FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The announcement that Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert will be returning to school for his senior season is potentially the most significant NFL draft news of both this season and, perhaps, next.
It caused ripples everywhere from quarterback-starved NFL front offices to the beleaguered Pac-12 headquarters in San Francisco, which has been waiting for good news for quite some time. After talking to coaches, scouts and executives, here are five ripples that the news prompted through all levels of football.
1) The biggest impact is immediate in NFL front offices, particularly with quarterback-starved franchises like Denver, Miami, the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Washington and potentially Oakland. Those are spots that would prefer to build through the draft and have lost the most coveted option to do so.
NFL executives have felt all season that there was a strong likelihood that Herbert would end up the No. 1 pick in 2019. Certainly, the Cardinals wouldn’t take him there if they end up with the No. 1 pick, as they drafted UCLA’s Josh Rosen last season.
But instead of taking a top prospect like defensive end Nick Bosa from Ohio State, they could have commanded a ransom of picks so one of those needy franchises could move up to that spot. That would have allowed Arizona to fill multiple areas for their rebuild and exploit the quarterback desperation of those franchises. There were a lot of ticked-off executives around the NFL on Wednesday, as a thin quarterback class got thinner.
2) This move also reshuffles the quarterback deck for the 2019 draft. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Duke’s Daniel Jones have long been assumed to be leaving for the NFL draft. But this move all but seals their decision. Could one climb all the way to No. 1?
The Dwayne vs. Daniel debate lacks some spice, as neither was considered in the same tier as Herbert. Haskins has made the biggest charge, as he evolved from looking overwhelmed earlier in the year at Penn State to slicing through the country’s No. 1 passing defense for 396 yards in a blowout of Michigan. He finished the year completing 70 percent of his passes with 47 touchdowns, numbers hard to top if he’d returned. Haskins is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds but has just average athleticism.
“He can sling it, man,” one scout told Yahoo Sports about Haskins on Wednesday afternoon. “I wanted to see him take that next step that season [to making plays] when the play breaks down, extend the pocket with his feet. His ceiling is tremendously high.”
What about Jones? He’s got less buzz, thanks to Duke’s milquetoast 7-5 season that ended with a 59-7 loss to Wake Forest. Jones’ numbers don’t pop, as he missed two games to injury and finished with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s 6-foot-5, 200 pounds and comes from the gilded lineage of being a David Cutcliffe quarterback.
“I think it’s a toss-up between Haskins and Jones,” said the scout. “I can see Haskins going No. 3 and Jones going No. 5. The thing with Jones is that Cutcliffe is a quarterback guru, so you know he’s going to be smart and efficient and learn the system right away.”
While those two are the likely top choices, Missouri’s Drew Lock and West Virginia’s Will Grier have a chance to move up because of the wide-spread quarterback need.
3) Is it too early to peek at the 2020 draft? (We did on Wednesday, talking to scouts about left-hander Tua Tagovailoa’s pro prospects.) It’s safe to cast Justin vs. Tua as the defining debate for the 2020 NFL draft, as no one in the NFL would be surprised if they ended up No. 1 and No. 2 overall. There’s plenty of football left this season, with Tagovailoa potentially playing two more games, never mind next year. But expect those two to be the faces of college football in 2019 and likely the NFL draft in 2020.
Yahoo asked a scout whom he’d take right now, with the understanding that there’s a lot of work left.
“If I was on the clock right now, I’d go with Herbert,” the scout said. “He’s taller and fits the prototype more. I really like his arm strength and ability to stay in the pocket. Tua has three or four first-round picks on offense with him, and Herbert has Dillon Mitchell. That’s pretty much it. Tua has a lot to work with. He’s got first- and second-rounders galore around him that makes his job easier.”
4) Multiple scouts told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that Herbert’s decision wasn’t much of a surprise. Jeff Hawkins, a senior associate athletic director who is a liaison to the NFL, swore to anyone who’d listen that Oregon expected Herbert back. The reasons were simple: He grew up in Oregon, had a near-4.0 GPA in biology and valued his degree. He also will get to play with his brother, Patrick, a four-star tight end who is part of coach Mario Cristobal’s star-studded recruiting class. (He announced his brother’s decision with this clever tweet.)
Because of those factors, there’d been buzz from Oregon all year that Herbert wouldn’t go pro. But oftentimes the financial reality overcomes potential sentimentality and educational opportunity. But Herbert stayed, referencing his “feelings of gratitude toward the people that have built and maintain our program.”
5) The last time a quarterback of this profile returned for his senior year was when Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford for the 2011 season. Herbert isn’t quite in the rare air as a prospect as Luck, who was considered a generational talent. But it’s an apt comparison.
Yahoo Sports reached Oliver Luck, Andrew’s dad and the new XFL commissioner, on Wednesday to reflect on his son’s decision to return to Stanford in 2011.
Andrew Luck wanting his degree was an integral part. He loved Stanford and wasn’t in a rush to live a life in the spotlight.
Oliver Luck said Andrew has never expressed regret in returning, as he held serve as the No. 1 pick. “The risk is there, ultimately,” Oliver Luck said. “You can mitigate the risk with the whole insurance deal.
“We did full disability, but didn’t do loss of value. So you can mitigate it somewhat.”
Luck thought it was a smart move by Herbert. He recalled the old Bill Parcells line that he preferred to draft a quarterback that started 30 games and won 23. Herbert has started 27 and Oregon is 16-11 in those games. They’re 14-6 the last two season with Herbert at quarterback.
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