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2013 Fierce-40 Previews: #5-Oregon

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 17, 2013

2013 Fierce 40 Previews

 

#5 Oregon Ducks

 

2012 Recap:
Just one slip up in the regular season cost Oregon a chance at the National Title as they lost to Stanford in OT. Stanford got the Rose Bowl and Oregon handled Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl.


Coaching:
Mark Helfrich inherits a very talented team but nobody knows what to expect now that Chip Kelly finally left to coach the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. Having a pair of legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates lead your offense should make things smoother.
 


Offense


Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Marcus Mariota had an amazing freshman season that went largely unnoticed on a national scale. Mariota completed 68% of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Mariota also ran for 752 yards with another 5 touchdowns coming on the ground and one coming in the air on a touchdown reception. We have seen sophomores and freshman winning the Heisman Trophy with Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel. Another season like 2012 and Marcus Mariota may be in New York up for the award. This is a refreshing chance being that the talk in Oregon usually surrounds the stable of running backs the Ducks have in house. It will be no different this season even after Kenjon Barner is now in the NFL after over 1,700 yards on the ground and 21 rushing touchdowns a season ago. De’Anthony Thomas is the latest Oregon running back being groomed to move into the NFL. Thomas had 701 yards on just 92 carries with 11 touchdowns coming on the ground. The most impressive thing about Thomas is he was the Ducks leading receiver last season with 45 catches for 445 yards and an additional 5 touchdowns. Thomas is one of the best dual-threats at running back and his receiving ability makes him one of the toughest assignments at the FBS level. Along with Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas can also have a potential seat in New York. Byron Marshall will be the backup and he had nearly 500 yards as the third string running back in 2012. Now throw in freshman Thomas Tyner, one of the most highly recruited running backs in the country, and you once again see a full stable of backs at least three deep the way Oregon likes it. Thomas is currently a 2nd round pick for 2015 and he may leave early after only one season as the main man in Eugene, and right now we have him sneaking into the end of the first round.

Best Draft Prospect: De’Anthony Thomas RB 2nd Round 2015 (50-50 chance at turning pro after this year).



Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

The Ducks do an excellent job of spreading the ball around and the top wide receiver on the team, Josh Huff, should be a 4th round prospect for the upcoming season. You are not blown away when you look at Huff’s numbers but you have to remember just how run-heavy this Oregon offense is. Huff caught 32 passes for 493 yards and led the Ducks with 7 receiving touchdowns. Huff will be joined by fellow returning player Keanon Lowe who added another 22 catches for 244 yards and 3 touchdowns. Bralon Addison will be the third starting wide receiver as Oregon usually uses three wide receivers in the spread offense. The formations should be similar even with Chip Kelly gone. Nearly all Oregon formations will have 4 receiving options with 3 receivers and 1 tight end or two receivers and a pair of tight ends. Addison is the new starting wide receiver and his numbers were similar to Lowe’s. They had the same number of catches and touchdowns but Lowe had 1 more yard besting him 244 to 243.

Going back to tight ends, it will be tight end Colt Lyerla that the scouts will be talking about in this offense if he declares for the NFL this season. That seems very likely with a weaker tight end class once you get past Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington. Lyerla looks like the prototypical h-back for the NFL but standing 6’5” gives him legitimate tight end height. Lyerla had only 25 catches but nearly 25% of them (6) went for touchdown as he was the Ducks favorite red zone option. People often talk about stats and how many catches and yards these wide receivers have, but one of the most attractive qualities to NFL coaches about Oregon wide receivers is the way they run block in the spread offense. With more NFL teams going to offenses like this or incorporating aspects of this offense into their game plans, having players who understand the blocking schemes gives them an advantage. Colt Lyerla looks to be a player that can be taken near the end of the first round by a team that is a contender, maybe going to a team with one established tight end where he could come in and make an immediate impact without the pressure falling all on his shoulders.

Best Draft Prospect: Colt Lyerla TE 1st/2nd Round 2015 (Likely turning pro for 2014 draft).
 


Offensive Line:

Three of the five starters from 2012 are returning and the ones returning may all find their way onto the all-conference team.  Oregon has long been known as a finesse offense with very precise blocking schemes but this offensive line may shed that persona. There are a few maulers who still abide by the schemes but the Ducks use plain muscle or have multiple ways of getting the job done. Hroniss Grasu is one of my favorite lineman at the FBS level and the junior center is currently a 3rd round prospect for 2015. We don’t see centers declare too often but if some of the top line centers struggle or battle injury, then Grasu has the ability to throw his name into the hat and be a legitimate prospect. Grasu can pull in virtually any direction, and for playing at under 300 pounds he has no problem with upper body strength, easily handling tackles that outweigh him from a strength standpoint. Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher are back as the starting tackles and both are unspectacular but solid. They are the kind of players who you never hear their name during a broadcast but for an offensive lineman that is often a good thing. The new starters along the line come in the form of guards Mana Greig and Hamani Stevens. Grieg actually started the year as a starter but was injured early in the season and he looks to be fully recovered. Stevens is a mauler who has added some weight and at 315 pounds will have no problems making holes for the stable of backs at Oregon. This is an underrated and talented offensive line.


Best Draft Prospect: Hroniss Grasu C 3rd Round 2015.
 


Defense

Defensive Line:

Oregon plays a base 3-4 defense so most of the pressure comes from the outside linebackers and the defensive ends with the linebackers plugging the gaps in the middle. Dion Jordan was the #3 pick overall in this past draft but it was defensive end Taylor Hart that led the team in sacks with 8 and had 11 tackles for loss. The biggest question about Hart will be how he holds up against the run as he is more of a one-trick pony who is inconsistent against the run. Ricky Heimuli will be the other defensive end with Wade Keliikipi returning as the defensive tackle.  Both players had less than 20 tackles a season ago but are very familiar with the system. Aril Armstead will be a player in a backup role that I see as a starter by next season that could be a draft prospect in the future. Oregon had a very interesting season on defense last year as they were only #44 stopping the run and #56 against the pass. The key to the success of Oregon was turnovers, or their ability to cause them while not turning it over themselves. Oregon finished the season at +21 which was #1 in the nation. Repeating this number a second season will be a hard feat to duplicate, so the players up front need to be solid.

Best Draft Prospect: Taylor Hart DE 3rd/4th Round 2014.
       


Linebackers:


This should be the area of concern for Oregon as the solid middle linebacker Kiki Alonso is now in the NFL. Combined with Dion Jordan and Michael Clay, there are plenty of holes to fill.  Three new starters exist at linebacker, although they all saw a good amount of action last season. Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Tyson Coleman will all be starters and they now have to prove they can all exist being “the man” at their position. Boseko Lokombo is the lone returning starter and the most intriguing player of the four starters. Lokombo had 39 stops last year with 2.5 for a loss and a pair of sacks. Lokombo also posted 2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed and a pair of forced fumbles, which are pretty good numbers playing alongside the linebackers he shared the field with a season ago. That only tells half the story. There are times when Lokombo blows an easy play, misses a tackle or needs backup with a play he should make solo. There is always 2-3 plays a game where you look at his range or his read and you are blown away, left thinking that you are looking at the next great prospect for the NFL. Lokombo is without a doubt, the most frustrating enigma at the college level at linebacker because watching him is an adventure and you are always holding your breath. Lokjombo will be drafted based on his freskish athletic ability alone. If Lokombo ever learns to become a consistent football player and totally buys into a system he is a player with 1st round talent, without question. I currently have Lokombo as a 5th round player but again this could yo-yo and go either direction. These starters will be okay, but the depth of the unit is what I worry about.


Best Draft Prospect: Boseko Lokombo 5th Round 2014.
 


Secondary:

All four starters return from the team last season but that does not necessarily mean this is a great thing. Oregon ranked #56 against the pass which is essentially the middle of the pack at the FBS level. The cornerbacks are outstanding as Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the best cornerback, not only on this team, but in the Pac 12. I have Ekpre-Olomu projected as leaving early and being a late 1st round selection in the upcoming draft, but he is technically part of the 2015 class as he has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Terrence Mitchell is solid but much slower than Ekpre-Olomu and a late round prospect, also part of the 2015 class.

The safeties are where the problem lies. I have seen reports saying that strong safety Brian Jackson is a late round prospect but I don’t see it. Jackson made some plays and was third on this team in tackles but sometimes opportunities missed outweigh plays that are made. With stronger safety play you can that argue Oregon never loses to Stanford, or at least that some games didn't have to be as close as they were (USC and Arizona State come to mind).  The safeties bite on play action or seem to be in a very safe and conservative mode too often for my liking. Oregon relies on the offense just scoring at will (2nd in points per game last season) and settling for winning shootouts. The Pac 12 has gotten stronger and is the toughest conference outside of the SEC. Oregon is not going to have the option of just outscoring every team they see. If Oregon does not shore up the secondary they are going to get into a nail biter and not know how to react or how to make a play to change the momentum.

Best Draft Prospect: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu CB 1st/2nd Round 2015 (Likely to turn pro after 2014).
 


Special Teams:

With De’Anthony Thomas and Bralon Addison handling kickoff and punt return duties don’t be surprised if we see 3-4 return touchdowns from this squad this year. Thomas took one punt and one kick return back last year and Oregon had a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns wiped out due to penalties. The key will be Matt Wogan coming in at kicker. Wogan was one of the best kickers in the country and the freshman is being counted on to come in and help a kicking game that has been erratic the last few seasons. Dylan Ausherman is a JUCO transfer brought in to handle the punting. The coverage units were fantastic last season and an area where Oregon caused a few turnovers.

Best Draft Prospect: De’Anthony Thomas KR/RB 2nd Round 2015
 


Schedule:

The PAC-12 should be the toughest conference outside of the SEC this season. Oregon gets Washington and Washington State in back-to-back games in October while November starts with a Stanford rematch at Stanford. Oregon closes with Oregon State at home and the Beavers are a very good team this season. It is not hard to imagine Oregon winning the Pac-12 once again with the sheer talent this team possesses.
 


Draft Outlook:
This team is absolutely stacked and with a few players leaving early we could see the Ducks with 3 first round picks in 2014.

 

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