A flurry of controversy began as soon as the announcement broke that Justin Herbert would return to the Oregon Ducks for his senior season. Many fans seemed to support the return and viewed it as an opportunity for him to further his development and play alongside his younger brother. However, there exists a subset of folks who believe turning down the financial gains associated with becoming a top 10 NFL draft pick is simply not worth sticking around for one more college season.
So, while Herbert had no crystal ball to aid in his decision, everyone else will have the luxury of hindsight as they analyze the key components below and ultimately grade his decision to return.
1. Must Win Game: Opener vs. Auburn
Oregon will kickoff the 2019 season at AT&T stadium in Texas against an Auburn team that will likely be ranked inside the top 25. This game has the potential to be one of the, if not the most highly anticipated matchup of the opening weekend.
While Auburn’s starting QB Jarrett Stidham recently declared for the draft, a stable of talented young backups will be ready to take the reigns. As the hype begins to build for this early season matchup between two high-profile opponents, expect the storyline of Herbert’s return to become a focal point leading up to the grudge match of the 2011 BCS national championship game.
If Herbert and the Ducks fail to come away with a victory, don’t be surprised to hear the discussion begin to take the tone of how Herbert’s return was a mistake.
2. Head-to-Head Matchup: K.J. Costello
Even though opposing quarterbacks are never really on the field at the same time, analysts and media alike love the narrative of two NFL caliber college QBs in a head-to-head matchup. Herbert and Stanford’s K.J. Costello have been included in the elite group of quarterbacks mentioned for the 2020 NFL draft class.
These two highly-touted prospects will have the opportunity to battle it out on September 21st in front of NFL scouts searching for their team’s next franchise quarterback. If Herbert can out-duel Costello on the big stage and lead his team to victory, it would serve as another opportunity to bolster his decision to return and silence the critics.
3. Win Games!
Multiple 2019 preseason rankings list Oregon in the top 25 nationally after they successfully signed a top 10 recruiting class and announced the return of their star quarterback. Oregon also returns numerous starters on both sides of the ball and should be picked as one of the teams to compete for the conference title.
These lofty expectations most likely also played into Herbert’s decision as he weighed his options of leaving for the NFL or staying in Eugene. As this year proved, Oregon does not necessarily need to compete for the conference title for him to be viewed as a first round draft pick. However, it’s also hard to believe that his return would be viewed as a success if he and the Ducks end up regressing next season.
4. Avoid Serious Injury
One of the most common ways that passing on the NFL draft becomes viewed as a poor decision is when a player returns to school and is injured in the subsequent season. In 2012, Matt Barkley was projected as a top 10 pick but returned to USC for his fourth year as a starter. A late season injury, combined with a down year, resulted in Barkley being drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft.
No matter how well Oregon is doing next season, it could all be quickly forgotten if Herbert sustains a serious injury. Remaining healthy will be critical, not only for Herbert’s own draft stock, but to avoid having his name mentioned alongside Barkley’s as a cautionary tale.
5. Remain a First Round Draft Pick
This one is pretty straightforward, and is basically a culmination of the first four. Remain a high first round pick, despite joining a loaded 2020 QB draft class, and it will solidify how his decision to return to Oregon is viewed by analysts, commentators, and everyone else following the storyline of Herbert’s return. Either way, his decision will make 2019 all the more exciting for Duck fans.
Providence, Rhode Island
Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Spencer Thomas, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA.
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