Though his play didn’t live up to expectations this year, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has a decision to make when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft.

The redshirt junior already filed paperwork with the draft advisory board, and ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. said once again this week that Thomas could still be a first-round draft choice simply based on his talent and potential. But with the Hokies ramping up preparations for the Russell Athletic Bowl, Thomas said Thursday it would be hard to leave Virginia Tech with a year of eligibility remaining even if given a first-round projection.

“I think it’d still be up in the air for me simply because I love the university, I love the people here, all my friends are still here,” said Thomas, who has noted several times that his plans are to return for his senior season. “There’s a lot of things that will go into the decision for me, but as of right now, I’m still doing what I’ve said the entire year.”

After a record-setting first year starting under center in which he accounted for 30 total touchdowns and threw for more than 3,000 yards, Thomas saw his stats decline in almost every major category this season. His 52.8 completion percentage, down from 59.8 a year ago, was particularly disappointing.

Part of that was due to a penchant for overthrowing receivers, but Thomas also didn’t get the help he needed from a supporting cast that struggled to replace nine starters from last season’s offense. To his credit, Thomas is not shying away from the improvements he must make in order to be an NFL-caliber quarterback.

“There’s still a lot of work to do. There’s no doubt about it,” Thomas said. “Consistency is a big thing for me. I wasn’t consistent throughout the year and that’s where, when you go to the next level, you’ve got to be consistent at all times. ... I don’t think I could go in and start an NFL game right now and be fine and come out with a win, so I think I need some work to be done, but that comes with practice.”

When asked about Thomas’s looming dilemma – to gain more experience with another year of college or take the immediate riches of the NFL and learn on the job – Coach Frank Beamer said the decision would be up to Thomas once he hears back from NFL personnel.

“I definitely think he’s an NFL quarterback,” he said. “And not just his physical skills, but how he is as a person and how his leadership is and how he is as a teammate and all those other things, too.”

Thomas already sat down with offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring to discuss his future, and Stinespring’s advice was that “another year would benefit him at the collegiate level.” But even his coach knows the allure of being a first-round draft choice could be too much to pass up.

“It’s hard to advise him,” Stinespring said. “When you’re a first-round draft pick in that league, that’s a pretty good deal. … I think that’s pretty difficult to encourage a guy not to take that opportunity. Because we’re all about what’s best for our players, what’s best for our team. Ultimately when you have that opportunity, I think it’s something that you’ve got to look at very seriously, weigh the pros and cons back and forth. But to sit here and tell a young man that that’s not your best option, that’s hard.”. . .

Thomas isn’t the only Virginia Tech football player exploring his NFL options ahead of the Hokies’ bowl matchup with Rutgers. Cornerback Antone Exum and defensive end James Gayle also submitted paperwork with the NFL draft advisory board to gauge their draft prospects.

Both Gayle and Exum earned all-ACC second team honors as redshirt juniors this year, with Gayle leading Virginia Tech in quarterback hurries (27) and Exum leading the team in pass break-ups (15) and interceptions (4). Each will make a final decision following the bowl game, although Exum indicated he will likely return to Virginia Tech when he told reporters Thursday, “I’m coming back, as of now.”

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster would like to see both players come back to anchor a defense that turned a corner in the latter half of the regular season and could have as many as ten starters back next year.

“I think both those kids … need to grow in a lot of areas and I think it would benefit them to stay,” Foster said. “But I’m sure they’re both gonna check what their options are and what their draft status is, and if that’s what they decide to do, we’re gonna support them 100 percent. But both of them have room to grow and I’d like to see them come back and be leaders of our defense, and I think they can be outstanding leaders for us when it’s all said and done.”