Like the crack of someone opening the first beer at a party, the new Oregon staff is perking up ears and turning heads, giving the program a “national championship vibe.” Oregon signed a top-25 recruiting class in only seven weeks, causing a positive buzz and attracting high-caliber talent. Something has changed.
That change is Willie Taggart. Early on, we discovered his amazing ability to recruit, something Eugene has never seen. According to Rivals.com, in 2017 Taggart was able to sign nine 4-star-rated athletes and several underrated 3-star guys who have already proven their value. Now, four months before his second signing day, Taggart already has commitments from 14 4-star studs and several underrated 3-star guys. For Oregon, September is usually when things heat up — not when it becomes boring.
In comparison, the 2015 and 2016 classes brought in 13 4-star-or-higher athletes to the program combined. Ironically, this was after Oregon played for a national title and earned its first Heisman Trophy. Conversely, despite a disappointing 4-8 season, the coaches have managed to recruit quality.
Dye and “V3”
One of those among the commits is Travis Dye, who had a minor ankle injury and took the third week bye to recover. He’s had four rushing TD’s and a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD in his first two games back.
Commit Verone McKinley III has gone up against opponents’ top receivers. “V3” has played in two-and-a-half games with only two catches against him. He has two interceptions to date, including a pick-six, and he even has a forced fumble.
These two studs are underrated but definitely welcome to the Duck family.
The coaches are what brought the change. It’s not just new names and faces but a new attitude with confidence and purpose. Taggart and company have infused a much needed “juice”, contagious enough for Tyrell Crosby and Royce Freeman to stick around instead of entering the NFL draft.
This is when it gets exciting.
With 22 current commitments for the 2018 class, Taggart can sign those players and take five to six more. During the four months before signing day, Taggart has the luxury of being selective with his final commitments.
This is unfamiliar territory for Oregon. Mark Helfrich committed only about half of his class before each of his last two seasons in 2015 and 2016. He needed September through February to gain 10 and 11 more players, respectively. In that scenario, desperation can easily set in, and confidence diminishes with each passing day.
In recruiting, this is not a winning tactic.
So, as February approaches, watch Taggart select high-talent, high-potential guys while keeping his current commits, which give him leverage to lure his top targets.
Before the ASU game, coach David Kelly said, “The absolute best thing you can do to help recruiting is WIN football games.” Absolutely correct! Starting the season 4-1 definitely turned the heads of elite players everywhere.
Let’s take a look at who Taggart might get to sign.
Oregon needs a QB in this class. Taggart and his QB guru, Marcus Arroyo, will not settle on just anybody. It is undetermined whether they will choose someone underrated with great potential or someone more polished. However, the three candidates that Justin Hopkins mentions on Scoopduck.com are elite.
Oregon’s best chance is Texas commit Cameron Rising. Next is Washington (and former Oregon) commit, Colson Yankoff. My hope, Hopkins’ third option, is Justin Fields from Georgia, formerly committed to Penn State. The prospect of early playing time has got to draw one of them in.
Oregon is not finished recruiting for wide receiver. Look for the staff to allow a small handful on a first-come, first-serve basis. The top priority has got to be 5-star Devon Williams, who has put Oregon at the top of his list. The next two would be the speedster from Texas, Jaylen Waddle, and legacy local boy Chase Cota.
The first 2017 official visit was made this past weekend by 4-star offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Sewell is a large prospect Oregon can’t say no to. I trust he noticed how well the offensive line stepped up. Alabama is the toughest competition going forward.
Let’s skip to the defensive side of the ball, where Taggart may take one or two more. While Tyreke Smith is high on Oregon, Ohio State (his home state) may have a lock with this coveted talent. I’m not giving up on Tennessee commit Greg Emerson, a top defensive tackle. He might watch how Tennessee finishes the season, recognize the potential early playing time at Oregon, and flip. Of course, the Volunteers must first tank their season and lose their head coach.
The linebacker position looks fuzzy. After group-coaching some of NFL’s elite linebackers for the 49ers, coach Jim Leavitt has a reputation. Eli’jah Winston hasn’t publicly committed to play alongside his brother yet, so he may have missed his opportunity. If Oregon can get Palaie Gaoteote (USC) or Brandon Kaho (BYU) (both from Nevada) they might take priority over anyone local. There’s also Solomon Tuliaupupu (California) whom Oregon seems to keep in contact with. He attends Mater Dei High School with starting defensive tackle, Austin Faulio.
“Just follow Faulio” is my new motto for Mater Dei studs. He has a little brother, Andrew (Drew). While Oregon is keeping a close eye on his development, they have not yet offered. Hopefully they will if he follows his brother’s footsteps with a monster senior year.
Finally, the defensive back position. Top priority has to be local safety Talanoa Hufanga. He’s very athletic and punishes receivers. Oregon may take another DB if he’s an elite guy like Isaac Taylor-Stuart – who recently put Oregon in his top-12 list – or Brendan Radley-Hiles, a Nebraska commit. Coaches Keith Heyward and Charles Clark have already turned this unit around to make it an attractive destination for all of them.
While it will take time for Oregon’s defense to make the necessary changes to dominate, recovering from mediocre recruiting happened almost overnight. After such great recruiting, I can’t wait to see what the next four months will bring.
Jason Fowler, Oregon Football Recruiting Analyst
(on Twitter @buzzbrother2)
Top photo credit: Kevin Cline