The NFL draft was formerly an event that fans tracked after the fact, either from post-draft TV recaps, sports radio, or - god forbid! - a newspaper the next day. It simply wasn’t a compelling spectator event – aside from the annual booing from NY Jets fans at Radio City Music Hall (comforting in its dependability, like a herald of Spring) there wasn’t much drama beyond the picks themselves.
However in the last decade ESPN & the NFL have invested massive amounts of effort and resources to create a multi-day live TV & multimedia extravaganza, going so far this year as to host the event at AT&T Stadium in Dallas AKA Jerry World, in front of a live audience numbering over 100,000.
Hundreds of hours of television time will be dedicated to analysis, arguing over the analysis, prognostication, slice-of-life puff pieces, fancy graphics, heartwarming tales of athletes overcoming great odds, etc etc etc. Steven A Smith will say some dumb shit, Tony Romo will say some informative shit. Twitter will be aflame. The NFL has gone all-in to make it An Event Of National Significance.
Interesting TV, or a symptom of the mental illness that is late-stage capitalism? Both? You decide.
For us joint Oregon-NFL fans it’s compelling to see which Ducks wind up where, always in hope that our comrades end up on a rootable team & in a position to succeed, or at least not on the Cowboys. If you delve a little deeper into the psychology of Oregon fans too, it serves as validation of a sort – as CFB nouveau riche running an unconventional program we’ve got a chip on our shoulder, and Ducks-to-the-NFL serves as an endorsement from the established powers toward our unique forested corner of the USA. Intellectually we know it shouldn’t matter to us, but it does. Sports fandom is funny that way.
So with the draft fast approaching, I chatted with ATQ’s resident NFL/free agency/draft specialist Joseph Yun about what we can expect for Oregon players later this week and how their prospective employers might be evaluating them. Enjoy!
Rob: General consensus is that OT Tyrell Crosby will be the first Duck drafted - what are his projections at this point?
Joseph: I’ve seen Crosby mocked from the bottom of the first round to the third round. He’s one of the more highly rated tackles throughout the 2017 season and into the offseason draft process. The thing is how teams will view his career pre-2017 with the medicals.
R: Since the details of offensive line technique & play aren’t always familiar to the casual fan, can you give us a quick scouting report on Tyrell? What do NFL teams look for in OL prospects and what does he specifically do well?
J: TC is one of the bigger tackles in the entire class who can move a little quicker than some have initially projected. His main strength is that he is so physical with the defender and won’t quit blocking his assignment. Since he is a bigger body, he has a wide base from which to anchor from. By that, I mean the ability to hunker down in a protection set is key to winning leverage. Upper body strength is a major plus. His weakest point is that he is slower to get set as a pass blocker than some would like. Also, Oregon’s system isn’t exactly the most ideal for pro style sets.
NFL teams today look for prospects that can simply play since practice time has been severely diminished in the “new” CBA signed awhile back. Mainly, they look for footwork and athleticism on the move (pull blocks and the like).
Crosby does the little things right fundamentally. He’s more laterally athletic than given credit for although I’ve noticed that he has some difficulty in recovering once he’s beaten. The backpedal in pass pro is not the best but its serviceable. For OL, the 40 serves some purpose as the 10 yard splits can accurately measure explosion off the ball. He placed in the top 10 in his position at the Combine. Another positive is that he has experience at both tackle spots.
R: I’ve always found RB Royce Freeman an interesting player to watch. He doesn’t have top-end speed and doesn’t appear to run “violently” - like say LMJ or going back a few more years Reuben Droughns - but he’s got a subtle (as much as RBs can be subtle) combo of acceleration, power, receiving, and agility that made him an elite CFB back. Sometimes it almost seemed like he glided past, around, and over would-be tacklers, he made it look effortless.
What do his NFL prospects look like? What sort of role is he projected for in the pros, and what teams might he best fit with?
J: Freeman is a bit of a sleeper in a stacked RB class. The lifespan of a NFL RB is already low due to the wear and tear they take and Freeman has put on a ton of work in his college career, going over 1000 touches. If I was a GM, that number spooks me.
His role will vary by the team he goes to, but he has the ability to be a three down workhorse. I think that he would be better served by going to a team already has an established veteran so that he can learn the nuances of the pro game and get some rest from all the mileage he had on the legs in school.
His best fits would be Denver (they need a RB since they recently cut CJ Anderson), Seattle (they haven’t had any good ones since Marshawn Lynch left), Detroit (a heir to Mr. Blount and Ameer Abdullah being not good), Miami (heir to Frank Gore) and San Francisco (without looking it up, can you name anyone in that backfield? Yeah me neither).
R: Aside from Crosby & Freeman, long-snapper Tanner Carew was the only other Oregon NFL combine invite this spring, and the only long-snapper to be invited nationwide. It’s probably the most obscure position on a football team and most long-snappers would probably tell you they’re doing their job well if they remain completely anonymous.
Can you give us some insight as to why, of all long-snappers nationwide, Tanner got the invite? Only a handful have ever been drafted in NFL history, but does he have a chance this year?
J: Long Snappers are people too! Tanner Carew has been ranked as the top long snapper since high school. Word is, he had an impressive Senior Bowl (the one offseason event outside of the Combine EVERYONE pays attention to) that got him on the radar. He has a chance to be drafted but it’s highly likely that he will be a priority UDFA (undrafted free agent). Long gone are the days of coaches just sticking the worst offensive lineman on the team at long snapper. It’s become an actual art to the exercise.
R: Charles Nelson’s another somewhat unique prospect. You could make the argument that he was pound-for-pound the best overall “football player” on these recent Oregon teams, and at the college level his plug & play versatility - returner, receiver, safety - was a huge asset. The NFL is a completely different animal of course - what are scouts saying about his skillset? Does he have a chance to be drafted or is he more of a UDFA type?
J: He’s an unique project for a team to pick up on due to his versatility. Some say that his chances are worse because he doesn’t have a set in stone position but in the eyes of a GM on cutdown day, versatility matters because of the roster size limitations. He’s definitely an UDFA type that will get a tryout somewhere to get to training camp. The medical history is just not good for him.
R: Arrion Springs & Kani Benoit were both solid multi-year contributors at CB & RB respectively, and though neither received a combine invite they both had excellent performances at Oregon’s pro day in March. Like Nelson I’m guessing they figure to be UDFAs, but if you had to pick one as a late-round sleeper in the draft, who would it be?
J: If I had to put money on it, I’d pick Springs. Yeah he was very inconsistent throughout his career but Jim Leavitt’s arrival in Eugene somewhat stabilized his career prospects. Teams are falling in love with the idea that you need more than 3 corners that are capable of playing at an NFL level due to the evolution of the passing game. He needs a strong showing in OTAs and training camp to make a roster, though.
R: Any other Oregon players to keep an eye on, either in the draft or being picked up afterward?
J: There aren’t any other draftable Ducks prospects sadly. The 2019 class should be a lot better for the Ducks.
Thanks for reading everyone! The draft starts this Thursday, April 26 at 5pm PST and continues through Saturday. If you’ve got any thoughts on the draft - Oregon or otherwise - feel free to share in the comments below.