Former ASU football players Brock Osweiler and Vontaze Burfict were supposed to serve their final year of eligibility this season.
Last winter, both players took risky jumps to the pros.
Osweiler — despite not having as much playing experience as NFL scouts preferred — ended up being the Denver Broncos’ second-round pick, and is expected to be the heir to Peyton Manning after the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback eventually retires.
Burfict’s decision, however, was an even bigger gamble. After playing a dismal junior season and marring his draft stock, Burfict went undrafted. Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis took a chance on him in free agency, and now Burfict is the Bengals’ starting weak-side linebacker.
Both players today are most likely not regretting their decisions to leave ASU early, but it was difficult to predict how each of their paths would turn out when they first declared for the NFL Draft. They also had legitimate reasons why they shouldn’t return to school, but the option was still there nevertheless.
What if Osweiler and Burfict stayed for one more year at ASU?
In case you haven’t noticed, Burfict has gone through a total transformation as a pro. Unlike his time at ASU, Burfict now openly speaks to the media. Results in Cincinnati have been nothing but positive, and Burfict doesn’t resemble the penalty-happy villain he was portrayed as at ASU.
Maybe Burfict was coachable after all.
That could’ve happened under new ASU coach Todd Graham, who has revamped the culture on the team.
Graham has taken discipline upon many of his players since his arrival, but the outcomes have ended up generally well thus far.
Junior defensive end Junior Onyeali, who had been suspended for most of the offseason for behavioral issues, has re-emerged as a force on defense.
Graham clearly has more control of the team’s attitude than former coach Dennis Erickson did and the team has allowed far less penalties.
The new ASU offense under offensive coordinator Mike Norvell emphasizes more on the running the ball than last season, but the Sun Devils’ passing game has been just as effective.
Osweiler’s experience on the team could have further enhanced the offense, especially for situations like the final few drives in ASU’s 24-20 loss to Missouri this season.
If Osweiler’s backup, redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly, has prospered throughout the first five games as one of the nation’s most efficient passers, imagine what Osweiler would have achieved in his senior season.
There are some downsides of course that would have followed if they had stayed.
Had Osweiler remained, there wouldn’t be much room for Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank to grow as possible long-term options at quarterback. Osweiler would have had to learn a brand-new system in his senior season that would have hindered his draft stock, something that discouraged him from returning last winter.
He would also be without his talented receiving core from last year in Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie and Aaron Pflugrad.
And of course, there’s the hypothetical chance that Burfict doesn’t pan out with Graham, further ruining Burfict’s hopes of making it to the NFL.
No matter how prestigious the head coach’s pedigree is, some players just can’t work with a program at the collegiate level. It’s not as a big incentive to change for a university as it is on the pro level, where millions of dollars are at stake.
Ask Tyrann Mathieu on how smoothly his time at LSU, under Les Miles, went.
Asking “what if” is usually the silliest question in sports. Many times, events spontaneously occur that no one can control, whether they are injuries, personnel changes or any other unforeseeable events.
But in this case, it could have easily happened.
Maybe their returns could’ve been extra boosts for the Sun Devils this season.
Or maybe, both the football program and the two players are better off where they are today.
In the end, we’ll still never know.
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