UO release, Rob Moseley – In the era of the Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff, meaning since 1998, Oregon has one of the finest quarterback traditions in the country. Earlier this April, ESPN Stats & Info ranked the college programs in the running for the title of “QBU.” The Ducks were third, behind only USC and Oklahoma. That respect for the UO football program over the last two decades owed to contributions from the likes of Joey Harrington and Marcus Mariota, who each led Oregon to a Pac-12 championship before going on to be a top-five pick in the NFL draft. It owes as well to Justin Herbert, the hometown kid from Eugene who likewise led the Ducks to a conference title, this past fall, and now could join Harrington and Mariota by being a top-five pick. The 2020 NFL Draft begins this Thursday with the first round, beginning at 5 p.m. PT and televised by ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network. The draft continues with the second and third rounds Friday beginning at 4 p.m., and concludes Saturday with the fourth through seventh rounds beginning at 9 a.m. Harrington was taken third overall in 2002, one of three years in which the Ducks had a program-record six players selected. That record could be threatened this weekend, when Herbert could be joined by fellow 2019 UO seniors Troy Dye, Jake Hanson, Shane Lemieux, Calvin Throckmorton, Juwan Johnson and Jacob Breeland. Herbert has cemented his status as a first-round pick over the past few months. First, he led the Ducks to Pac-12 and Rose Bowl titles as a senior. Then, he shined at the Senior Bowl, and at the NFL’s Scouting Combine. His pro day, in the Moshofsky Center on March 12, attracted personnel from around the NFL to Eugene just before the sporting world hit pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. This week’s NFL Draft will be a welcome respite from the pandemic, just as last week’s WNBA draft was. And just like the WNBA draft, one of the top prospects in the entire country is from Oregon. Sabrina Ionescu was taken first overall in the WNBA draft, and her teammate Satou Sabally went second. Few NFL mock drafts have Herbert being selected that high, but he’s expected to come off the board soon after. Most projections as of the start of this week had Herbert being drafted by the Miami Dolphins — the former Sheldon High star would go from playing rivalry games against South Eugene to playing home games on South Beach. The Dolphins have the No. 5 pick. One spot behind the Dolphins, at No. 6 overall, are the Los Angeles Chargers. They’re also thought to be in the market for a quarterback in the first round. Were Herbert to be selected by Los Angeles, he’d play in the same division as the last quarterback from Oregon to be selected in the first round, Mariota. Originally drafted second overall by Tennessee in 2015, Mariota signed as a free agent with the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason. The Chargers also were the franchise where Dan Fouts put together a 15-year, Hall of Fame career after being drafted out of Oregon, in the third round in 1973. Fouts is proof you don’t need to be a first-round pick to thrive in the NFL as a quarterback; Norm Van Brocklin also is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, after being a fourth-round pick out of Oregon in 1949. Overall, the Ducks have produced five first-round picks at quarterback over the years. The first was George Shaw, the only No. 1 overall pick the UO football program has produced, back in 1955. Drafted by the Baltimore Colts, Shaw was injured his second year in the league and replaced by Johnny Unitas. It would be 32 years before another UO quarterback was taken in the first round. In 1987, Chris Miller was selected 13th overall by the Atlanta Falcons. Miller is a Eugene native who graduated from Sheldon High, just as Herbert did, and Miller had been the last true freshman to start at quarterback for the Ducks until Herbert followed suit in 2016. After going 32 years between producing quarterbacks who went in the first round, Oregon pivoted to put together one of the best traditions at the position in college football. In nearly the same exact time frame, the Ducks have produced four first-round picks at QB — Miller in 1987, Akili Smith in 1999, Harrington in 2002 and Mariota in 2015. On Thursday, Herbert looks to become the next in line.

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