Oregon Football: Will Any Ducks Leave Early for the NFL?
This time last year, Ducks fans were preparing for LaMichael James' announcement that he would leave Oregon early for the NFL draft.
No one thought that junior quarterback Darron Thomas would also declare for the draft—talk about surprises.
With that in mind, will there be any surprises in store for Oregon fans this year? Are there any players that you assume will return, who might actually be considering testing their chances at the next level?
Probably not. Unless...
What if junior starting linebacker Boseko Lokombo looks around and sees fellow starting linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay headed for juicy NFL contracts?
He might think, "Hey, I'm just as good as they are."
In fact, Lokombo is already rated No. 44 out of 244 outside linebackers in the 2014 draft. He was labeled a "breakout star" by NFLDraftScout.com, and that was before his junior season.
Lokombo's stats in 2012 rivaled the best on the team, and some of the best in the country at his position.
If you're an Oregon fan, you should hope that Lokombo relishes the opportunity to be a senior leader on the Ducks defense in 2013, as opposed to throwing his hat in the ring a year early.
If he builds on his terrific accomplishments in 2012 next fall, Lokombo would see his draft stock rise—perhaps even dramatically.
Lokombo should stick around, but so should have Darron Thomas. Just sayin'.
Starting wide receiver Josh Huff certainly had a better year in 2012 than in previous seasons with the Ducks, despite missing two games. The junior put injuries and personal travails behind him and got the job done, for the most part, this year.
Huff's 467 total receiving yards—16.1 yards per catch—and seven touchdowns was very respectable. He will now have a chance on the big stage in the Fiesta Bowl to improve on his regular-season stats.
Will his bowl performance be a springboard for Huff to consider leaving early? Will Oregon receivers coach Scott Frost's interview for the head coaching position at Louisiana Tech weigh on Huff's senior season?
If Huff is having any thoughts of leaving early, he should banish them from his handsome head right now. He is currently projected as the No. 66 wide receiver in the 2014 draft, according to CBSSports.com. Huff could do himself some real good by completing his senior season in style.
Work with your excellent quarterback, Huff, and make a real name for yourself in 2013. The NFL will still be there.
Big No. 66, defensive end Taylor Hart, has put together two very solid years for the Ducks.
Hart is currently rated as the No. 18 defensive end in the 2014 draft, according to CBSSports.com. He has the size, the fundamentals and the consistency that the NFL values, and he is definitely on the NFL's radar screen.
Hart's senior teammate Dion Jordan will likely be drafted in the first round. If Hart returns for his senior season and captures more of the defensive attention with Jordan gone, he should see his draft stock move up.
The 2013 class at DE is stronger than the 2014 class will be. Hart should wait, work on his game and make his move next fall.
Basically, I hate surprises. I was stunned last year when Darron Thomas announced his intention to declare for the NFL draft.
It's unlikely these Ducks will bail early, but in the world of college football, nothing surprises me anymore.
There are suddenly hints of instability in the Oregon program—rumors of Chip Kelly leaving for the NFL, NCAA investigation troubles, assistant coaches interviewing elsewhere and so on.
Will these issues cause Ducks who are eligible for the NFL draft to take a hard look at leaving early?
Enjoy the Fiesta Bowl, Duck fans, and then hold on to your hats.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.