It’s 2019... The Oregon Ducks are in rebuilding mode and starting quarterback is a three-person position battle between junior Braxton Burmeister, sophomore Tyler Shough and incoming freshman Cale Millen.
That could have been the reality.
Instead, quarterback Justin Herbert decided to forgo the 2019 NFL Draft and stay at Oregon for his senior season, he announced Wednesday. The return of the 6-foot-6, 233-pound passer with the powerful right arm and sneaky fast wheels means the Ducks likely return all 11 starters on offense.
As a projected top 10 draft pick, why resist the NFL and give up literally millions of dollars? As Herbert said, “Nothing could pull me away from the opportunities that we have in front of us.”
What opportunities? Let’s dive in.
Shot at a Pac-12 Conference title and possible chance at the College Football Playoff
Oregon’s 2019 schedule is not easy but Herbert’s return gives Oregon a shot to win the Pac-12 conference and possibly become a college football playoff contender.
The Ducks play on the road against Auburn, Stanford, USC and Washington next season.
However, Oregon returns a veteran offensive line, running back weapons CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, and an influx of young talent at receiver.
In 2018, Oregon ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring and third in total offense. With Herbert’s help, the Ducks’ offensive attack should improve.
The 2019 conference championship dream is alive, but Oregon will need to capitalize on its continuity (second year under coach Mario Cristobal), figure out its offensive identity under play caller Marcus Arroyo and improve it total defense that ranks 62nd in the nation.
Herbert’s decision to return will change the course of his legacy left at Oregon. A once dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, he wasn’t even an All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick in 2018.
2019 will be his chance to improve his 16-9 record as a starter. Also, Herbert can rise up in the record books: he currently ranks third in school history for career touchdown passes (62), third in completion percentage (62.7) and sixth in passing yards (6,904).
The Eugene, Ore., native is just 96 yards away from reaching 7,000 career passing yards to go along with 62 touchdowns. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 27 consecutive games, good for the longest current streak in the nation.
Growing up as a Ducks fan, Herbert watched Oregon win its last conference championship in 2014 after another Duck quarterback decided to return for his redshirt junior season. That quarterback was Marcus Mariota and he won the program’s first Heisman Trophy, led Oregon to a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl victory and a trip to the National Championship game.
Returning for his senior season gave Herbert the opportunity to lead the Ducks back to national prominence, cementing his legacy in the Oregon football history books.
Herbert to Herbert
Herbert will have a chance to play with his younger brother Patrick Herbert, a four-star tight end who signed with the Ducks earlier this month. The lone in-state prospect sent out a tweet with the news of his brother returning.
At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, Herbert’s strength is catching the ball in traffic. You could be hearing a lot of “Herbert to Herbert” ringing through Autzen Stadium.
Improve as an NFL prospect
Herbert joins a group of quarterbacks that decided to come back for senior seasons despite first-round projections: Mariota, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. The decision worked out well for Luck and Mariota, who still were drafted one and two, respectively. Barkley slid to the fourth round after in part thanks to a shoulder injury.
Earlier this month I asked Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller what his official advice would be to Herbert. Miller advised that the junior should declare for the draft because he can’t dramatically improve his stock by returning. Miller had no doubt that Herbert could improve as a player with another year of college football, but that it’s unlikely it would result in him being drafted any higher.
Miller did give insight that there are numerous reports about regarding Herbert as mentally weak, weird or immature. The mental aspect is one area that Herbert could improve on to help his NFL stock.
As well as the obvious risk of injury.
A possible Pac-12 title, trip to the college football playoff, Herbert’s legacy cemented, playing alongside his brother, improving his NFL draft stock…The reality is that Herbert decided Oregon’s 2019 opportunities were worth more than 30 million dollars.