PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Ducks have produced steady NFL talent over the past decade and have made an immediate impact in the league. Some of the top players in the game once donned the many colors of the Ducks and are now important players on franchises. In this article, we'll break down the top three former Ducks who are in the league and examine some of the other guys making impacts.
How Many Are There?
By our count, heading into Week 18 of the season, the Oregon Ducks have 31 players on NFL rosters. That wasn’t the case at the beginning of the year when there were just 24, but it now places Oregon around the Top 10 of all other colleges with players in the league. These players range from active to injured and even to practice squad players. An example of that is Kenjon Barner, the former Ducks running back who is on the Buccaneers practice squad. He was recently activated for a game before returning back to the PS. To put this number in comparison, Alabama entered the season with 53 players on NFL rosters. In terms of the Pac-12, Oregon is at the very top. That shouldn’t surprise many when you think about the successful Chip Kelly stint, which placed many guys in the league, and the recent success of Mario Cristobal.
The Top 3
I’m sure this list will have plenty of different opinions voiced, but these are my three, and I am sticking with it. The top three are chosen by the three players who are making the most significant impact for their teams right now entering Week 18 and who have put together impressive stats over the past few years. Some of these guys are very young, and maybe some of the young guys are just too new to be added to this list, but that doesn’t mean they won’t find themselves on it eventually.
1. Justin Herbert – QB – Los Angeles Chargers
This should be an obvious one, but I am sure some older Ducks fans will maybe argue this is too high for a second-year guy. The honest truth is that Herbert is one of the brightest young stars in the NFL, won Rookie of the Year after being the third QB drafted last season, and is a win away from leading the Chargers back to the playoffs. Herbert made the transition from Philip Rivers to a new QB very easy for Chargers fans, and he’s done it with a flashy on-the-field play and humble off-the-field way. Herbert has become a massive fan favorite around the league. According to NFLShop.Com, Herbert has the ninth-highest selling jersey in the league right now. That’s higher than Aaron Rodgers, Derrick Henry, Aaron Donald, Kyler Murray, and other young stars.
Herbert burst onto the scene in his rookie year and blew away competitors. He was a Pro Bowl in his first year and played better than both Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, the two QBs who were taken before him in the NFL Draft. In his rookie season, he threw for 4,336 yards, 31 TD, 10 interceptions, and added another 234 yards and five scores on the ground. Herbert is an ultimate dual-threat QB with massive upside with his arm. Herbert has absolutely entered the conversation in the debate of which QB you want first if you started a franchise. He quickly became one of the most dominant guys in the league and is only in year two. PFF gives Herbert an 89.4 grade, higher than any other Duck in the league.
2. Arik Armstead – DE – San Francisco 49ers
Right up the road in San Francisco, we have Arik Armstead. He is the second-highest ranked PFF Duck in the NFL behind Herbert, but this list is not just going by those rankings. Armstead has become a dominant force opposite to Nick Bosa. This season, he has 34 tackles, 22nd best in the NFL, and four sacks, tied for 24th best in the league. Armstead was drafted in 2015, and while he hasn’t exactly become the household name that the Niners were hoping for, he has become an extremely reliable defensive end who has a high motor and plays at a high level. He performed exceptionally well in the Niners playoff run in 2019, recording sacks of Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers in the postseason games and recording three tackles during the Super Bowl.
After a couple of solid seasons on his rookie contract, the 49ers extended their fifth-year option on Armstead. During that season, he really took off and became the playmaker they wanted to see. He was rewarded with a massive five-year, $85 million contract extension with the 49ers with $48.5 million guaranteed. Armstead has a home in the Bay for the foreseeable future and could become one of the premier defensive ends in the game.
3. Deforest Buckner – DT – Indianapolis Colts
The 49ers drafted Oregon defensive lineman in back-to-back drafts as Buckner was taken in the first round in 2016. He was taken 7th overall and was brought in to truly make the Niners one of the most feared front four in the league. Buckner was excellent in San Francisco, and he completed what was an incredible defensive line in the Bay. He and Armstead are a big reason for the Super Bowl run that the Niners made in 2019.
In 2018, Buckner exploded and became one of the top defensive tackles in the game. He recorded 12 sacks and 44 tackles. In his four seasons with the 49ers, he never played less than 15 games and, outside of one 3-sack season, recorded six or more every other year. At the end of the 2020 season, the Niners had to decide on who to pay, and Buckner wasn’t the guy they chose. They traded him to Indy for a first-round pick and became the second-highest-paid defensive tackle with a four-year, $84 million contract extension.
- Penei Sewell, offensive tackle, Detroit Lions
- Justin Hollins, linebacker, Los Angeles Rams
- Troy Hill, cornerback, Cleveland Browns
VIDEO PLAYLIST: Sports stories from KGW