6’6″, 233-pound elephant in the room. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, one of the best players out west and a highly regarded NFL draft prospect, has a decision to make, and fans are holding their breath in anticipation.
Will the strong-armed phenom take his game to the next level after the Ducks’ bowl game, or will he play his senior year of college ball to try and lead the Ducks to a conference title?
Both options have their pros and cons, but when considering all of the factors, which decision is the smarter move for the Ducks’ superstar quarterback?
Declaring for the draft is the more common route, as the majority of underclassmen with NFL futures jump at the chance to hear their name called on draft night. But often times the road less traveled is the one that leads to the most promising destination.
The Argument For Going Pro
No one would blame Herbert should he decide to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft. The truth is, he has a lot to gain by going pro and a lot to lose by staying in school. As of now, Herbert is a lock to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the draft. All he has to do is say the word, and he’ll be just a few months removed from the biggest paycheck of his life.
By returning to school, Herbert risks losing it all.
In a sport as physical as football, every player is just one fluky misstep away from seeing his dreams vanish before his eyes. Another year of school means another twelve games of exposure to vicious pass rushers, raging linebackers and terrorizing safeties. All it takes is a single hit for Herbert to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Is another year of camaraderie with the boys, or even getting a degree, really worth gambling with the millions of dollars he already has locked up?
Furthermore, by forgoing the draft, Herbert will have to contend with a much better crop of passers if he wants to maintain his first-round status in 2019. Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa has NFL scouts drooling, with his uncanny playmaking ability and pinpoint accuracy. From the moment he took the field in last year’s national championship game, it was evident that he was a transcendent talent with elite traits. In 2019, it’s fair to say that he will be the early favorite to go first overall in the subsequent draft.
Then, there’s the quarterback who out-dueled Tagovailoa in this year’s SEC championship game, Jake Fromm. While he lacks Tagovailoa’s athleticism and escape ability, Fromm is as pretty a pure passer that there is in college football. He has the look of a franchise quarterback, and his performance, albeit in a losing effort, against Alabama certainly validated his status as a top-flight draft prospect in 2019.
While Herbert could stay at Oregon and try to compete with two of the better prospects in recent memory, he could also enter the draft this year as the leader in a clubhouse full of middling prospects. I’m sure his future agent will advise the latter.
The Argument For Returning to School
Going pro would be a logical business decision for Herbert, but there’s no denying that he still has something to prove at the collegiate level. Although he is lauded as a high-level prospect, there are holes in his game that started to show as the season progressed.
At the start of the year, he was dynamite, picking apart some of the top defenses in the country with laser-like precision. But as the weather grew colder and the days grew shorter, his play regressed. He struggled with everything from his downfield accuracy to his ability to go through progressions. As the spotlight shone brighter, his play diminished.
Also, as great as Herbert’s three collegiate seasons have been, the team hasn’t had the success one would expect with such a talented player at the helm. The Ducks have improved each year under him, but when comparing his career to those of other great Oregon quarterbacks, his win-loss record is a bit underwhelming.
Another year in school would give Herbert a chance to right the ship.
Next season, with a more experienced Herbert, along with one of the best offensive lines in the country and the potential return of star receiver Dillon Mitchell, the Ducks’ offense will be finally be positioned to see Herbert’s abilities translate to a dominant season.
Although he would be turning down a handsome paycheck by spurning the draft, the potential to cement his legacy and firmly establish himself as one of the all-time great Oregon quarterbacks may be valuable enough to put his NFL dreams on hold for one more year.
Additionally, with a more consistent and polished season, Herbert can silence his critics and become the undisputed number-one quarterback prospect. If he can show scouts that he is not only a physical specimen with a cannon for an arm, but also a cerebral passer who has mastered the art of being a field general, NFL teams will be lining up to call his name on draft night.
Such progression would not only serve Herbert well in the short term, further elevating his draft stock, but it will benefit him in the long run, as well. There have been plenty of players who were too eager to chase their NFL dreams and entered the draft with an unrefined skill set. By spending more time to perfect his craft, Herbert mitigates the risk of becoming a bust, and significantly increases his chances of having a long and productive NFL stint.
All things considered, it would be understandable if Herbert decides to go pro and avoid the risks that are inherent with a return to school. But with those risks comes an amazing opportunity. If he opts to don the green-and-yellow for one more season, he not only has a chance to have his name mentioned in the same breath as other Oregon legends, but he’ll also be able to improve his game and increase his draft stock, setting himself up for long-term success.
For a player who grew up a stone’s throw away from the raucous Autzen Stadium, maybe one more season in front of the hometown fans is worth stiff-arming the NFL draft for a year.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester Tennessee.
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