The sudden yet not totally unexpected firing of former head coach Mark Helfrich means more uncertainty for the Ducks’ 2017 recruiting class. With the Pac-12 North schools of Washington, Washington State, and Stanford all looking stronger, Oregon has to step up its recruiting strategy.
The looming question for this Oregon team is what to do about the defense. How does Willie Taggart recruit players to a defense that was ranked historically low last season? Can Jim Leavitt fix this defensive mess that Oregon is in?
Taggart doesn’t mess around when it comes to recruiting. He was named the new coach on December 7th, and in just five days he already had his first recruit. It was Darrian McNeal (3-star, special-teams athlete from Seffner, FL), who decommited from Arizona to play under Taggart.
There has been a recent trend in which potential offensive recruits seem hesitant to join this new Oregon program. The defensive recruits have been the headlines under Taggart so far.
Since Helfrich was fired, six recruits have officially decommited from Oregon: John Vaka (OT, 3 stars), Langi Tuifua (DE, 4 stars), Ryan Kelley (QB, 4 stars), Moses Robinson-Carr (TE, 3 stars), Tre’ McKitty (TE, 3 stars), and Demmondore Lenoir (CB, 4 stars).
The uncertainty with Oregon football is seen in different lights by different recruits. For some, it’s a new, fresh start. Others, like Robinson-Carr, have said otherwise. “Recently, there has been some major changes with the entire Oregon staff & uncertainty of which direction the program and identity of [UO] are headed,” Robinson-Moses explained via his Twitter.
Lenoir, one of the first to decommit from Oregon, makes a complicated situation even more troubling. He actually decided to leave hours before Helfrich was let go. The cornerback from Los Angeles is ranked 48th in the country, according to rivals.com.
Lenoir has had a huge impact on other prospects, bringing in top recruits like defensive playmakers Jaylon Redd (CB, 4 stars) and Salesian teammate Nick Pickett (DB, 3 stars). However, Taggart should be able to convince the players Lenoir influenced to stay, especially after he snagged one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Thomas Graham, a 4-star recruit from Rancho Cucamonga, CA, said Taggart was a key reason why he chose Oregon over multiple Pac-12 schools. Graham is the nation’s No. 44 overall prospect on ESPN.com.
A month-long recruiting “dead period,” during which coaches cannot make contact with prospects, went into effect on Monday, December 12th. Taggart was able to visit Graham at his home before the dead period started, according to ESPN.com. Graham made it clear that a key reason for his change of mind was that he enjoyed the “great coaching staff and I love Willie Taggart,” Graham told Duck Territory.
Another helpful influence in Graham’s decision was his high school teammate Redd, who had his own creative way of announcing his decision to become a Duck:
Life is like a box of chocolates for 4-star CB Jaylon Redd as he makes his commitment pic.twitter.com/Twq4mjnO0h
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 26, 2016
It’s no secret that Oregon’s defense, including the cornerbacks, needs improvement. The addition of both Redd and Graham should bolster the Oregon defense tremendously. Granted, both will still be freshmen, but they’ve already shown they are big playmakers.
Take a look at some of the Graham’s best plays from senior year:
Graham and Redd are not particularly big, at 5’11”, 175 lbs and 5’9″, 180 lbs, respectively. But Redd will likely be used as a returner on special teams as well as CB, and Graham looks as if he will be a pure defensive back.
Another key addition to the Ducks’ revamped defense is DE Jordon Scott (3 star, Largo, FL). Scott is listed as 6’1″, 345 lbs. After receiving multiple offers from some SEC, Pac-12 and Big 10 schools, then finally settling on Florida, Scott decommitted and is now going to play under Coach Taggart. Scott should play an important role in stopping the opponents’ running game. He is now the 13th commitment for the 2017 recruiting class.
Both Taggart and Leavitt have close ties to Scott. He talks frequently with both of them (although not currently, now that the dead period is in effect). “Coach Leavitt is really who I talk to the most…I already knew him from freshman year,” Scott said on Scout.com. But his connection to Taggart was a definite factor for Scott in making his decision. University of South Florida’s campus is less than an hour from Scott’s home. According to Scott, Taggart is “not one of those guys that’s always trying to act too big to be normal.”
As Charles Fischer demonstrated last week, the Oregon defense will have some major changes under Leavitt, including a Two-Gap “Zero Technique” Nose Tackle. Scott would work perfectly in this position, and could become a critical point of attack for the defense. He would put pressure on running backs and quarterbacks, as Fischer’s video shows. A quick and powerful Nose Tackle like Scott will help tremendously. For more highlights, check out Scott’s highlight reel here.
This is an interesting time for football recruiting. More players may still opt out or decide to come on board with Taggart and Leavitt. Stay tuned for more updates heading soon. Go Ducks!
Eugene, OR (From Half Moon Bay, CA)
Special thanks to Duck Territory at 247sports.com for sharing this information with FishDuck.com; check out their trial subscriptions for the best up-to-date daily information on Oregon recruiting.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove