In one day, both Clemson and Michigan got news that made their fans squeal. Quarterback Tajh Boyd will be returning to play his senior season for the Tigers (via The Times and Democrat), while offensive tackle Taylor Lewan will do the same for the Wolverines (MLive.com).
Boyd and Lewan, like quarterback Andrew Luck from a few years ago, prove that despite the allure of the NFL, there is a true benefit to returning to college.
Full disclosure: I'm a "leave as soon as you can" guy. For me, it is not so much about leaving when your stock is the highest; rather, it is about playing for free versus playing for money. If you're going to subject your body to the dangers of football, any money is better than no money.
Throw in the fact that starting earlier puts you closer to your second contract and that you get better coaching, and the NFL is tough to say no to.
However, for some people, like Boyd and Lewan, there is more to the equation than getting to the NFL. No, they likely won't receive the tangible benefit of cash, but they are not returning to school for that reason. The benefit for these guys is a more intangible one. It's something that Matt Barkley chased in returning for 2012, and it is harder to quantify than mere draft stock or numbers in a bank account.
For Boyd, the dreams of success are real. Even as the draft loomed, he felt like he was called back to Tigertown. From The Times and Democrat's story:
Boyd had submitted paperwork to the NFL Advisory Board and conceded he was leaning toward entering the draft, but he said Wednesday that he was most motivated by the sense that “there is something left to accomplish” for the Clemson football team.
“My main focus is trying to be the best leader possible that I can,” Boyd said. “ As explosive as we’ve been, there’s more to attain, more out there. I think that game against LSU was a big boost heading into this offseason.
“I feel we can take even that next step, attain that next level as a team.”
Clemson is looking to build off of that Chick-fil-A Bowl win over the Bayou Bengals, and Boyd is amped up for the possible success. The team will likely start out in the Top 10, and it will be hoping for that title shot. While returning for a title does not normally work out perfectly, the draw it has on seniors is undeniable.
In the case of guys like Boyd, that is their benefit: the opportunity to chase that dream with their teammates.
With Lewan, the draw is more rooted in the joy of college and following in the Michigan tradition. MLive.com details Lewan's truly intangible benefit. He's quoted as saying:
When you say NFL and the first round, that sounds amazing. But when you play at the University of Michigan, whether it's basketball, hockey, football, there's a tradition here and it's something you want to be part of. If I do what I need to do, I'll be able to play in the NFL for however long -- but you only get one more year of college.
His coach, Brady Hoke, also mentions the Michigan tradition with respect to Lewan and other linemen, saying:
The one message he mentioned to me early was, the offensive linemen here, they stay. There’s been a tradition of that. From Jake [Long] and [Jon] Jansen, you can go back through it, [Steve Hutchinson] and all those guys. I think that’s all something that’s part of it.
The depth of the linemen that have played here and a guy that’s mentioned with those guys is important.
Boyd and Lewan are far from the norm. Most players with either of their grades would likely find themselves in the draft. By going back, they are assuming more risk, and in the grand scheme of cost versus benefit (on paper, at least), the guys entering the draft would be making the safer choice.
However, some benefits you cannot quantify. The benefits for guys like Boyd and Lewan might not move other people's meters, but that's okay. The only people that need to see those intangible benefits is themselves, and luckily for Clemson and Michigan, these guys see them quite clearly.