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Justin Herbert’s return to Oregon is huge NFL Draft *and* college football news

The potential top QB pick will play another year in Eugene. That means a lighter draft class and a different Pac-12 race.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is staying in college for his senior year and not going into the 2019 NFL Draft, he announced through the school on Wednesday.

Herbert’s return is a surprise, and it’ll definitely shake up the draft.

The junior was the second QB off the board in Dan Kadar’s Christmas Eve mock draft for SB Nation. With Ohio State redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins yet to announce his plans for 2019, plenty of evaluators thought Herbert could have been the first QB taken.

Now? NFL teams that need QBs are really hoping Haskins decides to leave Columbus and play professionally next season. They’re also going to look even more closely at Missouri’s Drew Lock and West Virginia’s Will Grier, to name a few at the top of the class.

As big as this is for the draft, it’s bigger for the Pac-12’s immediate future.

Herbert’s return firms up Oregon a top-tier Pac-12 North contender. The Ducks finished two games off the pace in the division this year, but their record included an utterly brutal loss to Stanford and another pretty close one to Utah. They beat eventual conference champ Washington in overtime and established an offensive identity under Herbert’s third head coach in three years, Mario Cristobal. Now, the Ducks play like a supersized Chip Kelly team, with Herbert’s arm helping spread things out for a vertical, physical running game.

With Herbert back, you should expect to see Oregon in a lot of preseason top 10s.

The Ducks currently have the No. 6 recruiting class for 2019, headlined by five-star defensive end (and Oregon’s highest-rated signee ever) Kayvon Thibodeaux. He should quickly boost a defense that finished 69th in S&P+, well behind Herbert’s offense at No. 23.

Herbert averaged 6.2 yards on 48 non-sack carries to go with his 2,985 passing yards (7.2 per attempt, including sacks) and 28-to-8 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio.

It’s possible Herbert will lose some of his best receivers to early draft declarations of their own, but none of his top six targets or top two running backs was a senior. None of his starting offensive linemen were seniors, either.

That doesn’t mean Oregon will have no attrition. But the Ducks should expect to have a lot of talent back from a good offense and, with just three seniors atop the current two-deep on defense, a lot back there, too. Mix in the big recruiting class, and this is an exciting time for a program that already wasn’t far away from winning the Pac-12 again.