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Matt Calkins: Jacob Eason’s choice – declare for the NFL draft or lead Washington to a potentially historic season

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 15, 2019

Washington quarterback Jacob Eason  passes the ball during the first half of a  game against Utah, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear / AP)
Washington quarterback Jacob Eason passes the ball during the first half of a game against Utah, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Nine months from today, Jacob Eason will likely be in an NFL training camp as a newly minted millionaire. With that platinum arm, the Huskies quarterback will probably be competing for a starting job as he bruises wide receivers’ hands.

This is the future most people seem to be resigned to, and the path I imagine Eason will take.

But here’s what he should do: Come back to Washington for one more year.

I know that’s easy for me to say when I’m not the one who’d be signing a seven-figure contract. As long as Eason has his health, declaring for the draft would provide him with financial comfort that most Americans never experience.

But by returning to the Huskies for one more season, the Lake Stevens, Washington, native can not only improve his draft stock, he can create the legacy at UW that eluded him in 2019. Eason is just a guy right now, but if he returns, he can leave as the man.

The first objection to suggestions such as these is, “Why would Eason, or anyone for that matter, turn down first-round money?” And my answer to that would be, “I don’t know that he’s a first-rounder.”

Maybe he was projected as one before the season began, but if you check mock drafts from Sports Illustrated, or CBS Sports, or USA Today, you’re not going to see Jacob’s name among the first 32 picks. LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Utah State’s Jordan Love are consistently ranked higher than him, with some mocks putting Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts above Eason, too.

This makes sense when you consider that Eason has only had one majestic game during his time at Washington, which came when he threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-28 passing in a win at BYU. Other than that, you have a melting pot of greatness and gaffes that leave scouts salivating and scratching their heads all at once.

After his 349-yard showcase against Eastern Washington in Week 1, Eason went 18 of 30 for 162 yards, no TDs and an interception in a home loss to Cal. Two weeks after that gem vs. BYU, Eason went 16 of 36 for 206 yards and a pick in a loss at Stanford.

After three quarters vs. No. 6 Oregon, Eason was primed to record one of the all-time great Washington performances. Then the Huskies went scoreless in the fourth. After the first half against No. 7 Utah, Eason looked like the best quarterback to set foot on Montlake. Then, he threw two interceptions – one a pick-six – and finished with three turnovers in the defeat.

There is no way NFL teams are going to forget about these games completely. As much as Eason may impress them during combines and private workouts, which will likely drive his stock upward, questions about his decision-making and ability to, you know, win, will linger.

Similar concerns surrounded Herbert last season. Considered a top-five pick at one point, Herbert struggled in the second half of 2018 as the Ducks finished 5-4 in the Pac-12. Could he have still declared and gone in the first round? Likely, yes. Instead he returned, put the Ducks squarely in the College Football Playoff race, and seemingly solidified himself as a top-15 pick.

This could be Eason’s blueprint if he wanted it to be. Then again, he might be over college football.

Remember, after starting at Georgia as a freshman, losing his job to Fromm as a sophomore, and sitting out due to transfer rules last season, Eason already has been in school for four years. He also came to Washington with unprecedented hype, which had to be impossible to ignore.

Last Friday, former Huskies quarterback Brock Huard tweeted that Eason seems to be playing with “very little joy” and has the “weight of his world on his shoulders.” If true, leaving the college game behind would be all the more appealing. But maybe he can see that he has the chance to leave an indelible mark at the university he grew up less than 40 miles away from.

After that loss to Utah, Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake pointed to the dozens of underclassmen who are on this Huskies roster. And he was right when he said that UW’s youth was learning difficult lessons that would toughen them up for the future. Washington will have talent and experience next year, and could produce a historic season if their cannon-armed quarterback returns.

You might say that leaving is the safe business decision for Eason. I’d say that coming back is the smart one. What we’d all agree on is that there’s unfinished business for him at Washington.

Eason is probably the most physically gifted QB UW the Huskies have seen. With one more year, he could be the most celebrated one, too.

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