“Building a Juggernaut” Part Two: The Oregon Brand and Skill Position Recruiting
Part 1 of this series by Chris Charbonnier is available here:
For those who’ve been following Oregon recruiting lately, it’s no surprise that the Ducks have already landed commitments from running backs Thomas Tyner and Dontre Wilson. Over the past two years, Oregon’s recruiting classes have been filled with blue-chip players across the offensive skill positions. The Ducks are garnering more attention from elite high-school players than ever before, and the Oregon brand is the reason why. The uniforms, the winning, the fast-paced offense and the high-point totals all support the notion that Oregon has differentiated itself with speed. Raw, untouchable speed.
SEC players are fast? Well Oregon players are crazy-fast. Your team put up 50? Oregon averages 50. Your team has a running back who runs a legit 4.4? DeAnthony Thomas runs a 4.4 doing the grapevine. That’s the Oregon brand.
While the ducks have certainly fielded fast, explosive playmakers over the last few years, they’ve been far from the fastest or most explosive. The fact is, Oregon has had a roster full of offensive skill players with measurables and abilities not unlike any Top-25 team. The difference is the Oregon brand. The majority of the public began to believe that Oregon had this unique quality about them, an unmatched ability to play and actually BE faster than everyone else. Any thought that this wasn’t true died with three consecutive conference championships and BCS bowl games, including a national championship game appearance and a Rose Bowl win; not to mention the elite ability of LaMichael James, who became the face of the program.
For Duck fans, the great thing about the Oregon brand is that it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. When the majority begins to believe something, whether true or not, it’s almost impossible to reverse that belief. This can be seen in politics, in social issues and most relevantly, in sports (see: James, Lebron). So maybe it isn’t a coincidence that all of a sudden, many more elite high school football players are showing interest in Oregon than ever before.
The result extraordinarily fast, explosive, agile athletes saying, “that Oregon offense is bananas; my skills were made to be shown off in those flashy uniforms.” And voila. Some will argue that Oregon’s recruiting has improved simply because they’re winning and scoring points, and while I agree that those things helped build the brand, it’s the brand itself that sells the program to blue-chip recruits.
During the last two recruiting cycles, the Oregon brand has proven invaluable. Below is a look at the offensive skill position players who signed a letter of intent in 2011 or 2012, accompanied by their Rivals star-rating.
|4* Jake Rodrigues||5* DeAnthony Thomas||4* Devon Blackmon||5* Colt Lyerla|
|3* Marcus Mariota||3* Tra Carson||4* Tacoi Sumler||4* Christian French|
|3* Jeff Lockie||4* Byron Marshall||4* Bralon Addison||4* Pharaoh Brown|
|4* Dwayne Stanford||4* Evan Baylis|
|3* BJ Kelley|
|3* Chance Allen|
Notice that I chose not to include JUCO transfers, since their set of criteria for picking a school is often vastly different than a prep player’s might be. I also wanted to use this as more of a look towards the future, whereas JUCO players are usually gone within a couple of years.
The impressive table above is even more eye opening when comparing it to those of the nation’s recruiting elite. Take a look at the offensive skill players signed by college football’s ten powerhouse programs during the past two years.
|3* Phillip Ely||5* Demetrius Hart||4* Marvin Shinn||4* Malcolm Faciane|
|3* Alec Morris||5* TJ Yeldon||4* Bradley Sylve||3* Kurt Freitag|
|4* Kenyan Drake||4* Danny Woodson|
|4* Cyrus Jones||4* Amari Cooper|
|4* Chris Black|
|4* Connor Brewer||5* Johnathan Gray||3* Marcus Johnson||4* MJ McFarland|
|3* David Ash||5* Malcolm Brown||4* Cayleb Jones|
|3* Miles Onyegbule|
|4* Jaxon Shipley|
|4* Mykkele Thompson|
|4* Jacoby Brissett||4* Mike Blakely||4* Javares McRoy||4* AC Leonard|
|4* Jeff Driskel||3* Hunter Joyer||4* Ja’Juan Story||4* Kent Taylor|
|3* Skyler Mornhinweg||4* Matt Jones||3* Raphael Andrades||4* Colin Thompson|
|4* Latroy Pittman|
|3* Cardale Jones||4* Warren Ball||3* Frank Epitropoulos||3* Blake Thomas|
|4* Braxton Miller||4* Bri’onte Dunn||3* Ricquan Southward||3* Jeff Heuerman|
|4* Michael Thomas||4* Nick Vannett|
|3* Devin Smith|
|3* Evan Spencer|
|3* Jacob Coker||3* Eric Beverly||4* Kelvin Benjamin||4* Nick O’Leary|
|3* Sean Maguire||4* Devonta Freeman||4* Rashad Greene||4* Christo Kourtzidis|
|5* Jameis Winston||5* James Wilder Jr.||4* Marvin Bracy|
|4* Mario Pender|
|3* Russell Bellomy||3* Sione Houma||3* Jehu Chesson||3* Devin Funchess|
|3* Drake Johnson||4* Amara Darboh||3* AJ Williams|
|4* Dennis Norfleet||4* Chris Barnett|
|4* Justice Hayes|
|3* Thomas Rawls|
|4* Cody Kessler||4* Amir Carlisle||4* Marqise Lee||4* Junior Pomee|
|4* Max Wittek||3* Jahleel Pinner||4* Victor Blackwell||4* Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick|
|5* George Farmer|
|5* Nelson Agholor|
|4* Darreus Rogers|
|3* Kendal Thompson||5* Brandon Williams||4* Kameel Jackson||4* Max Stevenson|
|4* Trevor Knight||4* Alex Ross||5* Trey Metoyer||4* Taylor McNamara|
|3* David Smith||4* Derrick Woods||3* Sam Grant|
|4* Durron Neal||3* Laith Harlow|
|4* Sterling Shepard|
|3* Jeremy Liggins||4* Kenny Hilliard||4* Travin Dural||3* Dillon Gordon|
|4* Jerrard Randall||3* Kavahra Holmes|
|3* Stephen Rivers||4* Avery Johnson|
|4* Odell Beckham Jr.|
|5* Jarvis Landry|
|3* Alonzo Lewis|
|5* Gunner Kiel||4* KeiVarae Russell||3* Chris Brown||4* Ben Koyack|
|3* Everett Golson||4* William Mahone||3* Justin Ferguson|
|3* Cam McDaniel||4* Davonte Neal|
|4* George Atkinson III||4* Davaris Daniels|
*Note that I did my best to make sure these tables were comprehensive and accurate, though there could be errors/omissions due to confusion over a player’s true position.
**Whether or not a player is still on the current roster is irrelevant since the purpose of this data is to look at recruiting achievements.
|3 Stars||4 Stars||5 Stars||Total|
According to the Rivals star-ratings, Oregon appears to have collected the most offensive skill position talent over the last two recruiting cycles, at least on paper. Now, in reality, the talent difference shown between Oregon and Alabama, USC or Oklahoma is virtually non-existent. The point is, Oregon is right there with the nation’s elite, which has never been the case at any point in UO history.
Opposing fans might claim that defense wins championships, thus watering down Oregon’s recent recruiting success, but the Ducks have proven that to be false (at least in conference) and it’s not as if the coaches haven’t been picking up great defenders. In the future, we’ll take a look at how the Ducks measure up against the big boys on the defensive side of the ball.
Given the additions of Tyner and Wilson to the 2013 class, and the serious interest of numerous highly rated preps, I don’t expect Oregon to fall from these ranks anytime soon. It’ll be interesting to add 2013 signees to this list next year and see where everything stands.
Regardless of how things shake out, it’s apparent that for the foreseeable future, Oregon coaches will be working with more offensive talent than they’ve ever had, and that cannot be a comforting thought for the PAC12 ‘s defensive coordinators.