The landscape at the top of the 2019 NFL draft changed significantly on the day after Christmas.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert announced Wednesday that he would not only be playing in the team’s bowl game against Michigan State on Dec. 31 but also returning to school for his senior season in 2019.
Herbert, a junior, was widely believed to be the top quarterback prospect in the 2019 draft and a contender for the No. 1 overall pick.
— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) December 26, 2018
The University of Oregon has been a special place to me for as long as I can remember. Words will never be able to express my feelings of gratitude toward the people that have built and maintain our program. What I have come to realize, though, is that nothing could pull me away from the opportunities that we have in front of us. As we prepare for our bowl game, I would like to ensure that there are no distractions outside of this game. My commitment to my teammates, our coaches, Duck fans and the University of Oregon has never been stronger. I’ll be returning to the University of Oregon for my senior year. Go Ducks!
Herbert suffered a bruised shoulder in the team’s season-ending win over Oregon State, though he said earlier in December that he was healthy and able to play in the RedBox Bowl against the Spartans.
Herbert is 221-of-371 passing for 2,985 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2018. He was limited to eight games because of a shoulder injury as a sophomore but was 139-of-206 passing for 1,983 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions in his only season playing for Willie Taggart. Herbert’s senior season with Mario Cristobal will be the first time he’s played multiple seasons for a head coach at Oregon. Mark Helfrich was fired after the 2016 season.
What it means for Oregon
Herbert’s decision is a surprising one. Not often does a player — especially a quarterback — return to school as a potential top-five pick. And while Herbert’s absence from the draft hurts QB-needy teams in the NFL, his return to the Ducks vaults Oregon into early favorite status in the Pac-12 in 2019.
Along with Herbert, Oregon will return leading rusher CJ Verdell. Leading receiver Dillon Mitchell is also a junior, so he could choose to return for his senior season or head to the NFL. Leading tackler Troy Dye is a junior as well and corner Thomas Graham — who has 53 tackles and three interceptions — is a sophomore.
Oregon also cleaned up during the early signing period last week. The Ducks’ 2019 class is currently ranked at No. 7 in the country and signed five-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaoux. No other Pac-12 team has a top-15 recruiting class.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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