The NFL Draft Combine Participants list came out this morning. For the uninitiated, the Combine is where players get invited to do a series of drills to show off to the 32 NFL scouts in attendance just what they’re made of. The drills are the 40-yard dash, the 225-lbs. bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 20-yard shuttle run, 3-cone drill, 60-yard shuttle run, various measurements of weight and motion, and the Wonderlic Test which measures intelligence. There are pros and cons of the Combine, but it is almost always a huge benefit for a player to attend. Roughly 330 players from the college football ranks are invited to participate in the event. As a frame of reference, there were only 253 players taken in the 2016 NFL Draft (seven rounds, thirty-two teams, a smattering of “compensatory picks“).
In the Chip Kelly/Mark Helfrich era (2009-2016), Oregon had a total of 42 players attend the combine, averaging a touch above five per year. Since 1999 (which was as far as I cared to look back), Oregon has only once had a solo representative at the Combine (2001). This year, Oregon will once again have a single representative in tight end Pharaoh Brown (pictured above, looking as incredulously as I did when I heard the news). At face value, it seems concerning that a program that has cultivated an exceptional amount of talent and production over the last decade only has one NFL Draft-worthy candidate. There are a few ways to look at the situation.
Oregon Has No Talent
This is a pretty easy conclusion to come to. Oregon went 4-8 in Mark Helfrich’s last year (effectively ending the Rich Brooks coaching tree which had lasted forty years). Amongst the wreckage of the season were massacres suffered from conference rivals, a near-last place defense, a shuffling of quarterbacks that led to the worst QB performance since 2006, and the worst team finish since 1991.
Oregon’s Talent is Returning
According to SBNation’s Bill Connelly, Oregon has the third-most production returning for 2017. RB Royce Freeman, WR Charles Nelson, WR Darren Carrington, and OT Tyrell Crosby were all touted before the season as having draft prospects. Understandably, their draft stock fell as the season languished. Freeman and Crosby battled injuries during the season which further hampered their exposure in 2016. In the aforementioned rankings by SBNation, Oregon is seeing 76% of its offensive production and 92% of its defensive production return for 2017. In college football, there is a strong relation between returning experience and success on the season.
Oregon’s Talent is Young
Just as there is a strong relation between returning experience and success, it stands to reason that there is a strong relation between a lack of experience and failure. In Oregon’s last two-deep depth chart (11/23/2016), 23 of the 48 spots were filled by either freshmen or sophomores, twelve of them were starters. Headlining the underclassmen were quarterback Justin Herbert and linebacker Troy Dye. Herbert was fourth in the Pac-12 (no easy feat with the caliber of quarterbacks consistently present in the conference) and Troy Dye made the freshman All-American team.
I also feel it is worth noting that the offensive line had four freshmen starting and the defensive line had a freshman and a sophomore starting.
Oregon’s 2013 Class Was…Not Great
Generally, if a player started college in 2013, he would graduate in 2017. There are cases where a player is an early standout (leaving in his junior year) or gets redshirted and stays five years, but the bulk of players will stick around for only four. Not coincidentally, Oregon’s 2013 class did not stand up to the expectations other Kelly/Helfrich classes did.
- 5* RB Thomas Tyner medically retired after two years.
- 4* LB Tyrell Robinson transferred to a Junior College after one year.
- 4* DB Tyree Robinson has enjoyed a successful career and will return in 2017.
- 4* DE Torrodney Prevot has had multiple run-ins with the law, including a domestic violence incident, and spent all of 2016 suspended. He has since transferred.
- 4* WR Darren Carrington has enjoyed a successful career and will return in 2017.
- 4* WR Devon Allen, of 2016 Olympics fame, tore his ACL twice and has since medically retired to focus on his Olympic career.
- 4* OT Evan Voeller has yet to see regular starting time, he will return in 2017.
- 4* OG Cameron Hunt currently enjoys the most starts on the team with 39.
- 3* K Matt Wogan was the starter in 2013, split time with Aidan Schneider in 2014, and lost the job to Schneider in 2015.
Amongst the 3* players, Johnny Mundt, Kani Benoit, and Elijah George have seen some regular playing time.
Oregon Will Be Fine
On the first take, I saw only having one representative as an omen. After stepping back and looking at some of the variables, I’m feeling much better and am looking forward to a successful 2017 season.