The recruiting class of 2016 for the Oregon Ducks did not end as well as I would have liked. Expecting to crack the top 15 for the first time under coach Mark Helfrich was initially promising but, like the second half of the Alamo Bowl, slowly got away from the Ducks. Considering the two-quarter fallout and changes in key personnel, Oregon ended on a high note keeping within the top 30 nationally despite not signing a 5-star.
Let’s start off mentioning the changes since that bowl game we will not dwell on. Oregon lost offensive coordinator Scott Frost earlier but Erik Chinander followed Frost to UCF. “Chins” was clearly the top recruiter for the Ducks. Don Pellum was moved back to linebacker coach.
The two new replacements are David Yost as quarterbacks coach who developed a no-name at Washington State last year who broke records in passing. The new defensive coordinator is former Michigan head coach, Brady Hoke. Hoke plans to implement a 4-3 defensive scheme. These two new coaches helped keep most of the class intact in hopes to make some positive changes for the fall.
Helfrich signed 17 prep athletes, two graduate transfers and one junior college (JUCO) transfer to make up a very solid class that makes the top half of the conference ranking at No. 5. Of course, it all starts at quarterback. This was a need that was addressed and delivered.
Three new QB’s will compete in the fall with the current passers Travis Jonsen, Taylor Alie and Jeff Lockie. One is on campus already and appears to be the one to beat. Dakota Prukop is a graduate transfer from Montana State that will have one year of eligibility to play. Learning the playbook seven months earlier than Vernon Adams did last year will help the team tremendously by getting to know the receivers and timing with throws to much better athletes than those he threw to the last three years.
Two others will arrive in the fall for competition and conditioning. Justin Herbert is the local kid that has the height (6-foot-6) and can make most throws already. His high school offense has him passing and running the ball, prepping him for the Oregon offense.
The last is Oklahoma native and prior Nebraska commit, Terry Wilson. His athleticism has a high ceiling and potential to become a starter and take the team to a conference championship. His speedy running ability and nice touch with throws makes him a dangerous dual threat and the perfect tool for Yost to develop.
Staying on offense, the staff signed four massive offensive linemen. Logan Bathke, Jacob Capra, Samuel Poutasi and the other graduate transfer, Zac Morgan, will help the depth on the O-line. Each were premiere linemen at their respective schools and know how to dominate at the line and finish, frequently with a pancake.
The coachable linemen will likely back up the large O-line class of 2015 or redshirt the first year but the year of development will reap major benefits. Although, Morgan will most likely slip into the two-deep rotation immediately with his experience at the University of Dayton.
The receiving corps will see three new faces. Oregon is loaded at receiver but was still able to hang on to the No. 1 target in Tennessee in Dillon Mitchell. This dynamic talent can catch anything over any shoulder on any foot. His senior year, Mitchell averaged what seemed like 5 touchdowns a game. This kid was born to play offense for the Ducks.
Two tight ends come in as needed backups to the veterans. From Bend, Oregon, Cameron McCormick recovers from a season ending injury but was a key leader in the offense that still took state without him.
Finally, the very athletic Tristen Wallace who played QB at his powerhouse high school, DeSoto in Texas. His size and speed put him as a large receiver but ultimately will bulk up to become a pass-catching tight end much like the potent and difficult to cover, Pharoah Brown.
I can see some packages dialed up just for the former Ohio State commit to take an end around a la Bralon Addison and make any throw downfield. His skill set will keep defensive coordinators up late sweating buckets with life-like nightmares. He will be difficult to keep off the field for a full year.
With the hire of Hoke, it was obvious he came in as someone who had studied the Oregon defense and knew what changes he would work on before the fall and who would make an impact in his new scheme. He visited the current committed targets first to analyze them and their strengths to determine who would work.
Hoke had less than a month before signing day, so it’s hard to tell which uncommitted targets had already made their decision to sign elsewhere. However, he had a list of his own interests and hand selected Wayne Kirby. A prior BYU commit who was excited to get an offer from Oregon despite being so late in the recruiting cycle. Kirby brings size and power to the middle of a 4-3 defensive line. For someone who is 6-foot-3 and what Hlefrich describes as, “a bagel short of 325” pounds, Kirby can flat out move. I’m anxious to watch this guy develop.
The only other D-lineman that signed is Bryson Young. This great pick-up is an aggressive edge rusher that has a knack for the ball and tackles very well. His quickness to the quarterback disrupts any attempt at a rhythm.
Many times Young is making a tackle from the far end of the field. His skill of taking proper angles for tackling only makes his speed more lethal against offenses. He is a total D-line package and will be welcomed by the veterans in the fall.
With so many defensive backs taken last year, only one signed with the 2016 class. Brady Breeze is an Oregon legacy that has been pro-Ducks his whole life and committing early was not a problem.
Breeze flies all over the field wreaking havoc. He has great closing speed and is a sure tackler. Breeze does not back down from a solid hit, either. He will make receivers afraid to cross the middle with him nearby. His physicality is essential to the future success of Oregon’s defense.
The second need for 2016 was at linebacker with the depth depleted after the 2015 season. Much like the QBs, the LBs were covered. The staff found some DBs that are larger athletes that will grow into fast linebackers while others will not need to make too much adjustment from high school.
Another legacy player (for Washington) Eric Briscoe Jr., was eager to get an offer from Oregon and commit nearly on the spot. Briscoe came in as an athlete but projected at linebacker.
He is physical and solid with tackling. The defensive staff will work on his consistency and develop him to blow up run plays and terrorize passers.
Briscoe Jr. is only one LB of the seven projected LBs that were signed this cycle. The JUCO player with the most experienced inside linebacker of the bunch. A.J. Hotchkins developed very well at Riverside Community College the last two years with body size and strength. He will need just a little fine tuning, which will happen through the spring. Having Hotchkins on campus now will pay immediate dividends in the fall. Watch for him to slip into the two-deep linebacker rotation.
Three LBs were recruited as outside linebackers and Oregon was lucky to fend off the late push to take away Darrian Franklin. Another early enrollee, Franklin will benefit from the extra practice and learning the new defensive scheme ahead of Keith Simms and Breeze’s teammate, LaMar Winston.
These three will create huge competition at the positions that whomever starts first will be ready to take off heads right away. I love how Franklin plows through to get to the ball and how Simms is a tenacious tackler and how Winston is so quick to break up passes thanks to his experience at wide receiver.
The last two were recruited at different positions but seem to fit closer to LB since getting on campus as early enrollees. Troy Dye was a safety and Hunter Kampmoyer a defensive end. Kampmoyer played mostly linebacker his senior year so it won’t be a tough transition for him. Dye will hopefully keep his speed as he grows a little more into his new position.
Dye has a high football IQ based on his positioning to how the offense lines up and how quickly he reacts to the developing play. Kampmoyer has great pursuit to the ball and relentless to finish the play. Each are capable of covering receivers or tight ends to improve their value even more. Both have great diversity to adapt to their positions.
Overall, this class is solid. These signees will all work hard and do what’s best for the team. It speaks volumes of the character of each one of these athletes when coach Helfrich announced that all 19 (before Morgan was announced) have been team captains. Not only do they have skill on the gridiron, but are quality people off the field. Oregon fans will not see any of these recruits leaving the team for academic or character issues.
I can’t dwell on what this class could have looked like when I see who Oregon has signed for future playmakers in Autzen Stadium. Finishing in the top 30, which doesn’t count the stars that Prukop and Morgan would add to the ranking, is substantial.
The future looks good and a sneak peak into the potential 2017 class with so much great talent close to Oregon, could be a great class. A full year with Hoke and Yost, who are known for their recruiting abilities, can bring in a star-studded haul next year, but I’ll leave that as a teaser.
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Top Photo by John Sperry