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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #3 Oregon

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 25, 2014

#3 Oregon Ducks

 

2013 Recap:

Another ho hum 11-2 campaign. Oregon year in and year out has shown they are among the elite and last season proved that even after Chip Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ducks were in capable hands. Oregon may be starting to get that “choking' moniker though because they should have won a National Championship by now when you see the talent they posses year after year, as it's as good as anyone in the nation.

 

Coaching:

Mark Helfrich went 11-2 as a rookie coach but these were Chip Kelly's players, so we will see over the next year or two just how good or ineffective Helfrich is. With the way Oregon continues to recruit and the national visibility as being college football's “hippest” program, recruiting has a definite edge.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

So much is made of the amazing season Jameis Winston had and you have to agree it was an amazing season but he literally fell into the award. Marcus Mariota and his knee injury caused him to be a noticeably different quarterback, and the award became Winston's. Mariota went through the first eight games without so much as throwing an interception until his injury against Stanford. He still finished with 31 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions with another 715 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing. Mariota could have went pro after last season as a redshirt sophomore, and he will likely be the first or second quarterback off the board, only being challenged by Jameis Winston as the top quarterback selected and maybe even the first player selected in the draft.

The running back stable in Oregon is always loaded with exceptional runners with sprinter speed, and that is what you see when you face the Ducks. Byron Marshall may be the best running back in the Pac-12 and if there is a running back that is better it is likely his running mate Thomas Tyner. Tyner may be the most explosive back in the country, while Marshall may be the better pure runner and pass catcher, even though Tyner had more catches last season. The amount of running talent in Oregon is absurd and the Pac-12's top rushing team from last season should repeat that feat in 2014.

Best Draft Prospect: Marcus Mariota QB 1st Round 2016 (very likely to declare for 2015 and could be the first quarterback off the board).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Keanon Lowe, who had 18 catches, is the only returning starter at receiver, as Bralon Addison suffered a knee injury in the spring that will likely cost him the season. The Ducks may rely more on Devon Allen at wide receiver. Allen is the NCAA 110-meter hurdle champion and he is polishing his receiving chops at Oregon, which is on a faster track after the Addison injury. B.J. Kelly and Dwayne Stanford look like they will be the other starting receivers in the lineup.

Tight end Pharaoh Brown may be the focal point and could wind up being the most important piece of the Oregon puzzle. There are plenty of targets but does this group have a true #1 receiver? The answer may be no and we may see Tyner and Marshall catching more passes out of the backfield to compensate.

Best Draft Prospect: Pharaoh Brown TE 5th Round 2016

 

Offensive Line:

If the running game is the bread and butter for Oregon, you have to have a strong offensive line. Only Stanford had a better offensive line last season and they are returning only 1 starter. Oregon is bringing back all five starters this season so to say the line is a strong point is an understatement. Hroniss Grasu leads the charge from the center position. Had Grasu went pro last season there is a very good chance he would have been the first center selected as he is a 1st round prospect, something rare for a center. Grasu looks to be a top 20 overall pick and he could even go in the first 15 selections. Cameron Hunt looks like a future dominant player at the guard spot, while junior Tyler Johnstone projects to make noise this season at left tackle. This is far and away the best line in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation overall.

Best Draft Prospect: Hroniss Grasu C 1st Round 2015.

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

The defensive line is not seen as a strength for Oregon but the line is also far from being one that sets them back or at a disadvantage. DeForest Buckner is the only returning starter along the 3-4 front that Oregon employs. Buckner had 39 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 stops for loss. The best defensive lineman for Oregon, Taylor Hart, was lost to the NFL draft and Buckner is being looked at as the leader along the line. While Buckner is supplying the leadership it looks like nose tackle Arik Armstead is supplying the most promise. He is the best prospect Oregon has to offer along the entire front seven and not just the defensive line. Armstead was not a full time starter as a sophomore and he had 15 tackles, yet the 6'7” 295 pound giant occupies blockers and open up lanes for the linebackers to make plays. Armstead is seen as a true nose tackle type for the NFL and is a 2nd round prospect for this draft, if he indeed declares. His stock will more than likely rise now as a full time starter. Armstead has the athleticism to actually start at defensive end and that is what he may do with Alex Balducci on the line. Regardless of where Armstead plays, he is a player many people will have their eyes on.

Best Draft Prospect: Arik Armstead DT 2nd Round 2016 (Could declare for 2015).

 

Linebackers:

Tony Washington leads a group that is highly athletic but terribly inconsistent. Washington is currently ranked as a 4th round prospect after posting 60 tackles and leading the Ducks with 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Tony Washington will be patrolling the outside with Tyson Coleman who will split time with sophomore Torrodney Prevot. The Oregon outside linebackers get the green light often with the inside linebackers being tackling machines. Derrick Malone is back after leading the team with 105 stops but only 2.5 were for a loss. Oregon needs to improve the penetration in the middle of the field in order to make plays and not merely react and make tackles after positive gains by the offense. Malone is also a draft prospect because he rarely misses a tackle and shows tremendous range and lateral movement and ability. Rodney Hardick is also back inside with 65 tackles and is above average in pass coverage. Three of the four linebackers are returning starters and, much like the line, while their individual skills don't jump right off the page, they have terrific athletic ability.

Best Draft Prospect: Tony Washington LB 4th Round 2015.

 

Secondary:

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the only returning starter but he has a great shot at being the first cornerback off the board after coming back for his senior season at Oregon. Ekpre-Olomu likely would have been the 2nd corner off the board behind Justin Gilbert had he declared for the 2014 Draft. Olomu was a very active defender finishing second on the team with 84 tackles and he had 3 interceptions and 9 passes defensed in earning All Pac-12 honors. Dior Mathis was the third corner in many of the Duck packages a season ago and now he will start with Ekpre-Olomu as he has plenty of knowledge of the defense. The safeties are interchangeable and similar to the situation at corner. Erick Dargan is a senior and has a wealth of experience with the Ducks. Tyree Robinson may just be a freshman but the team is lobbying around him saying he is the future star of the secondary. If there are any issues with one of the safeties, Oregon does have Troy Hill to fall back on, another senior that actually has some starting experience and has performed well in big games. There is depth and this could be a very underrated secondary.

Best Draft Prospect: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu CB 1st Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

Matt Wogan is handling kicking and punting duties once again as he did last season as a freshman. Wogan had an up and down season and we feel he is better suited as a punter only, but no other kickers seem to be threatening him for the job. The punt return job is up in the air after the Bralon Addison injury and we may see running back Thomas Tyner doing double duty. Devon Allen and his game breaking speed is also a viable option in the return game.

Best Draft Prospect: Thomas Tyner RB/KR 3rd Round 2017.

 

Schedule:

It's all about Stanford this season as Oregon is seen as a team that always has a big letdown and needs to get over the hump. November 1 is the game with Stanford and it's is a home game for the Ducks, while the toughest road game looks like October 11th in UCLA. Overall it's a favorable schedule but Oregon's biggest enemy has always seemed to be Oregon.

 

Draft Outlook:

Ekpre-Olomu and Mariota could both be top 10 overall picks this season as Mariota looks like he will declare and Ekpre-Olomu came back for his senior season. There is a wealth of draft prospects, as Oregon still holds the title as the university to go on the West Coast, but the Ducks soon need a National Championship to cement their legacy and ensure they still get top notch talent at every position.

 

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