It’s hard to believe that this is supposed to be a relatively quiet time of the year for Oregon recruiting. It’s the evaluation period, so the Ducks are able to send 10 of their assistant coaches to visit the prospects of their choice.
Of course, things have been anything but quiet. Top-100 quarterback Jay Butterfield and former top-50 defensive back Chris Steele, two massively important targets, both committed to the Ducks this past week. But with things seemingly slowing down now, let’s take a look at some of Oregon’s top remaining targets and evaluate where the Ducks stand in their recruitments.
1. Sav’ell Smalls: Five-Star Outside Linebacker
With DJ Uiagalelei going to Clemson, Sav’ell Smalls is now the Ducks’ top realistic target. The 6’3”, 230-lb edge rusher is the top player in the country at perhaps the most valuable position outside of quarterback. Smalls ranks fourth overall in the 247Sports Composite, even higher than the highly coveted Uiagalelei.
Smalls’ recruitment is an interesting story. A Washington native, it would seem apparent that the Huskies would be the favorites to land him. But Smalls surprisingly eliminated Washington from his shortlist, citing his desire to play away from home in an interview with 247Sports:
“I want to find the best fit for me. I want to find the best program to not only get me out in three years with a degree, but to also challenge me as a person so I’m able to become a better man. I started to think that the best step for me would be to do that away from home.”
But for those worried that this also leaves Oregon out of the picture, think again. In the same interview, Smalls said that Oregon is one of the two west coast schools (along with Washington State) that he is still considering.
That the Ducks are not only in the running for a top-five prospect, but also have the upper hand over the hometown Huskies, is a bit shocking but doubly satisfying. It’s pretty telling that, with all the schools in the West that Smalls has eliminated, Oregon still has a chance. The Ducks have made a big-time impression on him, as he has visited a handful of times and is growing very familiar with the coaching staff. Expect Oregon to be among his finalists, and a strong contender to land him through the very end.
What was once thought to be an Oregon versus Washington battle has become another iteration of Oregon versus the Southeast. Florida State, Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Texas A&M are some of the SEC and ACC programs that Smalls has significant interest in, and he hasn’t been shy about his desire to play down south. In his interview with 247Sports, Smalls said:
“Down south is not only where the best football is played, but where the culture is much more rich down there. I feel like getting out and playing the best ball and seeing a culture I’ve never been exposed for long periods of time to is critical to my overall development in all phases of life.”
It’s going to be hard for the Ducks to sway Smalls, who clearly wants to experience life outside the Northwest. But if he does stay close to home, Oregon is where he’ll end up. The Ducks aren’t favorites at this point, but they’re very much in the mix.
2. Johnny Wilson: Five-Star Wide Receiver
Of all the five-stars mentioned here, the one that the Ducks have the best shot to land is Johnny Wilson. The 6’6”, 220-lb receiver is a matchup nightmare on the perimeter, and he would instantly become Oregon’s most physically imposing player at the position.
The Ducks have recruited top Californian prospects better than any school in the country as of late, and that strategy should pay off with Wilson. ScoopDuck predicts that he will eventually commit to Oregon, although the timing is uncertain. 247Sports agrees, with their most recent crystal ball prediction in favor of the Ducks.
A few weeks ago, it looked as though Wilson to Oregon was pretty much in the bag, with some expecting a commitment shortly following the team’s spring game. But there has been radio silence on Wilson’s end for some time, leaving some questioning whether he’s as high on the Ducks as the experts suggest.
However, those following the situation say that Wilson just likes to keep things close to the vest. He doesn’t do many interviews, and he isn’t as into the spectacle of recruiting as some of the other top-flight prospects are.
Of course, this isn’t a bad thing, but it does make it hard to gauge where the Ducks stand with the elite receiver. Nevertheless, Oregon looks to be the team to beat, and it would be a major surprise if he went elsewhere when all is said and done.
3. Kelee Ringo and Clark Phillips III: Five- and Four-Star Cornerbacks
The position that the Ducks have had the most success recruiting in the 2020 cycle is defensive back. Currently, three defensive backs are committed to Oregon, and all of them are four-star prospects. Furthermore, they have Steele, who was a four-star 2019 cornerback prospect.
The Ducks are in a great spot at the position, and their success has allowed them to be selective with whom they decide to bring in moving forward. Players like Jared Greenfield and Makell Esteen are guys that the staff really likes, but their status as high three-stars means that they may not get a spot. Two prospects who will get a spot, even if the staff has to make room for them, are Kelee Ringo and Clark Phillips III.
Ringo is the higher ranking of the two, currently sitting at ninth in the 247Sports Composite. Unfortunately, he’s also the one that the Ducks will have to make up the most ground with. Texas is the favorite, and although Ringo enjoyed his trip to Eugene this spring, and even suggested to ScoopDuck that he may be back for an official visit, it’s going to be tough to beat out the Longhorns. ScoopDuck predicts that he will sign with Texas, but still lists Ringo as a realistic target for the Ducks if they’re able to make a strong enough push for him this summer.
The Ducks have a much better chance with Phillips. He absolutely raved about his visit to Oregon this spring, calling it “probably the best experience I have had on a visit” in an interview with ScoopDuck. But Notre Dame and Ohio State are also zeroing in on the four-star cornerback, making his recruitment one of the most competitive and difficult to predict. The Ducks have proximity on their side (Phillips is from California), but when storied programs like Ohio State want a prospect, they usually don’t miss. The Ducks shouldn’t be considered favorites just yet, but if Phillips does come back to Eugene this fall, it would put them in a really good spot.
4. Noah Sewell: Four-Star Athlete
Looking for some good news? Four-star athlete Noah Sewell, a 6’2”, 266-lb. linebacker/defensive end hybrid, is a lock to join the flock. Sewell is a top-100, big-bodied defensive game-wrecker, and his brother, star left tackle Penei Sewell, just finished off one of the best freshman campaigns in all of college football for the Ducks. ScoopDuck and 247Sports predict that Noah will play his college ball in Eugene, joining his brother in what will be a punishing one-two punch for years to come.
Noah already has pro-ready size to go along with a mean streak and solid athleticism. The Ducks like him at middle linebacker, but he has the size to play the “STUD” position, or even put a hand in the dirt and play on the defensive line.
He has interest from schools in the Southeast, but Oregon is far and away the front-runner, and it would take a lot for that to change. That his brother is already a star for the Ducks is a factor, but the younger Sewell has developed his own relationship with the coaching staff. It doesn’t look like he’ll make any official announcements in the near future, but rest assured, this is a battle that the Ducks have on lockdown.
Whether the Ducks land all, none or a couple of these players is to be determined. But the fact that the staff is in the mix for all of these blue-chip prospects speaks to the heights that Mario Cristobal has taken Oregon recruiting to.
Sure, the on-field results still need to match, but the one thing that all championship programs have in common is a roster full of premium recruits. That’s something that previous Oregon teams have lacked, and although those teams reached historic heights, they never came through in the end. For all of the concern about the Ducks’ perceived offensive regression, or their underwhelming performances last season, there’s no denying that they are bringing in more talent than ever before.
We don’t yet know whether this staff is capable of translating that talent to championships, but we do know that they’re capable of acquiring it. That much is an accomplishment in its own right, and Cristobal and company should be applauded for doing what many believed was impossible: assembling a roster full of blue-chip players in little ol’ Eugene, Oregon.
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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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