Coming into the 2013 season, Colt Lyerla was poised to have a breakout season with the Oregon Ducks and propel his draft stock to new heights heading into the 2014 NFL Draft. Many scouts raved about Lyerla’s athleticism and dynamic playmaking from multiple positions in the offense and was rated as one of the top tight end prospects in the country. Despite the Ducks’ new coach Mark Helfrich and his lean towards passing the football more, however, Lyerla has been missing in action all season long and announced that he will be leaving the team, ending a tumultuous time in Eugene for a physically gifted football player.
Lyerla was not with the team when they traveled to Colorado this week because of a one-game suspension levied by Helfrich for violating team rules. This was the second game of the season that Lyerla was not on the sidelines after he was mysteriously missing from the game against the Tennessee Volunteers earlier this year (which was later revealed to be due to illness) and the relationship between Helfrich and Lyerla has seemed stressed from the start. The junior spoke out after Helfrich told reporters that Lyerla was absent from the Tennessee game due to “circumstances,” which the tight end felt could be unfairly interpreted.
This isn’t the only instances of Lyerla running afoul of authority while with Oregon. Last season, he missed the first several days of fall camp because of “personal reasons” and caught the ire of the school administration after a Twitter rant that was called “insensitive and offensive” by Oregon officials in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut this summer. The tight end continually seemed to be running up against the guard rails with his coaches and ending up in the doghouse.
Though even when he was on the field this season, he struggled to make much of an impact. Despite the Oregon offense ranking among the most prolific in the country and quarterback Marcus Mariota putting together a solid Heisman Trophy campaign, Lyerla caught just two passes for 26 yards in three games. He often appeared lost in the offense, unsure about his role and made mental mistakes regularly, including dropping some passes, which made it hard for Helfrich to rely on him.
And Oregon hasn’t really missed a beat even without his production. The Ducks have still racked up yards and points in ridiculous fashion (despite pulling Mariota before every fourth quarter this season) sitting at No. 2 in FBS in both total offense and scoring offense. Freshman John Mundt stepped up with a breakout performance against Tennessee in Lyerla’s absence and showed that he is more than capable of filling the tight end role for the team moving forward. While Mundt isn’t as dynamic or athletic as Lyerla, he can catch passes down the seam and the Ducks have plenty of other dynamic athletes they can plug in.
For Lyerla, he says he will still attempt to make it to the NFL but felt it would be better for him and for the team if he left the program. There will be plenty of behavioral red flags that NFL teams will have to investigate for Lyerla but there’s definitely some potential there. Will he find the success at the next level that seemed to elude him at Oregon?