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Mel Kiper Jr. thinks Royce Freeman could fall to "fourth or fifth round" of NFL Draft due to depth of running backs Freeman might slidein draft.

Byline: Steve Mims The Register-Guard

Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara did not help Royce Freeman.

When the two third-round picks in last year's NFL draft made the Pro Bowl as rookies, it reinforced the recent trend of teams waiting until later in the draft to select running backs.

"Running backs historically drop in the draft," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a teleconference last week. "They just don't go as high as you think they will."

Penn State's Saquon Barkley is expected to be a top-five pick in the draft on April 26, but it's possible no other running backs will be taken in the first round. LSU's Derrius Guice, USC's Ronald Jones, San Diego State's Rashad Penny and Georgia's Sony Michel are among the running backs competing with Freeman to come off the board after Barkley.

"I think there will be good depth, and you can always find that one guy who drops a lot further than they should," Kiper said. "Even Royce Freeman, he had a great start to his career and tailed off a little late. If people get down on Freeman because he didn't finish strong, maybe Freeman gets into the fourth or fifth round and there's a guy we know at a maximum level can give you a heck of a performance."

The 6-foot, 238-pound Freeman set the Oregon record with 5,621 rushing yards, then sat out the Las Vegas Bowl to prepare for his pro career. Freeman broke the school record of 5,082 yards set by LaMichael James, who was picked in the second round of the 2012 draft by San Francisco. Kenjon Barner, who sits third on UO's all-time list, went in the sixth round to Philadelphia and will play in the Super Bowl for the Eagles on Feb. 4.

"One of the final four teams in the NFL playoffs took a running back in the first round, Leonard Fournette of Jacksonville," Kiper said. "You don't have to invest in a running back in the first round for that reason. Really good ones tend to slide down further than they should."

Freeman is not among the six running backs invited to the Senior Bowl on Tuesday in advance of Saturday's All-Star game. Offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby and long snapper Tanner Carew are the two Oregon players in Mobile, Ala., going through workouts for pro scouts.

The 6-5, 320-pound Crosby, a first-team all-Pac-12 pick, was projected as a first-round selection in mock drafts by Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski, who had him going No. 24 to Carolina, and Pro Football Focus, which had him at No. 30 to Minnesota.

Kiper did not have Crosby in his first round but indicated that he expects him to go in an early round.

"When he came back from injury, he played well," Kiper said. "Crosby had a good season overall."

The 6-1, 242-pound Carew is unlikely to be drafted, but has a chance at the Senior Bowl to increase his value as a free agent.

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Title Annotation:Oregon Football; Running backs tend to be taken later by NFL teams, Mel Kiper notes
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 24, 2018
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