As a flagship program in college’s premier sport, football, Oregon faces consistent media scrutiny. If a team is able to find success, it is expected to maintain it. Oregon is no different, and in a year when the team loses arguably the best player it has seen this century, members of the media are eager to write Oregon off.
ESPN.com releases an annual ranking of the Top 100 players in college football, which it creates from a group of 43 voters who rank each player on a scale of 1-10. The scores are averaged and players are then ranked. Oregon, theoretically college football’s second-best program last season, didn’t have a player in the Top 10. It didn’t have a player in the Top 20. Heck, it didn’t have a player in the Top 38. Royce Freeman was the first Duck to make the list, tied at 39th with Florida State RB Dalvin Cook. You know, the guy who fumbled twice in the Rose Bowl, a game that FSU lost by 39 points. Hey, that’s the same as Cook’s ranking!
Ignoring the fact that ESPN writers don’t know their head from a hole in the ground, this is still a continuous theme for Oregon’s 2015 team. According to those outside of Eugene, without Marcus Mariota, the Ducks are apparently some nobody team that will miss out on the playoffs and make a New Year’s Bowl – if it’s lucky.
Well, here at FishDuck.com, we know a little better than that. Not only will the Ducks bounce back and have similar success to last season, they could be even better. With some Ducks flying higher than others, here are the players other media outlets refuse to acknowledge.
OREGON’S 2015 ALL-UNDERRATED TEAM: OFFENSE
QB: Ty Griffin
[Ed. note 1: Ty was moved to the secondary days after this piece was written.]
Everyone knows about Vernon Adams, and his mathematical prowess. Jeff Lockie is another household name in Eugene. But how about Ty Griffin? No one is talking about this guy, but they should be. This dude’s brother is some kid named Taj Griffin. Heard of him? You know, the speedster who the inimitable FishDuck himself dubbed as the next closest thing to DAT that he’s seen walk through Autzen’s gates.
Taj Griffin has the closest highlight video I’ve seen compared to DeAnthony Thomas, and while he does not have the millisecond-cuts that Thomas has, Griffin instead has this stunning ability to cut 90 degrees and explode in acceleration like no back in video I’ve seen. He has been healing from an injury and even in February, while still in rehab, coach Helfrich said Taj was the fastest player on the team! (That is a pretty high bar!) – Charles Fischer
Ty shares the same blood as this guy, and he’s a QB with a cannon of an arm! He’s raw, very raw, but if he can improve his footwork and his accuracy, the kid could be one of the freakiest athletes Oregon has seen in a long time. Now that’s saying something!
RB: Royce Freeman
Look, I could’ve thrown out a name like Kani Benoit or Tony Brooks-James to make you uber Duck fans happier, but the truth is that Freeman remains the most underrated RB on the roster. He ran for nearly 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman, and he didn’t fully get the starting nod until Week 7. That’s disgustingly productive. What was more impressive was Freeman’s uncanny ability to learn, pardon my pun, on the run.
After the loss to Arizona, arguably Freeman’s worst game of the season to that point, the Freshie posted eight consecutive games with 98 rushing yards or more, failing to find the end zone in just two of those contests. He wasn’t just the best RB for the Ducks, he was the best RB in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country. Expect big, big things from Rolls Royce this year.
WR: Bralon Addison
Remember this guy? Funny story, Addison and Devon Allen were in my Writing 122 class in the fall and, at the time, both were dealing with injuries, and all I could think was, “A year from now you two are going to run this offense.” Well, here we are now, almost a full year later, and Addison is healthy and ready to do just that.
As a sophomore he was insanely productive, averaging nearly 15 ypc and nabbing 7 TDs as Mariota’s second-favorite target behind Josh Huff. Addison is back and as explosive as ever. And with him in an emerging young cast of studs at the WR position, look for Byron Marshall to make the switch back to RB to help ease Freeman’s load.
OL: Zach Okun
There’s no other way to say it. This guy is freaking huge. He’s a freshman and he’s already the third-heaviest guy on the team, weighing in at a stout 310 pounds. But here’s the deal … he can move. He’s got quick feet on his pulls, he drives guys back with good balance and his weight back, and he can get out in the open field and create a path for backs with ease. I’ll be honest, I’ve never been truly excited watching a highlight reel for an OL before, but just do me a favor and at least watch the first three plays in the video below and tell me your heart doesn’t start racing at the possibility of this guy anchoring our line for the next three seasons (or more).
Author’s Note: I apologize for the black space underneath the video. If I knew how to remove it I would, but the video is just too freaking sweet to take out all together.
Can’t Decide a Position But Want to Talk About Him Anyway Because This Kid Is THAT Good, and Yes I Know He’s Listed as a DB: Charles Nelson
Look, I don’t really have words to describe what a freak of an athlete Charles Nelson is, so instead I’ll let the Oregon coaches do it for me:
“They can move a guy to offense and say, ‘Run a deep ball.’ Anybody can do that. On defense he’s got to get off a block. He’s got to make an open-field tackle. He’s got to play press coverage. He’s got to read combination routes and be in the right place … But if anyone can, that kid can do it.” — John Neal (Defensive Backs Coach) via Oregon Live
Oh come now, John, I’m sure he can’t be THAT good …
“He has proven that he can be an immediate microwave situation in jumping in and playing on offense … He’s a fantastic football player. He’s fast. He’s smart and he just loves playing football.” — Mark Helfrich (head coach) via Oregon Live
Surely, you must be exaggerating …
“Charles is one of the best football players I’ve been around in a long time. He can do almost anything you ask him to on the field.” — Scott Frost (offensive coordinator) via USA TODAY
Never mind. I give up. The kid is an absolute athletic freak, end of story. I know Nelson is technically a defensive back now and, therefore, shouldn’t be on the offense all-underrated team, but there’s simply no way he won’t have the ball in his hands next season on offense. He’s just too talented not to play both ways.
Now why is he underrated, though? Because, plain and simple, I believe Nelson might not only be one of the best players on this team, but actually one of the best players in the entire country (he was ranked 92nd by ESPN). Any player who can go both ways while being considered one of the best at his position regardless of which side of the ball he’s on is special. Watch out, Pac-12 teams, Charles Nelson is coming for you.
Stay tuned to FishDuck.com for the conclusion of this two-part series, where I will outline the all-underrated defensive team.
Top photo by Kevin Cline