Malee: Despite going undrafted, Darron Thomas’ decision to leave shouldn’t be questioned

Former Oregon Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas runs a passing drill on the 2012 Pro Day at the Moshofsky Center. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Former Oregon Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas runs a passing drill on the 2012 Pro Day at the Moshofsky Center. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Patrick Malee on Monday, Apr. 30 at 4:10 pm.

Eight former Duck football players found their way to the NFL this past week — either via the draft or free agency — but Oregon’s all-time leader in touchdown passes wasn’t one of them.

At first glance, that statement seems wholly implausible. But the NFL draft is a fickle process, and one that Darron Thomas never seemed to fit comfortably in. From the day he announced his plans to leave Eugene a year early and pursue a professional career, media and fans alike have questioned the decision. The events this past weekend only served as further validation of their collective head shaking, and you could practically hear the “I-told-you-so”s coming from all over Eugene.

Darron Thomas wasn’t selected in any of the draft’s seven rounds, and didn’t even garner the type of free agent contract signed by former teammates like Cliff Harris, Darrion Weems and Eddie Pleasant. If reality hadn’t sunk in by the fifth round, or sixth and seventh, it certainly has now. After leading Oregon to previously unseen heights, plateaus even Joey Harrington and Akili Smith never reached, Darron Varnell Thomas can’t find his way onto an NFL roster.

Personally, I’m as dubious of Thomas’ NFL stock as most teams seem to be (though certainly he could be just as competent at the backup position as, say, Derek Anderson or Jason Campbell). College statistics and accomplishments don’t really translate to the NFL, which is basically a whole different game. As good as he was at Oregon, Thomas rarely had moments that made you think, “That kid could play professionally.”

So no, Thomas being passed over by all 32 teams — multiple times — doesn’t bother me. What irks me about this whole ordeal is the dismissive treatment Thomas has received from certain sectors of the Oregon fanbase, as if the very notion of leaving the emerald green pastures of Oregon a year early is ludicrous. You could hear it in conversations at the spring game, and a quick Twitter search reveals written proof:

@Sham_GBR: “Darron Thomas is such an idiot for declaring for the draft”

@Cuppcake2010: “I’m always gonna support Mr. Darron Thomas but the way he left UO seems disrespectful to me”

@StarChile: “Darron Thomas is looking like a genius right now…smh”

It never felt like Thomas was fully embraced as a legitimate quarterback on Oregon’s campus, and that became fully evident as soon as he veered away from the path that fans had preordained for him. Never mind that he had just thrown for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a stirring Rose Bowl victory, that he had set Oregon’s all-time record for touchdown passes and just a year earlier threw for 363 yards in the BCS National Championship Game. Never mind that he already earned his undergraduate degree. All that mattered was that Thomas left before what was deemed to be the “right” time, before everyone was done with simultaneously heralding and picking him apart.

Thomas always seemed to be walking a fine line while he was here, and so the treatment he received on his way out came as no surprise. Despite his prolific statistical output (he’s indisputably one of Oregon’s best quarterbacks of all time) and unquestioned leadership on the field, the doubters followed Thomas throughout each of his four years at Oregon. Remember last year, when he got hurt and was replaced briefly by Bryan Bennett? All it took was three decidedly mediocre outings from Bennett to prompt the loaded questions about who should start. It almost felt like everyone was looking for an excuse to dismiss Thomas.

His departure back in January finally gave the doubters free reign to lambast him, and they did. Now that he’s gone undrafted and unsigned, with only a slew of tryouts to bank on, the whirlwind of criticism has reached its crescendo.

In the end, though, none of this is any of our business. Thomas didn’t “owe” fans anything — really, he gave much more than he received while in Eugene. And the fact that he hasn’t found a team yet shouldn’t validate any of the criticisms leveled against him. This was a life decision more than it was a football or academic one, and only Thomas knows what’s best for him. Whether or not his future lies on an NFL team remains to be seen, but he was ready to move on from Oregon, and that’s really all that matters.

As sports fans, we have a nasty habit of assuming we know what’s best for everyone, always. It’s why ESPN basically lives by its Monday morning quarterbacking shows, why the lifeblood of sports blogs is found on the message boards, where everyone has an opinion and the word “nuance” is erased from the dictionary.

The reality is that none of us really know anything about what goes on behind the scenes, and what exactly makes guys like Thomas tick. And that’s perfectly fine. At this point, I like to imagine Thomas standing up on a podium outside Autzen Stadium and quoting one of my favorite Jay-Z songs.

“Can I live?”

Update: Via Rob Moseley, Thomas actually exaggerated his academic status to The Register-Guard. He has not graduated yet. 



  • Anonymous

    Darron had major arm mechanics issues to deal with, among other lesser issues. Almost all of his deficiencies could have been at least improved upon with another year.  

    Now that he’s been passed up by the draft and the UFA signing… relegated to begging for a 2% chance of joining the NFL, I wonder when you will admit that he jumped the gun by bailing early.  The CFL pays an average of 50K, canadian, a year. He had more in him than CFL or AFL play.  

    If he was beaten out by MM or BB, it would have been a career ender.  That’s why he left.  It was a simple risk reward decision, and he chose the easy reward with the lowest risk. He led our team well for two years, and I’ll always be gratefull. But why won’t anyone admit that he chased the scent of money to his own demise, even now that all hope is lost for some NFL fairy tail.    

    We’re in great hands, but there will always be a lingering question of what Darron could have produced if he finished what he started.  

    • Wonka

      50K canadian is worth more than 50k american, the USD has been dramatically devalued. 

      Anyway, I hope he lands somewhere in the NFL, he left to help out his Mom financially and he’s talented enough to deserve a shot somewhere professionally. He was a great Duck and I hope things work out well for him.

  • Guest

    Yep, you can live, Darron…in Canada.

  • Adam

    Pat, you’re missing a key element of all the criticism Thomas received when he entered the draft: he wasn’t ready — skill-wise — for the NFL, and everybody who paid even a little bit of attention to his career could see that. Even Chip Kelly alluded to that fact, if you read between the lines on his comments after Thomas declared.

    Thomas might not have been ready for the pros after another year of college, either, but you can’t convince me that another year of preparation at the college level wouldn’t have at least given him a better shot. The bulk of the criticism I’ve heard centers on that fact and that fact alone, not on whether Thomas owes the UO faithful anything at all (but don’t kid yourself thinking “gave much more than he received while in Eugene”; I’ll trade him my student loans for his free education and college-football-star perks any day he wants).

    As you no doubt noticed, Thomas tweaked his mechanics last season, imo the biggest culprit for his bouts of inconsistent accuracy. He ran less (about 50% less than he had the previous season) and he suffered an injury that cost him time and development. Yet with all those factors, he leaves early and enters the NFL draft? It was a head-scratcher that not even Mel Kiper could explain. Thomas had someone in his ear telling him what he wanted to hear, and he shouldn’t have been listening. You knew it, I knew it and everyone who’s now saying “I told you so” knew it.

    And sorry, but no, he doesn’t compare favorably to either Derek Anderson or Jason Campbell…not even close, at this point.

    Thomas was part of what will go down as one of the greatest stretches of Oregon football history, and his contributions were invaluable. No Ducks fan will forget his role in the BCS National Championship season, or the Rose Bowl-winning season … but neither will Ducks fans forget that Thomas made a pretty bone-headed moving thinking he was NFL-ready when he clearly wasn’t.

    • Anonymous

      Someone in his ear…. More like a cadre of sycophants and hangers on, both in Eugene and back home in Houston,  telling him that stats were money in the bank and that he had nothing else to prove in Eugene. Yeah, there was a lot of that I bet.  That statement comparing himself to Cam Newton was evidence to this effect. No scout would have reinforced or even nodded along with this fantasy, nor would anyone who had his best interest at heart, but he really though that he could follow Cam’s success, fundamentals be damned. 

      As for the hostility and hatred mentioned by ‘iain_banks’, I’ve actually been surprised at how short lived the initial anger/fear reaction has been in the Duck fan base.  A lot of it has to do with the promising glimpse we had of Bennett, but I think it also had to do with the plateau we saw in the last season. That and the profound sense of gratitude that 99% of Duck fans have for his contribution over the last two years. Mariota’s spring game just made the medicine go down even easier, but these are hypotheticals, and we could be in for a rude awakening as for how smart on the read and cool under duress DT consistently was. Heaven forbid we have a slew of interceptions, because those overthrown passes every one cringes about will all of a sudden look strategic.  

      If MM or BB flop, that’s when the claws will come out, but for now, it seems like most fans are understanding about his family situation and rational for leaving early.  Everyone hits a plateau when mastering a craft, and my lament comes mainly from my desire to have seen DT overcome that and move forward in terms of his remaining issues at the seemingly exponential clip he did when he caught the baton from Masoli. That would have been a sight to behold. I have nothing but respect for this young man.  It was a privilege to see him in the green and yellow and I want nothing more than seeing him succeed at the next level.  

  • Anonymous

    I am afraid Adam is right on here, Pat.  DT had mechanics issues with his throwing.  He needed to tighten up the motion, he was too long and too slow on the release.  Plus, he simply was not accurate enough for the NFL.  Oregon has been a running team under Chip.  DT made the zone reads well, was a leader and could move when necessary (he got scared of running after getting hurt but still was agile and could run if necessary).  That is why he started and he had great stats because he played three years on some of the best teams Oregon has put out.

    His *only* chance at the NFL came by returning and working like a dog during this off season and next year at his craft.  Why he left, we will never know.  But the fact that it was a mistake for him is pretty clear.

    I thank DT for all the thrills and will always have a special place in my Oregon heart for his three wonderful years.  Good luck to him in whatever he does.

  • Levi

    I think the most stirring issue about Darron Thomas is his expectation level.  When he came in against Boise State and led an almost miraculous comeback, the rumblings were DT as a savior of the program (or at the very least a considerable upgrade to Masoli at the QB position).  Those levels of expectation were actually met by Darron.  He took us to the NCG!  Unbelievable.  It’s strange for me to say as an old-time Duck fan, but that was only meeting our collective expectation as fans.  I believe that part (an I mean only part) of the issue with our reaction to DT leaving is he didn’t exceed our level of expectation, but I do think we should realize that our expectations are high for Oregon football and those expectations cannot always be exceeded.  I am happy for DT and I’m glad he is getting a chance to pursue his career.  I hope a team picks him up and he can show them what he is capable of.  I don’t know if he can resolve some of the fundamentals in his game, but any QB that can lead a team to a NCG and a Rose Bowl in consecutive years at the very least deserved our respect and our admiration.  Good luck DT!

  • Jda97302

    Point one DT got his degree
    point two he would have been second guessed all next season had he stayed.
    Point three he is a leader and has the work ethic to succeed
    Point four is his ability to prepare that would make him a great back up as a rookie

    Point five I still believe in him as he believes in himself.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more hated star player at the college level, ever and for reasons that aren’t his at all. By all accounts he’s a model citizen, a smart kid who graduated early. Yet at every opportunity he was second guessed and blamed for the few loses he did have.  If the fans hated him this much, it only follows that scouts, owners and GMs would feel less than ambivalent, perhaps citing imaginary character issues.  He should have been drafted, even in the last round for his WINS alone.  btw, the average CFL player makes about 80k.  Star QBs make much, much more.  Doug Flutie was making a million dollars a year in Toronto and that was several years ago.  He’ll do fine, and he’ll eventually get his chance at the NFL.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more hated star player at the college level, ever and for reasons that aren’t his at all. By all accounts he’s a model citizen, a smart kid who graduated early. Yet at every opportunity he was second guessed and blamed for the few loses he did have.  If the fans hated him this much, it only follows that scouts, owners and GMs would feel less than ambivalent, perhaps citing imaginary character issues.  He should have been drafted, even in the last round for his WINS alone.  btw, the average CFL player makes about 80k.  Star QBs make much, much more.  Doug Flutie was making a million dollars a year in Toronto and that was several years ago.  He’ll do fine, and he’ll eventually get his chance at the NFL.