Oregon Football Recruiting Analysis: This Class is “Good,” not “Great”

Recruiting is a merciless and often brutal component of the college football system.  There’s no reason to sugar-coat it: the past couple weeks haven’t been ideal for the Ducks.  This is not going to be another article about Budda Baker.  There are plenty of those.  The fact is Baker is a great player and a great kid with a chance to be highly productive in the Pac-12, on either side of the ball.  His de-commitment hurts, and because of it, Oregon is unlikely to crack the top-20 of any site’s recruiting rankings.  Not ideal, but it is what it is.

Replacing Josh Huff won't be easy, but the Ducks have the pieces

Kevin Cline

Replacing Josh Huff won’t be easy, but Oregon has the pieces.

Moving forward, there are only two weeks until National Signing Day.  Oregon is still in play for a number of recruits, although the pool of who is and isn’t a target gets murkier by the day.  Things are nearly as chaotic as they were at this time last year.  A time when newly-minted head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff were saving the 2013 class following Chip Kelly’s departure.  It seems that nearly hourly the Ducks are making another offer or an official visit is added or dropped from the schedule. It has been a confusing week.

If you forced me to predict at this moment, I would guess that Oregon adds Trey Lealaimatafao, Mattrell McGraw, Khalil Oliver and Jalen Canty to their 2014 class.  Both Oliver and Canty are new targets who may or may not be backup options.  Regardless, it’s clear that the coaches really like both and believe they have high ceilings.  At this time, the current commits seem solid, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Tony James ended up elsewhere.

So, based on everything that’s going on now and the 2014 cycle as a whole, what do we know about recruiting under Helfrich?  Well, I won’t hand out any grades until the cycle ends, but there are certainly some logical conclusions to be drawn.

Can Helfrich close as well as he did last year?

Kevin Cline

Can Helfrich close as well as he did last year?

The first observation, and I want to stress this one, is that the program continues to increase its talent profile.  During the past two summers, I’ve evaluated, compiled and written about the relative talent of each Pac-12 program.  The articles break down and objectively rank the talent of each roster based on a comprehensive overview of the recruiting rankings for each player (using my tier system).

This last summer, Oregon was the 2nd most talented team in the conference, behind only USC.  While both UCLA and Stanford are right on their heels, the Ducks are still in good shape to maintain their position heading into next season.  Not only that, Oregon is actually increasing the number of tier-1 players on its roster (a tier-1 player earns that designation by receiving a 4-star rating from at least two of the major recruiting outlets).  That’s a positive sign.

In the coming years, it will become harder and harder for Oregon to continue improving as it nears its talent ceiling, and it is approaching that point.  However, maintenance will be sufficient to stay competitive.

Now, while the overall talent profile of the program will improve due to the 2014 class, that doesn’t mean this should be touted as a “great” class.  I think “good” is more appropriate. “Great” implies surpassing reasonable expectations, which this class is not likely to do.  Most of those with a good understanding of college football recruiting, and who follow such things, earlier this summer expected Oregon to end up between No. 15 and No. 20 nationally. Obviously, an isolated team ranking is insignificant (I’ve devoted entire articles to that very topic), but it does help us when comparing reality to expectation.

There’s no question that this is going to be a good class which includes recruits who could make an immediate impact, and end up as all-conference level players down the road.  For Oregon to remain nationally relevant, the 2014 class will need to be the baseline.  Some may not like that, but it is reality.  A top-15 class should always be the goal.  Naturally, the question becomes how to achieve that.

Adding talent along the defensive front-7 is a point of emphasis

D.C. Photography

Adding talent along the defensive front-7 is a point of emphasis.

Helfrich and his staff are not unaware of the harsh recruiting realities and evolving landscape.  This year, they’ve cast a wider net and have begun offering targets earlier in the process.  That needs to continue into 2015 and beyond.  The more targets you have committed before the season begins, the better.  Early commits means you have more player recruiters (players recruiting players is very effective).  This then entices others to join a class that looks like it has the potential to be really good (great players want to play with great players).  It also allows the staff to focus their limited resources on other, uncommitted targets during and after the season.

Additionally, casting a wider net means having the ability to leverage pre-existing relationships when things don’t go as planned and it becomes necessary to lean on backup options (which happens every year).  Running around at the last minute in January trying to fill spots with players you’ve had limited contact with, is not an effective recruiting method.

While the 2014 class will go down in the books as a good one, calling it “great” is probably something reserved for the most optimistic fans.  While good is good, and occasionally ok, that doesn’t make the grade for a team with national aspirations.  The program must continue evolving its recruiting processes moving forward.

Top photo by D.C. Photography

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Chris Charbonnier

Chris Charbonnier

Chris was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, but made his way to Oregon by the age of five, when he attended his first game at Autzen Stadium. A huge sports fan at a young age, Chris grew up playing football, basketball and golf. Although realizing he isn’t likely to play in the NFL or NBA, Chris still holds on to hopes of being a professional golfer should his unfortunate putting woes take a turn for the better. A bit of a platypus, he attended both Oregon State and Oregon during his collegiate days where he earned a business degree in Finance and Business Administration. Chris works for Daimler Trucks North America in Portland, and plans to get his MBA from the University of Oregon. Chris has been an active member in the recruiting community since 2005. He studies the intricacies of recruiting and is particularly intrigued by talent evaluation techniques. He is currently working on developing his own scouting reports for every scholarship player on the UO roster. Chris lives with his wife, Katrina, and his two-year-old son Lucas (a future dual-threat QB).

  • Idontrollonshobbas

    Chris, good article. When ranking the classes comparitively I prefer avg. star rankings vs. total star rankings. SInce the Ducks’ attrition is lower than most other schools, we usually have fewer slots than SEC programs, for example. In that regard, this class becomes closer to very good….especially if a 4-star LOI day surprise happens. Agree?

    • Chris Charbonnier

      I’ve touched on this before; it’s definitely true that Oregon has relatively low attrition, which leads to smaller classes and lower finishes in the team rankings on a yearly basis. That’s why looking at roster composition is so important, and why I do it each summer. That’s a much more accurate gauge of a team’s talent-level as opposed to looking at how they finished in the rankings over the past 4 years relative to their competition.

      That said, as addressed in the article, looking at the class ranking compared to where many felt it would be at the start of the cycle is valuable when matching the class up against reasonable expectations. After all, expectations are what drive relative terms like “poor,” “good” and “great” when describing a recruiting class.

      • hokieduck

        This sounds more logical than your “A top-15 class should always be the goal. ”

        Given the fact that Oregon does not get as *many* recruits in a class, they will always have a lower *ranking* than other schools given the way that those rankings are calculated.

        All that said, I agree; this is a good not great class. Losing Baker was a blow for a number of reasons. Losing his talent, losing it to someone in the conference, and just generally having a decommitment hurts the program.

        Maybe we will land a few more of the targets than we think and still pull out a … good + class.

        Nice read, Chris.

  • Guest

    What about Arrion Springs? I heard that he was looking around. Hopefully he sticks with Oregon. I’m interested to see if he can step in and play CB opposite Ifo as a freshman.

    • Chris Charbonnier

      I’d be very surprised if Springs ended up elsewhere.

  • Douglas Fur ’74

    now that you have a couple years under your belt, can you say if ratings are a good predictor of success?
    The Oregon story says “character” is what to look for but can it be measured?
    Maybe that’s your MBA project, developing the “Charbonnier Character Index”

    • Chris Charbonnier

      This is such an involved discussion, but generally, the more talented a roster is, based on recruiting rankings, the more success they will have. Coaching plays a big part, which is why teams like USC and Texas have been mediocre recently despite elite talent, but there’s a reason that every team with a legitimate shot at a championship over the past 10 years have all had one of the 15 most talented rosters in the country during that season.

      I’ve written extensively about this very topic on this site if you care to read through old articles. Great coaching can only go so far; to compete with the big boys you need elite (or near elite) talent.

  • Rick in SO

    I think we have recruited a game changer at every position but Tight End in this class so in my opinion we have a great class although I will admit there are different levels of great.

    • Guest

      Who’s the game changer at defensive tackle?

      Oregon has a few young, promising tight end prospects, so this probably wasn’t a priority for the class, especially given the number of available slots.

  • P.u. Bea-Mullet

    Chris another nice article on recruiting.

    Is it just me, or does the frenzy around the late push for D linemen cause anyone else to feel like the coaching staff either totally dropped the ball this season, or that their plan As and plan Bs failed?

    Losing Hart, Ricky HH and Wade K (won’t even attempt to spell his last name) was always going to mean we needed to push hard to land quality D tackles, yet throughout the fall, we had exactly 0 commit. Come December, we start offering other guys – lots of them when coaching changes around the nation shook things up and recruits came back into play.

    What happened to a measured, analytical and pro-active approach to recruiting?

  • Dale Howard

    Ducks finished the year as #10 another year(2014) in double digits and the Ducks will have to scrap coaches and revamp their strategies as future potential players will be looking elsewhere first!