As speculation builds on if Luke Falk will leave early for NFL draft, here’s how 2017 WSU senior season could boost Cougar QB’s draft stock

THERE WERE PLENTY of college quarterbacks featured on Thursday's college football awards show, but Washington State's Luke Falk wasn't one of them. Falk put together one of the finest seasons passing the football in WSU history and was among the national stat leaders, so what gives? The answers also tie into whether the Cougar QB decides to return to Wazzu for his senior season or declares early for the NFL draft.

The short answer: Falk lacked the signature plays and signature wins needed to bring home the hardware. The Maxwell and Walter Camp awards both went to Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (in my view likely foreshadowing the Heisman winner on Saturday). The Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas awards went to Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.
Falk put up comparable numbers to those two this regular season.  But in a statistical comparison, I'd have to give the edge to Watson and Jackson. They are both dual threat QBs. Throwing the football is essential, but you add in all the production on the ground, they were the bigger playmakers on the college stage and hence, the award winners.
That naturally begs the question: what can Falk do to bring home the hardware in 2016?  Wins.  And the bigger the regular season and resulting bowl game for WSU, the greater Falk’s chances.  But …
First, there is no guarantee Falk won’t declare early for the NFL draft.  My view is that the final two games of the Cougs' regular season may have proven to Falk, and more importantly to NFL scouts, that he has some work left to do before he is ready to maximize his NFL prospects. Here's why:
In the 2017 season and strictly in terms of his draft stock, Falk needs to increase his national exposure and I believe he will be in a position to do just that. Without graduating grabmasters Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, Falk will be need to put the 2017 Cougs on his back more than he did this season (as considerable as that was in 2016).  If Falk succeeds, he will be rewarded for it more after his senior campaign than he will this time around.

Falk will also have some marquee national matchup opportunities vs. Stanford, USC and Washington plus an early season tilt vs. Boise State to name a few of WSU’s expected opponents. Wazzu stood on the national stage more in 2016 than it had in a decade-plus, and a big 2017 win over a ranked opponent, particularly early in the year, will build further on those gains with media and pollsters.
A QUICK CHECK around cyberspace of Falk's NFL draft stock, according to the gurus:

- “Underclassmen Luke Falk and Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don't project as first-rounders,” Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay said this week in an ESPN article.
- USA Today projects Falk as a late third-round pick.
- Sports Illustrated ranks Falk as the No. 9 QB in its NFL draft rankings.
- projects Falk as a fourth-round selection.

There are of course various pros and cons to coming out as an underclassman. Among the bigger potential drawbacks is the missing of key senior collegiate postseason games. Most all-star games are not open to underclassmen unless they’ve graduated. If Falk were to leave early but be unable to show his wares in that setting, and against the QB draft competition, that would likely negatively impact his stock. One of the pros to consider?  The early read on the 2017 QB draft crop by those in the media who follow the draft closely is that it's a weak year at quarterback.

It is assumed WSU already has already, or will, request on behalf of Falk a draft evaluation from the NFL's College Advisory Committee. According to the NFL guide, the CAC bases their evaluation only on film study and does not take into account injuries.  They offer the underclassmen one of three possible evaluations:

1. First-round pick
2. Second-round pick
3. Stay in school

* It is unknown if Falk has a date in mind for when he will officially announce whether he is leaving early or returning for his senior campaign at WSU. The guess here based on Falk’s prior statement in October is that he remains focused only on the bowl game and the task at hand. My take is that he probably won't release a definitive statement until sometime after the Holiday Bowl -- and it could stretch well into January.

* Underclassmen have until Jan. 16 to file declaration papers with the league. The official list of underclassmen accepted by the NFL will be released on Jan. 20.

* In October, Falk refuted a report that said he was going to enter the draft early, saying if he had to choose that day whether he would stay at Washington State or go pro, that he'd choose the former. See related story below.

* Last year, Marks announced Dec. 27, one day after the Cougs' Sun Bowl win, that he would return for his senior campaign.

RELATED: Falk refutes report

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