In a spiffy maroon suit, with a Washington State lapel pin fastened to the left side of his chest, Andre Dillard walked up to the stage in Nashville, cordially greeted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with a handshake, slipped the Philadelphia Eagles hat over his head and posed with the midnight green jersey he’ll be wearing this fall.
The 2018 Cougars aren’t done making history. Not just yet.
Not until the Eagles selected Dillard with the 22nd overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft had a Washington State offensive lineman been selected in the first round of an event that’s going on his 83rd year of existence.
But Dillard, once a 240-pound high school recruit whose only offers came from WSU and a few regional Big Sky schools, got his moment almost three hours into this draft, embracing mother Jennifer Bollinger and fist-bumping Cougars O-line coach Mason Miller before he started down the runway to the draft stage.
It was all but guaranteed Dillard would be the one to buck that trend when the left tackle received one of the 23 phone calls made by the NFL, inviting an elite group of prospects to Nashville for the 2019 draft. Not since quarterback Ryan Leaf in 1998 has a WSU player been granted that opportunity.
Dillard’s selection keeps a recent fad going for the Cougars. WSU has had an offensive lineman selected in three of the last four drafts and Dillard joins former teammate Cole Madison, taken by Green Bay in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, and Joe Dahl, a 2016 draftee of the Detroit Lions who was one of the first to show Dillard how to pass-protect in the Air Raid when he got to Pullman in 2014.
“We’re excited for him and he’s a good quality player and has worked hard for it,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of Dillard earlier this week. “Went from being a pretty non-recruited guy by most teams to where he’s at now, so yeah, I think it’s been a pretty impressive path.”
Dillard has scaled up mock draft boards over the last four months, piecing together a strong week at the Senior Bowl in January, posting some of the best marks by an offensive lineman at the Scouting Combine in February and cementing his pre-draft process with an impressive showing at WSU’s Pro Day, where he performed positional drills for 28 NFL teams.
“I’m so happy for him, it’s been a great ride with him,” said WSU junior Liam Ryan, who’s expected to replace Dillard at left tackle this fall. “Three years and I just enjoyed every single moment with him. … I’m just so excited for him and his family because he’s worked so hard to get where he’s at right now.
“Whatever team picks him, they’re a lucky team. They’ve got a guy.”
He showed an expert-level understanding of the pass protection schemes required in Leach’s Air Raid, sealing off the left side of an offensive line that allowed only 13 sacks in 13 games last season. Dillard was an Associated Press Third Team All-American, and All-Pac-12 First teamer, as a senior and finished 39 consecutive starts at left tackle.
What will be asked of Dillard should change — at least somewhat — at the next level, as he adapts to more run-oriented, pro style-driven league.