By now everyone in the NFL Draft community has heard of the major news from Eugene, Oregon that star quarterback Marcus Mariota has decided not to enter the 2014 NFL Draft and will instead return for his redshirt junior season. Did he make the right decision?
Many will say he made the right decision to go back and continue working on his degree, be a Heisman Trophy front-runner in 2014, potentially win a National Championship and go No. 1 in the 2015 NFL Draft. Sounds like a good plan, right? Yeah, it sounded good to guys Matt Leinart, Matt Barkley and Jake Locker, too. It’s hard to say it’s a “bad” decision by returning to continue your education, but it may not have been the “best” decision. Why? A few reasons.
Injury is always the first thing that pops up when the issue of sticking around for one more year presents itself. What if they get hurt? And it’s a perfectly legitimate question. That’s the biggest risk in continuing to play for free by choice. If he suffers a knee injury like Willis McGahee or Marcus Lattimore, then what (remember, he had a bad MCL sprain this fall)? What if he shreds the ligaments in his throwing shoulder or elbow? No championships, no Heisman, no No. 1 overall pick. He can take an insurance policy in case he suffers a career threatening injury though. Yes, worth, what $20 million, tops? That’s less than his contract would’ve been if he hadn’t been hurt, and that’s not counting future earnings past his rookie contract and endorsements.
Another thing to consider is that he’s not guaranteed to find overwhelming success next year. What if Oregon coach Mark Helfrich isn’t the mini-Chip Kelly we all think he is? What if the Ducks lose more than the two games they lost this year? And we mustn’t forget guys like Leinart (USC), Barkley (USC) and Locker (Washington). All were projected to be either the top pick or a top-5 pick had they come out a year early. All decided to stick around, thinking they would continue padding obnoxious stats against inferior competition and improve their already peaked draft stock. Instead, they all experienced major drops in productivity the next season and none even came close to being the top pick. Teams have more opportunities to face you, break down your film, and find holes in your game. Go against a guy enough times and he’ll eventually find your weaknesses. Plus, scouts accrue even more film to totally dissect for any flaws imaginable.
On top of all that, it’s not like he’d be a shoo-in for either the Heisman or the top pick. What if UCLA‘s Brett Hundley, also considered a potential early first round pick if he leaves early, sticks around as well? We all know Florida State‘s Jameis Winston is going to be back, and he’s being viewed as an early favorite for the top pick in ’15. What if Mariota plays well but not as well as Hundley or Winston? He could legitimately be the third quarterback off the board in ’15.
But overall, the biggest reason he should’ve entered the ’14 Draft is simply that his stock isn’t going to get any higher. The day before Mariota declared he would stick around for another year, if you were to ask anyone worth a salt in projecting the draft they would’ve told you he was in contention for the top pick overall, even as just a redshirt sophomore. As highly as Louisville‘s Teddy Bridgewater and South Carolina‘s Jadeveon Clowney have been touted since the 2013 NFL Draft, Mariota managed to break into legitimate discussions about being selected first of the three. His stock can only go down with another year of college football, not up.
Instead of potentially being the top pick in 2014 and beginning his professional career, he’ll go and have a predictably spectacular year next fall, shredding more shoddy collegiate defenses, risking injury, and giving scouts more and more time to find holes in his game.
But who knows; maybe he made the right decision after all and I’m totally off base here.