Ask Dwight: Mariota & DAT going pro?
The No. 2 Oregon Ducks could produce their deepest draft class ever next spring should several underclassmen decided to jump ship early.
It's a tough decision for players who might love their university but can't pass up becoming instant millionaires.
Remember, players who declare for the draft don't have to wait until April to get paid. Agents will front players thousands and the sports memorabilia business is booming to the point where popular stars can make six figures simply for signing their names to trading cards, jerseys and helmets. And don't forget endorsement deals. One recent UO draft pick said he had made $100,000 before the February combine had arrived.
Many romanticize the opportunity to play college sports and wonder how players can turn their backs on that experience before being forced to do so. That's certainly a legitimate point. But money talks. Especially seven figures worth. With that kind of money on the table, how does a football player justify returning to play for free when an injury could cost them earning power?
So, with that said, there are several Ducks who could be faced with the decision of either chasing their dream of playing in the league or returning for another year of school. Here's a look at UO's top-four underclassmen prospects with a guesstimate as to what each might be thinking (hey, I'm no psychic):
Marcus Mariota, quarterback (projected first round): He is a sure-fire first-round pick but Mariota, who turns 20 today, could use another year to bulk up and polish his game. Wide receivers won't be as open in the NFL as they are in a spread offense against college defenses worried about a running game that averages 300-plus.
Stay or go: Flip a coin. If Oregon wins a national title, he's gone. If not, I could see where he might be compelled to return. Quarterbacks have the least to worry about in terms of injuries hurting draft potential because players don't typically seriously injure their throwing arms or erode in the area of decision-making, a skill Mariota has an abundance of.
De'Anthony Thomas, running back/wide receiver (second/third round): An injured ankle has set him back a bit this season and could either make him want to return so he can go out with a better final season or make him realize just how fragile an existence as a football player can be.
Stay or go: 70/30 he's gone. DAT has plenty to return for but the lure of the money for a smallish player (5-9, 170), more prone to injury, could be too much to pass up.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, cornerback (first round): He is having an amazing career and will have two years as a full-time starter under his belt after playing extensively as a freshman in 2011 thanks to the follies of Cliff Harris.
Stay or go: Gone if he truly receives a first-round grade. No reason to return.
Hroniss Grasu, center (second/third round): The three-year starter has nothing left to prove but could add strength and more size with one more season.
Stay or go: Gone if Mariota leaves. Could return if Mariota stays.