Guessing game: Pac-12 juniors mull NFL future
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Every year as the football season winds down, the guessing game intensifies. Which players are likely to bolt for the NFL with college eligibility remaining?
Some, like Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, won’t officially say until the season is over – which might not be until January for the No. 3 Ducks. Others throw out broad hints without actually committing one way or another.
And then there’s the player that pretty much makes clear: When the season’s done, he’s outta there.
A look at a few of the draft-eligible juniors around the Pac-12 that could be gone after this season:
MARIOTA: The prolific quarterback has set at least seven school records for the Ducks – including yards passing (9,445) and touchdowns (95) – and he’s just a junior. The Heisman front-runner has been through this before: Last season there was also speculation he might leave.
Oregon fueled the generally accepted belief that Mariota is moving on, when he came in for one snap in the final quarter of the rout of Colorado last weekend, allowing an ovation in what may have been his final home game at Autzen Stadium.
”As a family, we’ll wait until the season’s done, sit down all together and weigh the pros and cons and see what’s best for us as a family,” Mariota said.
BRETT HUNDLEY: UCLA’s quarterback told a nationally syndicated radio show this week he’s pretty much done everything he can do with the Bruins. And he’s already got his degree.
A dual-threat, Hundley is known for his athleticism and figures to be one of the top quarterbacks available in the draft, if he goes that route. This season he’s passed for 2,873 yards and 20 touchdowns.
SHAQ THOMPSON: He’s grabbed attention as the nation’s top-two way player up at Washington, playing at both outside linebacker and running back. He has six touchdowns this season, two via rush, three on fumble returns and one off an interception. In all, he’s rushed for 456 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
Earlier this season, Huskies coach Chris Petersen said playing both ways should raise Thompson’s draft stock.
”I think that this helps Shaq in his long-term future, because I’m not sure what he is. I know he’s something really good. I’m not sure at the next level he is that linebacker. He might be a hybrid, a nickel, a safety. He could be a running back,” the coach said.
JAELEN STRONG: The 6-foot-3 wide receiver, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, has caught nine touchdown passes for Arizona State this season. Some say should he choose to leave the Sun Devils, he’d be one of the top receivers in the draft.
Few ASU fans will soon forget a spectacular touchdown pass he pulled down with one hand before twisting to land inbounds against Notre Dame.
”I just went `Wow,”’ Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. ”I re-winded that a couple times when I was watching film. That was as good a catch as I have seen in a while.”
Jaelen also caught an impressive game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass against USC.
ANDRUS PEAT: Projected by many at the start of the season to be picked in the first round, Stanford’s star left tackle is a question mark for the 2015 draft.
Some say another year of seasoning in college would benefit him – that and the fact there’s a lot of depth at his position among draft prospects. One thing is for certain: Peat looms large at 6-foot-7 and 317 pounds.
LEONARD WILLIAMS: The USC defensive tackle is projected to be one of the top, if not the top, pick in the draft. He’s a beast at his position, and he’s surprisingly fast for a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder.
Williams has pretty much dispelled any questions about his future, posting mock drafts on Twitter- many of which have him going to the Oakland Raiders with the No. 1 pick.
”He’s a great player because he’s so disruptive,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said last week. ”He’s explosive. He can play the run. He can rush the passer. I don’t know if he’s top 10, top 5, or a top pick, but he’s in that discussion.”