By now, Duck fans are well aware that Mario Cristobal is an ace recruiter. At Alabama, Cristobal was named the 2015 “Recruiter of the Year” by both Rivals.com and 247Sports. Four years later, he’s still going strong, securing the Ducks’ best-ever recruiting class this offseason.
But he won’t spend the next six months resting on his laurels.
Recruiting is a year-round affair, and Cristobal knows better than most that to close strong next December and February, he has to get off to a fast start. The first and most important order of business for the upcoming class is finding a top-flight quarterback to succeed Justin Herbert.
The good news is the Ducks have a couple of elite options to choose from. The challenge is deciding between the two.
DJ Uiagalelei: A Generational Talent
It’s a term that gets thrown around too often in scouting circles. But every now and then, a prospect truly does deserve the moniker: St. John Bosco (CA) quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is a generational talent. The 6’4”, 240-lb. phenom is not only the top quarterback prospect in the country, but he is the seventh-best recruit overall, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.
From an evaluation standpoint, the first thing that jumps out is his ridiculous size. He already has an NFL body as a soon-to-be high school senior. And his arm is every bit as strong as his size suggests. Combine those attributes with solid athleticism, and it’s easy to see why nearly every team in the country is rolling out the red carpet for him.
So with the likes of Georgia, Alabama, Clemson and plenty of other powerhouse programs pursuing the colossal quarterback, surely the Ducks are little more than an afterthought in his recruitment, right?
These aren’t the Ducks of old that looked for under-recruited, developmental quarterback prospects. Cristobal and his staff take their shots with the best of the best, and it appears that that approach is paying off.
According to insiders at both 247Sports and ScoopDuck, the race for Uiagalelei will be a two-team battle between Oregon and Clemson. And for once, the proximity obstacle, which has cost the Ducks many elite prospects before, is one that Clemson will have to overcome.
Another element in the Ducks’ favor is their established relationship with Uiagalelei’s school. Oregon just signed a prospect from St. John Bosco this past cycle (Suaava Poti), and they are recruiting one of Uiagalelei’s teammates in 2020 (Drake Metcalf). It’s way more appealing for a prospect to head to a school a few hours north with some familiar friends than it is to travel across the country to a school with no connections whatsoever.
The Ducks are in a good spot here. Uiagalelei has already visited Eugene multiple times, including for the Ducks’ game against Stanford (per 247Sports and ScoopDuck). Regarding his trips to the school, he said the following in an interview with 247Sports:
“I like the coaching staff. I like that it’s like a family atmosphere. I’ve been up there a few times. It’s a really cool experience seeing the facilities and talking to people up there.”
Clemson won’t go down without a fight. It’s a neck-and-neck battle right now, but Cristobal could be inching closer to locking in one of the biggest commitments of his coaching career.
Jay Butterfield: More Than a Consolation Prize
If the Ducks do miss on Uiagalelei, they have an alternative option waiting for them in the same state. Liberty (CA) quarterback Jay Butterfield is another elite quarterback prospect that the Ducks are monitoring closely.
Butterfield is the second-best pro-style quarterback in the country, an extremely high-ranking four-star recruit according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. In fact, some experts at 247Sports believe that he could add a fifth star before his senior season kicks off.
The 6’6”, 180-lb. passer has a frame similar to that of current college football superstar Trevor Lawrence and one that resembles a young Herbert. He may not be the athlete that Uiagalelei is, but he has clean mechanics, excellent height, and high-level touch and accuracy. He’s a prototypical dropback quarterback with room to add weight, and his ceiling as a passer is tantalizing.
He’s firmly on Oregon’s radar, and not just as a backup plan. Although Uiagalelei is the top dog right now, there’s loads of time for Butterfield to rival and even surpass him when all is said and done. With an offseason of camps and 7-on-7 competitions remaining, it’s anything but a slam dunk that Uiagalelei will be the Ducks’ top choice come December or February.
When asked about his interest in the Ducks, Butterfield had the following to say per 247Sports:
“Oregon is a great school, with great tradition and an awesome game day atmosphere.”
He elaborated in an interview with ScoopDuck:
“When I was there last in Eugene, for the Spring Game, I loved the facilities. The fans are awesome!”
247Sports reports that he has unofficially visited Oregon at least once, as he indicated in his interviews. It wouldn’t be a shock if he makes the trip up to Eugene once again before he shuts down his recruitment.
While Uiagalelei’s recruitment is a little more cut and dried at this point, Butterfield’s is fluid. The Ducks are likely in his top group, but the Uiagalelei situation complicates things. Oregon is only planning on signing one quarterback in the cycle, and if Uiagalelei picks the Ducks, then Butterfield could be out of luck.
The Ducks may not be Butterfield’s top choice either. Stanford is said to be his dream school, per 247Sports, as his dad played quarterback for the Cardinal in the 90s. However, Stanford is in a tricky situation, too. In 2018, it signed blue-chip quarterback Tanner McKee, knowing that he would not play until 2020 due to an LDS mission.
Well, 2020 is right around the corner, and McKee’s scholarship, which hadn’t counted against Stanford’s numbers before since he wasn’t playing, now becomes a factor. Therefore, Butterfield would technically be the second quarterback signee for the Cardinal this cycle, which would hamstring its already tight numbers.
So things are murky on all ends.
Still, the Ducks are in good standing with Butterfield, and if they decide to pursue him as their number-one option, there’s a good chance that they’d land a commitment.
Follow FishDuck.com for More Recruiting News
The 2020 recruiting class should be another high-ranking one for the Ducks. Although the volume of the class may not match their 2019 haul, the caliber of player should be the same — if not greater — according to experts at ScoopDuck and 247Sports.
There are more premium prospects out west this cycle than usual, and with USC in a state of flux and UCLA recruiting in slow motion, the Ducks have a shot at signing multiple five-star prospects. As for which quarterback they sign, that much is to be determined. One thing is certain, though: if it’s one of the two referenced, they’ll be in good hands either way.
Stay tuned throughout the off-season, as we here at FishDuck.com will continue to provide recruiting news, updates and analysis.
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And a special thanks to the experts and insiders at 247Sports and ScoopDuck, who provide fans with the best and most in-depth Oregon recruiting news in the industry. Subscribe to each of them for premium content and the most up-to-date recruiting news.
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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