It seems as if every year, one or two incoming freshmen burst onto the scene and emerge as key players for the Ducks by the end of each season, and in some cases even crack the starting lineup. Last year that impact freshman was running back Royce Freeman, who started his freshman campaign on fire, rushing for 2 touchdowns in his first game with the Ducks en route to a record setting freshman season. Freeman is now the Ducks all time leading rusher among freshmen with the 1,365 yards he tallied during his first season in Eugene.
It is going to be hard for any of the incoming freshmen to replicate the type of record setting impact that Freeman had on the Ducks in 2014. However, Oregon’s 2015 recruiting class isn’t one to scoff at either, and with the number of graduating seniors combined with the juniors who left for the NFL, there is definitely some opportunity for the freshmen to make some noise for the Ducks in 2015.
Here are some of the new Ducks who have the best chance to be the Royce Freeman of 2015:
Offense: Alex Ofodile, WR 6’2″ 185 lbs.
The wide receiver position has been lacking depth for the Ducks for the past few years due to injury, graduating seniors, and a few recruits who didn’t quite live up to expectations. But Alex Ofodile is a promising young talent with good size and speed and has shown the ability to high point the ball and get up and over whoever is covering him when needed. His high school highlight tape (which can be found below) is full of immaculate catches over his defenders, and he shows enough shiftiness with the ball in his hands to make defenders miss after the catch.
There should also be some decent playing time available at the wide out position next year, even with the return of Bralon Addison from injury, due to the graduation of senior Keanon Lowe and junior B.J. Kelly deciding to no longer play football for the Ducks. Ofodile also took advantage of early enrollment which will give him valuable reps during spring practices as well as in the annual Spring Game. If Ofodile can put together a good set of spring and summer practices, look for him to crack the wide receiver rotation for the Ducks next season.
Honorable Mention: RB Taj Griffin (logjam of veteran and incoming freshmen backs next season could hinder his playing time)
Defense: Canton Kaumatule, DE 6’7″ 290 lbs.
The biggest question for the Ducks in 2015, besides who will be starting under center come September 5th, is who is going to fill the holes on defense after they lost six starters from last season’s Rose Bowl Championship team. Well, at least the Ducks only have to worry about replacing 5 starters now, because you can go ahead pencil in Arik Armstead‘s replacement right now with Canton Kaumatule. The 6’7″ defensive end out of Hawai’i possesses all of the size and strength that made the relatively under-achieving Armstead a potential first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
After watching Kaumatule’s high school highlights, the argument can also be made that he is more explosive than Armstead when it comes to getting off the ball and attacking the quarterback, which could make the Hawai’i native a potential upgrade at the position for the Ducks in 2015. You have to remember that Armstead had a higher grade on him out of high school as an O-lineman than he did as DE, whereas Kaumatule is a full-fledged 5-Star 290-pound quarterback nightmare.
Special Teams: Fotu Leiato, LB 6’0″ 200 lbs.
To be completely honest I had no intentions of making a category for special teams in this article, but then I saw Fotu Leiato‘s senior year high school highlight tape. Dear Lord. His highlight video, which by the way has over 621,000 views, is a montage of him destroying players on the opposing teams with some of the most vicious and explosive special teams blocks (hits) I have ever seen.
When he isn’t hurting opposing players on the field, he’s taking back kicks and punts for touchdowns, jumping over players as a wildcat quarterback, trucking linebackers as a running back, chasing down opposing wide receivers from 25 yards away and blowing up plays as a linebacker. Leiato is the epitome of a player who can literally play all over the field; he is a human highlight reel that needs to see the field for the Ducks next season. He is the type of hustle player whose motor never stops running, and I would not be surprised if this kid gets some playing time as an inside linebacker or a strong safety next year for the Ducks based purely on his hustle and athletic ability. If anything else, look for him and his Troy Polamalu-esque locks flying around the field on special teams lighting guys up next season.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline