“Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, so you can’t put anything above that … But it wouldn’t matter who you had here if you didn’t have the right mental attitude and work ethic. You need all those elements to come together to do something like we are doing.” – Pete Carroll (while head coach at USC).
Of course, USC is a different recruiting beast than Oregon, but I found it amazing how well Carroll did it in his nine years. His record was 97-19 before the adjustments made by NCAA (83-19). He coached and recruited 15 Consensus All-American players, including Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Troy Palomalu, Taylor Mays and Rey Maualuga. Plus, Carroll can get players to the NFL–53 to be exact.
February 7, 2018 is National Letter of Intent (NLI) day for college football. Those of us who follow recruiting annually know that the first Wednesday of February is very important. It’s the day that makes an antiquated communication box (aka fax machine) a very valuable tool that coaches across the nation stare at for hours on end with eager anticipation. There’s nothing like it. For many programs, it’s the day of glory that puts all the miles traveled and hours visited in perspective. Many tears will be shed, of joy and disappointment.
It’s the time for head coach Mario Cristobal to make his mark early in his tenure at Oregon. He has a realistic chance to break into the top ten of national recruiting rankings. He has witnessed firsthand how a successful program can close on signing day. The experience at Alabama, under the tutelage of Nick Saban, will be beneficial for Oregon, and help build a culture similar to what Carroll created at USC.
I will break down Oregon recruits into three parts: the prospects who have already signed, those who are verbally committed but not yet signed, and those whom Cristobal will likely reel in on February 7.
Players Who Have Signed
The 2018 recruiting cycle marks the first year that prospects were able to close their recruitment by signing during an early period in December. This gave some coaches a head start at completing their classes. For others, it made the last month and a half an uphill battle to attract the best remaining talent.
For Oregon, December proved beneficial, resulting in 15 solid commits who signed their letters of intent. That is about three-fifths of the total class that Cristobal will want to bring in this year. I’m with the theory of ScoopDuck.com founder Justin Hopkins, that Cristobal will not go for a huge class of 30-32 signees as Willie Taggart wanted. Cristobal is looking at the big picture, including future classes.
If Cristobal signs over 30 players for 2018, then the 2019 class will not be able to bring in more than 20 prospects. Cristobal and his staff have a year of solid relationships built with the ’19 athletes and may be able to sign a very high-quality class. With that said, the #brOtherhOOd18 is primed to finish strong.
Football starts with the quarterback and coach Marcus Arroyo was able to sign the #1 player in the state of Arizona, Tyler Shough, who had been committed to North Carolina. The 6’4″ 4-star QB is the 247sports #6 pro-style talent.
Both of the Ducks’ running back recruits signed in December. The word is that Jamal Elliott has come to Eugene and is grinding hard in the weight room getting ready to prove himself. Plus, Travis Dye comes in with big expectations based on his brother’s success on defense the last two years. Dye comes from a family of athletes–even his father played professional baseball. My brother is calling it the “DYEnasty.”
The rest of the offensive signees are all on the line, starting with 6’5″, 340lb. Steven Jones, who is one of the first of the big-bodied linemen that Cristobal had so much success with at Alabama. This will be the new norm for Oregon. Dawson Jaramillo is the smallest OL at 295lb. Christopher Randazzo weighs in at 325 lbs. Also, out of the blue, Cristobal knew it was important to replace the very productive Tanner Carew. Who’s that, you ask? Exactly! When you don’t know the long snapper’s name, that means he’s doing his job perfectly. That’s why Oregon had to bring in top-5 long snapper Karsten Battles from Texas.
Coach Jim Leavitt had some help from coaches Joe Salave’a and Keith Heyward to bring in some needed defensive talent. So, Oregon signed arguably the top-ranked safeties in Oregon history with Steve Stephens and Jevon Holland. Heyward’s got some athletic specimens with these two.
Two cornerbacks also signed in December. Heyward pulled Haki Woods from the JUCO ranks, a player who reminds many of Cliff Harris. That’s great on-field praise. The CB I’m most excited about is Verone McKinley III (V3). Mostly because I know how well his senior year went because his dad kept me updated. Nobody wanted to throw to receivers covered by V3 because it was usually a negative result for the offense.
At linebacker, Leavitt brought in MJ Cunningham, who brings in a specific kind of athleticism to the field due to his quarterback experience. Adrian Jackson is the #1 prospect from Colorado and brings an elite defensive mindset that could help him make an immediate impact as a true freshman.
The D linemen who signed were brought in at the last minute. One JUCO player who will beef up the line is Sione Vea Kava. He looks the part and will help with depth. Then, Andrew Faoliu received an offer from Oregon and he jumped at the opportunity to play alongside his big brother, Austin.
Players Who Are Verbally Committed
As of today, there are seven players verbally committed to Oregon. The ones I’m not worried about losing on signing day are OT Justin Johnson (6’7″ 355 lbs., who didn’t sign early because his parents hadn’t visited Eugene yet), TE Spencer Webb (flirted with taking visits), LB Andrew Johnson (despite living in the heart of the SEC), WR Jalen Hall (recent commit), and WR Isaah Crocker (most recent commit).
I’m least confident in LB Eli’jah Winston (seems to like Chip Kelly from what Charles Fischer mentioned in his most recent article) and TE Teagan Quitoriano (I don’t question his commitment to Oregon and that’s all I’m going to mention here).
I’m excited about each of the verbals. The way J. Johnson recruits on Twitter reminds me a lot of Jordon Scott from a year ago–just excited to be a Duck! I love it! Plus, FishDuck.com writer Mike Kelly wrote talent analyses of A. Johnson and Steven Jones to get me pumped up.
Players Who Will Potentially Fill the Class
With a total of 22 players that have either signed or verbally committed to Oregon, this leaves Cristobal with hard decisions. Like I said, he doesn’t want to take more than 28 prospects this year. That leaves him with roughly six more spots to fill. The tough questions are: How many more receivers do we take? Do we have an appropriate plan B if a top target or two fall through? How many top targets do we take if nearly all want to be Ducks?
I compiled a list of eight guys that Oregon has had solid communications with recently, and who are all in the final Rivals.com 250 ranking. Many have moved on and others give Oregon a legitimate chance to see this recruiting staff finish with elite talent.
Olaijah Griffin #23 (CB–leaning USC), Jaylen Waddle #31 (WR–Alabama or Texas A&M), Devon Williams #47 (WR–Oregon or USC), Penei Sewell #60 (OT–Oregon, USC, Utah or Alabama), Solomon Tuliaupupu #97 (LB–USC, UCLA or Notre Dame), Coynis Miller #118 (DT–an Auburn commit not likely to change), Merlin Robertson #133 (LB–Arizona State, USC or Oklahoma), Michael Ezeike #188 (WR–Oregon, USC or UCLA), and Jeremiah Martin #194 (DE–Texas A&M, Oklahoma, USC, Oregon or Washington)
Of this list, I feel that Oregon has a good chance with four of them. I like Williams, Sewell, Ezeike and the wild card, Martin.
Another list of names to know for NLI day are Tre’Shaun Harrison (ATH who was a prior Oregon commit and may follow Taggart and David Kelly to FSU), Miles Battle (WR who was a prior Oregon commit, committed to Ole Miss Monday), Moro Ojomo (DL from Texas who visited Eugene this last weekend), Joseph Ossai (DE from Texas who visited Eugene with Ojomo), Justus Legg (DE/OLB from Washington who visited Eugene last weekend), D’Andre Litaker (DL who recently de-committed from Tennessee) and J.J. Tucker (WR from California).
Don’t forget that Miami transfer D.J. Johnson is trying to make sure he doesn’t have to sit out a year. Johnson was highly touted and sought by Oregon a year ago and will immediately add needed depth on the defensive line.
Remember, Oregon may have only five to seven spots available, so Cristobal can be very picky at this point and will go for the top guys on his board. I know it’s hard for Duck fans to watch the recruiting results on NLI day because we’ve had one big loss to USC the last two years (TE Josh Falo in ’17 and RB Vavae Malepeai in ’16).
Some may have their doubts about how good this class will be because of the coaching turnover for the second straight year. Cristobal has methodically added some big names who will be upgrades over those who left, though David Kelly will be missed. The rest of the assistants stayed in Eugene to keep building the foundation of an elite program with elite coaches and players who want to win.
So if you sleep in the whole day Wednesday, you should expect Oregon to keep at least 21 of those players who have either signed or verbally committed and also add six or seven more quality athletes, with at least three of them being 4-star guys.
A shout out and a very special thanks to our friends at ScoopDuck.com and DuckTerritory on 247sports.com for so much information.
Follow me on Twitter @buzzbrother2
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove