Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 1/15/12

The University of Oregon athletic offense announced this evening that Darron Thomas will leave the Ducks and declare for the NFL draft.

It's a shocker. Kenjon Barner was the borderline decision,  and he stayed. Thomas has had an extremely productive career for the Ducks, but his throwing mechanics, footwork and pocket awareness don't add up to NFL-ready. Still, he's a competitor, and has battled the athlete label at every level with great success.

For the Ducks, Bryan Bennett is the favorite to start after throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions in spot duty this last season, as well as displaying some nifty running ability.

Many fans say the Ducks will be fine with Bennett, but coaches have to be concerned about depth and experience. With a senior returning starter Oregon was sure to be a preseason Top Five team, but now Bennett and Mariota have to grow up quickly  to prepare for defense of three straight conference titles. Wary fans might remember 2007 and 2008, when injuries forced the team all the way down to the fifth quarterback on the depth chart.

The loss of a 2-year senior starter is a formidable challenge, no matter how much potential the backup has.

Thomas leaves Oregon as the school's all-time leader in touchdowns, compiling a 23-3 record as a starter with two BCS appearances. Skeptics will give the credit to his supporting cast, but DT was the triggerman for the most successful run in school history, including the first win in the Rose Bowl in 95 years.

A week ago all the retrospectives gave the Ducks a chance at the national title. It's still possible, but the loss in one week of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas makes that a much more imposing task. The Trojans are now solid favorites in the West. The Webfoots have work to do, and have to identify new leadership within their team. Bennett has impressed many with his athletic ability and passing arm, as has redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. One of the incoming verbal commits, Jeff Lockie or Jake Rodriguez will make the plane as a true freshman, two turned ankles from running the offense.

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