The NFL Draft has been in place for nearly 80 years, and in that time it has changed significantly.
With no Internet, no combine, and few formal scouting reports, executives used to draft players that they had never seen work out and, in many cases, had never even seen on film. At the time of the first draft in 1936, the NFL minimum salary was only $40,000, and many players were drafted simply based on rumors or newspaper articles.
Today, any fan can be a scout to a certain extent. The Internet allows anyone to head online and watch extensive footage of the players their team has drafted. Now, even fans are able to evaluate and develop strong opinions on every player.
The players themselves also look quite a bit different today compared to the first draft class back in 1936. Over the years, players have steadily become bigger, faster and stronger as the speed and intensity of the game has increased.
Players have also become more specialized, at least in most cases. Instead of playing on both sides of the ball, as most did before the modern era began in 1964, players now take on increasingly specific roles on their NFL rosters.
Examples of these roles include third-down back, pass rusher, and nickel back. Gone are the days of old-school versatility, at least in most cases.
However, Oregon still clings to this versatility to a certain extent. Players may not line up on both sides of the ball, but many demonstrate the flexibility to play multiple positions. This is evident in the skill sets of the five Ducks chosen earlier this month in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas both performed numerous duties in the Oregon offense and on special teams. Huff spent most of his time at wide receiver, but he moved regularly between the outside and the slot. While this is not entirely uncommon, he also received carries out of the backfield and returned kicks during his time in Eugene.
Thomas did even more, spending time at wide receiver, running back, return man and even gunner on the punt team. His raw talent and athleticism, not to mention his team-oriented attitude, would likely be enough for an NFL team to give him a shot at defensive back. In fact, that was Lane Kiffin’s plan at USC – before Chip Kelly stole the Black Mamba away from the Trojans.
This holds true for the defensive players selected, as well. Taylor Hart has a balanced skill set that allows him to line up at tackle or end in either a 3-4 or 4-3 system. Terrance Mitchell, who became a steal after falling to the seventh round, spent most of his time at Oregon as a lockdown cornerback, but he will likely get looks at free safety at the next level.
Oregon is certainly not the only team maintaining this type of versatility, but it is interesting to compare these players to the do-it-all players of the 1930s.
So, how does this Oregon 2014 draft class stack up against those of the past?
For starters, Huff, Thomas, Hart, Mitchell, and long-snapper Drew Howell are the five Ducks that were drafted. This marks one of the highest totals in school history. Only three Oregon draft classes, 1972, 2002, and 2009, have exceeded this total – each saw six Ducks drafted.
This total matches that of last year’s draft class, which is one of the greatest in school history. Kyle Long and Kiko Alonso had truly phenomenal rookie seasons while Dion Jordan was drafted third overall. All three players were drafted in the first two rounds.
While the 2014 class total is high, none of those five players was drafted in the first two rounds. Huff was the first off the board when his former coach, Kelly, drafted him to the Philadelphia Eagles in Round 3. Thomas and Hart followed quickly in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively, with Hart joining Huff in Philadelphia.
Linebacker Boseko Lokombo was undrafted, and though he has received interest from the Canadian League, he still has a good shot to get signed to an NFL squad before the season begins.
When all is said and done, Duck fans could look back on the 2014 class and view it as one of the greatest ever. The high total of five players already puts it near the top, but when you factor in the offensive firepower that Huff and Thomas will bring to the table, there is a high ceiling for this group.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline