Oregon Football Recruiting: Finding Value in the 2017 Defensive Class
No doubt Oregon’s 2017 recruiting class is special and very good. Getting back inside the top 20 after a year outside the top 25, Coach Willie Taggart was able to preserve and add key components to provide necessary depth or immediate impact to compete for starting positions.
I love focusing on the defensive side of the ball, knowing that defense wins championships. It’s been a bit bumpy the last few years on defense and there are areas that have needed to be addressed. Some of the areas could have been built up stronger with proper recruiting, but seemed to fall through the cracks with lack of emphasis on that/those position(s).
In 2016 the Ducks picked up three defensive linemen: two ends and two tackles, with one tackle transferring to BYU in the off season. This year, four more linemen signed with Oregon. The aim was geared toward the tackle position. The four big men were pulled from three different states.
First, the Ducks reached into Florida to get Jordon Scott. The 6-foot-1 345-pounder seemed really excited to get the opportunity to play in Eugene. Obviously, his size can plug running gaps, and his strength can hold up to double teams. Scott could easily anchor the middle to allow linebackers to fly around. He is already on campus and loves the workouts and trimming down.
The next anchor in the middle is Rutger Reitmaier from Tennessee. Reitmaier is also an early enrollee and will be in Eugene to participate in the Spring game. The 6-foot-3 270-pounder is technically sound, and has a serious motor that can wear down offensive linemen to penetrate the backfield often and abuse the quarterback. He has a great chance to work into the rotation to play early. I could also see him at end in some defensive packages utilizing his quick feet and power.
A third tackle to help out with depth is Popo Aumavae from California. At 6-foot-4 and 315 lbs. Aumavae has the strength to hold his own with potential blockers, and push his way through with seeming ease when he wants to. The new staff did a great job keeping him during the transition period of staffing changes. Another clog in the middle is never a bad thing.
The last tackle is another California stud, Austin Faoliu. After de-committing from Arizona, he seemed to have a lot of interest in Oklahoma for some time. Oregon continued to pursue Faoliu and he shocked many by committing to the Ducks. His father confirmed with me that he was 100% solid in his pledge. The great character of this young man is only one benefit Oregon gets with Faoliu. Another is he can play ball. Faoliu just bull-rushes his way through the offensive line and disrupts the plays. And he did this against tough competition: his high school, Mater Dei, is no slouch. He could play anywhere on the line, either using his strength in the middle or his quickness on the edge. He finds his way to the ball.
I love this group of defensive tackles! I also love the linebacking group that was signed this year. There were only two signees but they really count. The 4-star Isaac Slade-Matautia from Hawaii has room to get bigger, has some solid instincts and tackles very well. While he may be known for his quickness around the edge to get to the ball carrier before the play develops, he can really hit, too.
Speaking of hitting, the second linebacker can pop you into tomorrow. Sampson Niu plays much bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame. Niu being rated as a 3-star is laughable. Anyone who watched the Army All-American Bowl game in January saw some massive plays by this future starter for Oregon. His ceiling is very high and he is definitely underrated.
The two safeties that were reeled in for 2017 are 3-stars who play more like 4-stars. The appropriately named Californian Nick Pickett has a knack for intercepting the ball. He covers the field quickly from side to side and short to deep. Pickett is not only special on defense; he is equally adept on offense as a receiver.
Billy Gibson is another Florida talent and the other safety to sign with the Ducks. Watching this guy on a safety blitz is something special. There is no way to get away from him. He has speed and he is not afraid to put a big hit on a ball carrier. The future is bright at safety with Gibson and Pickett, and probably sooner rather than later.
According to 247sports composite rankings, I have saved the best for last. The top three prospects that Oregon signed for 2017 are all cornerbacks from California. The similarities of Jaylon Redd, Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir are amazing. Each can cover man-to-man very well. Each has great hips for changing direction. Each has a knack for the ball and knows how to stretch for it to knock it away or get the turnover. Each could play both sides of the ball and special teams at a high level. Each has a high football IQ.
Redd is just tough. He plays taller than his 5-foot-9 height indicates. He can press and get a great disruptive push on the wide receiver at the line, and he can turn and go to hang tight the whole distance. He’s got the juice the coaches are looking for to get back to winning championships.
Graham was a late cycle catch made by Taggart, who made him a priority. Despite a rumor of being a silent commit to Arizona, Graham followed Taggart to Oregon and enrolled early. He will be one to watch to see how well he adjusts to Division I ball. He’s got all the skills to break the starting rotation early and I’m excited to watch him play.
Lenoir has been all Duck for a long time, although fans were concerned when he de-committed after the firing of Mark Helfrich. He took official visits to other great schools that were salivating to get his services. In the end, he was still all Duck. He is special as was demonstrated in the Army All-American Bowl game with a couple of huge plays — one being a beautiful punt return. With the ball in his hands, Lenoir is dangerous. He has great vision, killer cuts and emphatically won’t give up on the play.
Cornerback is definitely the jewel of this class. With the athleticism of these three, I can’t say that they will play exclusively on defense. New cornerbacks coach Keith Heyward will have to get creative to be able to keep all that talent on the field.
This defensive class is great! It could have been better but Taggart only had seven weeks to get it together. Prospects are still hesitant to commit with so many question marks left to be answered on the field. What kind of offense is Taggart going to use? How soon will Coach Jim Leavitt turn the defense around? Will Oregon compete and win conference championships again within five years?
At this point, until the football prospects see the spring game or a game against a real opponent, it is just a wait and watch situation. We will learn who the Ducks will be pretty early on, when they host a rising Nebraska team the second week of the season. If there are fence-riders before the game and Oregon takes care of business in a convincing way, then it may become a footrace to see who gets a seat on the “Taggart train.” My feeling is that if you aren’t getting on this Taggart train now, you will miss out on some very special football memories.
Oregon Recruiting Analyst
Follow me on Twitter @buzzbrother2
Top photo by Kevin Cline
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