At least five quarterbacks are expected to be picked in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night in Dallas.
But someone has to protect them and the league’s established franchise signal-callers.
Tyrell Crosby is expected to be the first Oregon prospect to hear his name called by NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell in two years.
Crosby, ranked sixth among offensive tackle prospects and as the 40th overall prospect by CBS Sports, is projected as a second- or third-round pick. Some mock drafts have the 6-foot-5, 325-pound first-team all-Pac-12 selection being taken off the board by the end of the first round.
“It’s kind of been fun,” Crosby said of the draft process after working out for scouts during Oregon’s pro timing day. “Even though it can be a little stressful, you’ve got to embrace it because you know this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Crosby visited seven teams recently, including the New England Patriots last week. Bill Belichick, who has the No. 22 and No. 31 picks, is looking for a new left tackle to block for Tom Brady with Nate Solder leaving for the New York Giants in free agency.
During a stellar career with the Ducks, Crosby started at right tackle in the College Football Playoff championship game as a true freshman and did not allow a sack at left tackle during his senior season.
“When he was 100 percent at Oregon he very rarely allowed a defensive end to beat him in pass protection. He got a good push at the point of attack as well, moving that defender off the ball,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “Brilliant athlete who can play right tackle or left tackle. Tyrell Crosby also helped himself at the Senior Bowl practices.”
Crosby decided to return for Oregon after a foot injury kept him out of all but two games for the Ducks in 2016. Last season he won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12 offensive lineman of the year, an award voted on by opposing defensive linemen.
One of the beneficiaries of a healthy Crosby was four-year starting running back Royce Freeman, who rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns during his senior season after rushing for 945 yards and nine touchdowns during an injury-plagued junior campaign.
Oregon’s all-time leading rusher is projected as a third- or fourth-round pick.
“It’s been interesting, man,” Freeman said of auditioning for the NFL since his decision to skip the Las Vegas Bowl. “You’re transitioning to a new part of your life, so I’m just taking it day by day. That’s all you can do.”
Freeman, who finished his collegiate career with 5,621 yards, isn’t the only Oregon running back hoping to make an NFL roster as a rookie.
A leaner Kani Benoit had a strong performance in front of the talent evaluators who showed up at the Moshofsky Center last month.
“We’ve been together for my whole four years, and just to have him going through the drills with me was very special,” Freeman said. “I mean, it’s just like a bond we have as RB’s.”
Benoit, who gave up sweets and pizza during his pre-draft training, heard from scouts who clocked him at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash.
“We’ll see where it leads,” Benoit said.
Crosby, Freeman and long snapper Taner Carew — a possible late-round pick or undrafted free agent — participated in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February.
Other notable Ducks not projected to be picked, but still expected to have NFL opportunities as undrafted free agents, include cornerback Arrion Springs, safety Tyree Robinson, wide receiver Charles Nelson, defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux and placekicker Aidan Schneider.
The 2017 NFL draft was the first without an Oregon player being selected since 1985.