Malee: Despite going undrafted, Darron Thomas’ decision to leave shouldn’t be questioned

Eight former Duck football players found their way to the NFL this past week — either via the draft or free agency — but Oregon’s all-time leader in touchdown passes wasn’t one of them. @@ @@

At first glance, that statement seems wholly implausible. But the NFL draft is a fickle process, and one that Darron Thomas never seemed to fit comfortably in. From the day he announced his plans to leave Eugene a year early and pursue a professional career, media and fans alike have questioned the decision. The events this past weekend only served as further validation of their collective head shaking, and you could practically hear the “I-told-you-so”s coming from all over Eugene.

Darron Thomas wasn’t selected in any of the draft’s seven rounds, and didn’t even garner the type of free agent contract signed by former teammates like Cliff Harris, Darrion Weems and Eddie Pleasant. If reality hadn’t sunk in by the fifth round, or sixth and seventh, it certainly has now. After leading Oregon to previously unseen heights, plateaus even Joey Harrington and Akili Smith never reached, Darron Varnell Thomas can’t find his way onto an NFL roster. @@ @@ @@

Personally, I’m as dubious of Thomas’ NFL stock as most teams seem to be (though certainly he could be just as competent at the backup position as, say, Derek Anderson or Jason Campbell). College statistics and accomplishments don’t really translate to the NFL, which is basically a whole different game. As good as he was at Oregon, Thomas rarely had moments that made you think, “That kid could play professionally.”

So no, Thomas being passed over by all 32 teams — multiple times — doesn’t bother me. What irks me about this whole ordeal is the dismissive treatment Thomas has received from certain sectors of the Oregon fanbase, as if the very notion of leaving the emerald green pastures of Oregon a year early is ludicrous. You could hear it in conversations at the spring game, and a quick Twitter search reveals written proof:

@Sham_GBR: “Darron Thomas is such an idiot for declaring for the draft”

@Cuppcake2010: “I’m always gonna support Mr. Darron Thomas but the way he left UO seems disrespectful to me”

@StarChile: “Darron Thomas is looking like a genius right now…smh”

It never felt like Thomas was fully embraced as a legitimate quarterback on Oregon’s campus, and that became fully evident as soon as he veered away from the path that fans had preordained for him. Never mind that he had just thrown for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a stirring Rose Bowl victory, that he had set Oregon’s all-time record for touchdown passes and just a year earlier threw for 363 yards in the BCS National Championship Game. Never mind that he already earned his undergraduate degree. All that mattered was that Thomas left before what was deemed to be the “right” time, before everyone was done with simultaneously heralding and picking him apart. @@

Thomas always seemed to be walking a fine line while he was here, and so the treatment he received on his way out came as no surprise. Despite his prolific statistical output (he’s indisputably one of Oregon’s best quarterbacks of all time) and unquestioned leadership on the field, the doubters followed Thomas throughout each of his four years at Oregon. Remember last year, when he got hurt and was replaced briefly by Bryan Bennett? All it took was three decidedly mediocre outings from Bennett to prompt the loaded questions about who should start. It almost felt like everyone was looking for an excuse to dismiss Thomas.

His departure back in January finally gave the doubters free reign to lambast him, and they did. Now that he’s gone undrafted and unsigned, with only a slew of tryouts to bank on, the whirlwind of criticism has reached its crescendo.

In the end, though, none of this is any of our business. Thomas didn’t “owe” fans anything — really, he gave much more than he received while in Eugene. And the fact that he hasn’t found a team yet shouldn’t validate any of the criticisms leveled against him. This was a life decision more than it was a football or academic one, and only Thomas knows what’s best for him. Whether or not his future lies on an NFL team remains to be seen, but he was ready to move on from Oregon, and that’s really all that matters.

As sports fans, we have a nasty habit of assuming we know what’s best for everyone, always. It’s why ESPN basically lives by its Monday morning quarterbacking shows, why the lifeblood of sports blogs is found on the message boards, where everyone has an opinion and the word “nuance” is erased from the dictionary.

The reality is that none of us really know anything about what goes on behind the scenes, and what exactly makes guys like Thomas tick. And that’s perfectly fine. At this point, I like to imagine Thomas standing up on a podium outside Autzen Stadium and quoting one of my favorite Jay-Z songs.

“Can I live?”

Update: Via Rob Moseley, Thomas actually exaggerated his academic status to The Register-Guard. He has not graduated yet. 


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