Following Oregon’s 36-35 Civil War victory, Marcus Mariota told the media he hadn’t given the NFL draft much thought. Then, his eyes lit up as he talked about the ceremony held for Oregon’s senior players that night.
“To see the seniors walk out with their families, that’s a special moment,” he said.
Mariota sounded genuinely inspired by the seniors, like he’d kill to be in their shoes one day.
Five days later, Mariota announced he’d be returning to Oregon for at least one more season. Many factors likely contributed to that decision but maybe Friday night swayed Mariota toward Oregon’s side of the fence.
The big question now is: Did Mariota make the right decision? Head coach Mark Helfrich probably has the best answer.
“That’s a time where everything is so individualized in every regard,” Helfrich said.
In other words, the player’s values determine how smart his decision is. In Mariota’s case, it seems like he and his family don’t value football as much as education. He has a tough major (General Science) and is known for being a highly motivated student.
“I want to do well,” Mariota told the Oregonian in November. “And the classes I’m taking ask for me to be prepared.”
Mariota’s also expressed love for his team and the Eugene community.
“It’s tough in these deals because by in large our guys are happy here and want to be a part of what we’re doing here,” Helfrich said.
A few quotes and anecdotes don’t say everything, but it sure seems like Mariota cares about much more than football. Even so, there’s a good chance he maintains his high draft stock going into next year.
That situation certainly isn’t guaranteed, though.
By coming back, Mariota might be throwing away tens of millions of dollars. That’s what happened to Matt Barkley. The former USC quarterback spurned a likely top-10 selection in the 2012 NFL draft for one more year of school, and he fell to the 4th round the following draft. His rookie contract? Four years for less than $500,000 in guaranteed money.
Former Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm decided to come back for his senior season in 2007, costing himself a potential No. 1 overall selection (he went No. 56 overall in 2008).
The decision for Kentucky’s Andre’ Woodson to return as a senior in 2007 caused him to drop from a projected high-round pick to a six-rounder.
On the other hand, players such as Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford stayed in college for an extra year and still went No. 1 the following drafts. Bradford played in just four games the season leading up to the 2010 draft and was still the first player off the board.
Who knows which side of the spectrum Mariota will fall on? If he ends up being a Barkley or Brohm, people will bash his decision to stay, and they’d have a valid point. But nobody, including Mariota, knows if he’ll get hurt or play poorly. Football is unpredictable.
Earning a degree or walking out with his family on senior night, however, are almost entirely within his control. Those things appear to be more important to Mariota than NFL glory. If that’s the case, coming back to Oregon was the right decision.
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415