While Oregon football usually produces a fair amount of NFL talent, the last two seasons have seen the team’s draft numbers plummet. In addition to long snapper Tanner Carew, there are only two players who I expect teams to spend a pick on this year.
ROYCE FREEMAN, RUNNING BACK
Best fit: Seattle
At 5’11” and 229 lbs., Freeman looks like the type of back that Pete Carroll loves, and the Seahawks are in need of their franchise player at the position. He’s a strong downhill runner and sheds arm tackles off with ease. Freeman is also patient at the line of scrimmage and more than willing to wait to find the right hole. That patience is key in shoring up his game as a runner who lacks burner speed and isn’t the most elusive guy out there.
During his time at Oregon, the bruiser from Imperial, CA became the PAC-12’s top all-time leader in both rushing (5,621 yards) and touchdowns (64). The biggest question marks about Freeman come from the 947 carries he tallied across his career, and a junior-year leg injury that slowed his production. While his numbers declined that year, Freeman rebounded in a big way in 2017, racking up 16 touchdowns on 1,475 yards. That kind of drive and hard work is something NFL teams value, as is the mental toughness to recover from injury.
In my view, Freeman’s combination of physical traits, skill and work ethic will make him a strong foundational piece for a rebuilding team. Additionally, he has experience playing with a mobile quarterback and is a fundamentally sound blocker –- two things that the Seahawks need in a back. Because of the depth of this class, they should be able to grab him in the fourth round.
TYRELL CROSBY, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
Best fit: Jacksonville
You can’t talk about running the football at Oregon without mentioning Crosby. Outside of his junior year, which saw him miss all but two games, Crosby played in every game he was eligible for as a Duck. All of that built to a stellar senior year where the veteran didn’t allow a single QB hit all season, while also surrendering just three QB hurries.
Above all else, Crosby is a vicious blocker. When you watch his tape, you’ll see the 6’5”, 325 pounder leveraging every inch of his frame. It wasn’t uncommon to find Crosby pancaking opponents ten yards downfield. His sheer size was enough to give smaller defenders fits, and matches up well one-on-one with physical equals, with surprisingly nimble feet for a player of his stature. Crosby is also a selfless player with an intense loyalty to the guys he’s tasked to protect, and a natural leader in the locker room.
The Jags made their playoff push last season on the back of Leonard Fournette, and the team’s decision to retain Blake Bortles makes it clear that they’ll likely be duplicating that strategy next year as well. Crosby has the physicality and athleticism to match the sophomore star, and his cool personality could add some balance to a fiery locker room.
While I believe Freeman and Crosby to be the only two locks for the draft, there are a couple of interesting players who may get a shot as undrafted free-agents.
ARRION SPRINGS, CORNERBACK
Best fit: Tampa Bay
After barely seeing action as a freshman, Springs gradually improved over the next three years. As a three-season starter, he tallied 42 pass breakups, 137 tackles and three forced fumbles. Most recently, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the seventh best cornerback in the country in coverage, with a grade of 88.2 out of 100. At 6’0” and 205 lbs., Springs has decent size for the position, and above-average speed with a 4.47 second 40-yard dash. He needs to work on his ball skills, though –- Springs had just two interceptions as Duck.
The Bucs need a makeover on defense, and will likely grab edge rushers and defensive backs early. For the cost of a UDFA, Springs is definitely worth bringing in for a camp tryout. More competition in the preseason is never a bad thing.
TYREE ROBINSON, SAFETY
Best fit: Green Bay
If there’s one word to describe Robinson, it’s consistency. After taking a redshirt in 2013, the safety carved out a role for himself as a solid safety. While his pro-day stats and size are nothing to write home about, it’s worth noting that he still finished his college career with 201 tackles, six interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Robinson brings good tackling form to the position and was also a regular contributor on special teams. Finally, he’s durable: the San Diego, CA native missed just one game in four years.
The Packers lost a good chunk of their secondary this season through either free agency or trades. As with Springs, Robinson represents a cheap option with good upside for the cheeseheads. With a fresh contract for Aaron Rodgers looming on the horizon, a good bargain could be doubly valuable very soon.