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It wasn’t enough that Christmas was this past Tuesday, and it wasn’t enough that all the Ducks fans out there seemed to get just about everything they asked Santa for. Yet the University of Oregon must have been on the nice list with a star next to their name because they got something extra special. 

The day after Christmas, Ducks fans found a present under the tree they missed. Junior quarterback, Justin Herbert, announced on Twitter that he will be forgoing the 2019 NFL Draft and returning for his senior year. 

It’s been a great month, to say the least, for the feathery football program in Eugene. Not only are they preparing to do battle against a tough Big Ten foe in Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl on December 31, they also received news that the No. 1 overall high school prospect, Kayvon Thibodeaux, a 6’5 235 lb defensive end from Westlake Village in California has committed to the school to bolster their program. Since ESPN began ranking high school players in 2009, this is the first five star, and No. 1 overall prospect, the Ducks have landed.  

But this is about Herbert, a junior quarterback who was ranked No. 6 overall by ESPN’s NFL analyst Mel Kiper Jr., and No. 20 overall by Kiper’s partner in crime Todd McShay. Herbert definitely had his best season with the Ducks this year, completing 59.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,985 yards with 28 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, while leading Oregon to an 8-4 record, yet it wasn’t all glory. The team’s record is indicative of Herbert’s play midway through the season.

After the stumble against Stanford, the Ducks bounced back with impressive wins against Cal and Washington that were thought to be signs of them righting the ship. Unfortunately, Herbert appeared to take a step back, or teams just began to figure him out and he was unable to adjust to the defensive changes.

His arm strength is there, the IQ is there, and the talent is there, however, he still needs to learn how to read defenses, diagnose the blitz, and take control as a leader when the team needs a spark. Lucky for him, he can learn all of this in college so when he gets to the NFL he can hit the ground running. 

This won’t be a situation like USC’s Matt Leinart. Leinart returned for another season after he had won the Heisman Trophy and would have been the No. 1 overall pick in that year’s NFL Draft. Herbert instead, will benefit from playing another year in college because he still has a lot to learn. Leinart was NFL ready and his stock couldn’t have been any higher, Herbert’s stock dropped towards the end of the season because he showed areas in need of improvement. 

For the University of Oregon, this is great news. With the way Mario Cristabol has turned the program’s culture around in just one season is promising for all Ducks’ fans. He has this program flying in the right direction. As for the rest of college football, the PAC-12, and the FBS pool, you all better watch out. The Ducks are coming, and they’re coming for the crown. 

Brian Bernstein

Author Brian Bernstein

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Sports Al Dente 2019

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