Revisiting B1G players who returned to school after 2014 season
Should I stay or should I go?
It’s the question that underclassmen across the country deal with every year. There were a handful of B1G players who had to decide if they would turn pro or return to school after the 2014 season. These five guys elected to come back for another year.
As we dissect their current draft stocks, let’s take a look back on whether or not their choice was the right one.
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers WR — Carroo could’ve declared early after a dominant junior season. He had a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season and at 6-1, 210 pounds, he looked plenty ready to take the next step. With Rutgers starting a new quarterback in 2015 — after eight years of catching passes from Gary Nova — it would’ve been natural for Carroo to turn pro. But he didn’t get a first or second-round grade, so he elected to come back to school.
In hindsight, that might not have been the best move.
That had nothing to do with Carroo’s performance on the field. As his team’s only legitimate weapon, he averaged 101 yards and 1.25 touchdowns per game. The problem was that Carroo’s 2015 season was marred by injuries and two suspensions. He shifted into more of the back-end Day 2, early-Day 3 projection, which was a significant drop from the early second-round projection he had in the beginning of 2015.
Even though the domestic violence charge was dropped and Carroo reportedly did well in his interviews, he still has unnecessary baggage surrounding his draft stock. He maintained the fact that he didn’t regret his decision to come back to school. At the very least, he confirmed that he doesn’t need Nova to catch passes all over the field. Whether or not that will outweigh the off-the-field concerns remains to be seen.
Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State DE — The Michigan State junior was rated as the No. 20 prospect on Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board. After a monster Cotton Bowl performance, many expected Calhoun to test the NFL waters. But watching Ohio State and Oregon — the only teams to beat MSU in 2014 — play for a national title made Calhoun want to come back to East Lansing.
Michigan State fell a game short of reaching the ultimate goal, but Calhoun was a major reason the Spartans earned their first College Football Playoff berth. He again earned second-team All-America honors and finished 2015 with career-highs in sacks (10.5), tackles for loss (15) and tackles (49). Calhoun was huge in MSU’s three biggest wins of the season against Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State.
That, one would think, should’ve solidified the edge-rusher as a first-round lock. Instead, Calhoun is projected more as a second-round pick now with the ability to play linebacker in a 3-4 system. The three-time All-American has been picked apart plenty by scouts. Some are questioning his aggressiveness, especially against double teams. He might not be a first-round prospect anymore, but you don’t get the sense that Calhoun regrets his decision in the slightest.
Connor Cook, Michigan State QB — Cook could’ve likely been a second-round pick had he decided to turn pro after 2014. He had the frame, the arm strength and the pedigree to be one of the top quarterbacks in the 2015 class. But like Calhoun, he came back to handle “unfinished business.”
Cook wanted to come back to MSU not only to win a title, but to improve the traits that would boost his draft stock. He wanted to become more mobile, which he was even if the numbers didn’t reflect it. Cook was actually sacked seven more times in 2015, though that could’ve been a product of him throwing more. The 2014 offense was largely dependent on Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. In fact, MSU actually ran the ball 59 percent of the time.
As more of a focal point in 2015, Cook didn’t put up the accuracy numbers he was hoping for. He was still only a 56-percent passer, which was the lowest mark of his career. Some might blame that on the shoulder injury, but scouts are still questioning whether or not he can truly drive the ball.
Then, of course, there are questions about Cook’s off-the-field attitude. Regardless of the legitimacy of those claims, Cook didn’t develop into the first-round lock some expected him to. There might be a possible suitor for him in the first round, but he appears more likely to go sometime on Day 2. Did he lose money? Maybe a little, but he certainly didn’t plummet his draft stock by leading his team to a College Football Playoff.
Taylor Decker, Ohio State OL — Decker would’ve possibly been a second-round guy had he decided to come out after his junior season. He spearheaded one of the great stretches ever for an offensive line, and coming off a national title, Decker would’ve been an appealing prospect. But before the Buckeyes even played in the title game, Decker announced his intentions of returning to Ohio State.
Decker anchored the experienced Buckeye line at left tackle and improved his draft stock in the process. Blocking for a back like Ezekiel Elliott didn’t hurt, either. Another year of improving his footwork and getting bigger helped him in the minds of NFL scouts. By most evaluators, Decker has a solid first-round grade whether he’s a left or right tackle. Now he looks more like a Day 1 starter, which makes him more of a safe bet as a first-round pick.
A smart move it proved to be.
Cardale Jones, Ohio State QB — Nobody in the history of college football ever had three starts quite like Jones. Nobody would’ve faulted Jones, whose draft stock soared in a matter of weeks, if he made the decision to turn pro coming off three straight postseason wins and a national title. A possible first-round projection and no guarantee of him starting at Ohio State made it a natural assumption by many that he’d cash in on the NFL. But Jones said that he wasn’t ready and that he wanted to get his degree. He got another year to work with one of the top quarterback groomers in football.
Some would argue that he regressed and that he lost out on millions by coming back to school, which could be true. I’ll go the other way and suggest that while he would’ve been taken significantly higher in 2015 than he will in 2016, the guy said he wasn’t ready for a reason. And he wasn’t.
He still would’ve been a project in the NFL and there’s no guarantee someone would’ve had the patience to fix the footwork and accuracy issues that he still deals with. Jones will enter the NFL without the pressure he would’ve had last year and his development won’t be rushed. Who knows, maybe that will help him in the long run.