Elite offensive line play will always be the foundation of Oregon football under Mario Cristobal. The former lineman is one of the best in the business at coaching and developing pro-ready players at the position.
That showed in 2018 when three of the Ducks’ five starting linemen made Pro Football Focus’ All-Pac-12 Team, with perhaps their best tackle Penei Sewell missing the cut simply because of an injury-shortened season.
But four of their five standouts will be seniors in 2019, which means it’s time to look for new stars. As we inch closer to signing day, here are some of the top candidates to become the new faces of Oregon’s “Great Wall.”
Don’t Expect Many Blue-Chips
It’s been publicized that top linemen simply aren’t found in the West. The numbers bear this out, at least from an NFL perspective. According to a 2011 study, just 21.1 percent of NFL offensive linemen played their high school ball in the West. This is true years later as well; the West is particularly devoid of elite offensive line recruits this cycle.
While Oregon isn’t neglecting the few good players that the West has to offer, expect the Ducks to sign linemen from across the country in 2020, specifically from America’s Heartland. According to the same study, the Plains and the Midwest account for 40 percent of NFL offensive linemen. Unlike the South, which is always a hotly contested recruiting battleground, the Midwest is commonly passed over by big-name programs.
Recruits in the middle of the country don’t rank as highly as they do down south, but it’s clear that the linemen here often exceed their rankings. The Ducks have taken note, targeting many linemen from Big 10 country. While this probably won’t result in a class full of four- and five-star players at the position, the prospects they do sign may surpass expectations when all is said and done.
Offensive linemen are widely considered some of the most difficult prospects to properly rank and evaluate coming out of high school. It’s wise to take their rankings with a grain of salt, as the NFL has proven that the best players at the position are often found in the spots that the Ducks are targeting.
Roger Rosengarten and Josh Fryar: Top Targets
Although the Ducks aren’t expected to sign a bunch of linemen from the West, one that they are targeting is four-star tackle Roger Rosengarten. The Colorado prospect is a top-150 recruit and the 12th-best tackle in the country. (All rankings courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.) The highest-ranking player that the Ducks are after on the line, Rosengarten has been on the their radar for quite some time. Their diligence should pay off; he’s a major Duck lean and a candidate to “quack” very soon.
Rosengarten has seen his stock soar, jumping 673 spots in the 247Sports Composite since his initial rating. His efforts are paying off, as he recently received an offer to play in the 2020 All-American Bowl.
The Ducks are doing everything they can to make sure he commits to them over one of their fiercest rivals. Rosengarten recently released his top-two schools: Oregon and Washington. And though the Ducks are the heavy favorites right now, with 100% of 247Sports’ Crystal Ball predictions in their favor, the Huskies won’t go down without a fight.
Rosengarten is coming off of an official visit to Oregon in which he had nothing but praise for the school. In an interview with ScoopDuck, Rosengarten said the following about Oregon:
“This was definitely a trip to remember … I love the coaching staff; they make me feel like family even though I’m not a Duck. I like the training staff, the weight room … and the strength coaches are fantastic.”
But as great as his visits to Oregon have been (Rosengarten has also visited Oregon unofficially), he just visited Washington this past weekend, as he wanted to give both schools a chance to win him over. Could the Ducks lose their top target to Washington, of all schools? It would take a herculean effort on the part of Chris Petersen and his staff, but it’s not out of the cards. Still, unless the Huskies absolutely blew Rosengarten away during his recent visit, expect the Ducks to get a commitment from Rosengarten in the coming weeks, if not days.
Josh Fryar, a high-ranking three-star center from Indiana, is much less of a sure thing. Fryar joined Rosengarten in visiting Oregon a couple weeks ago, and according to Rosengarten, Fryar left with a positive impression of the school. In an interview with ScoopDuck, Rosengarten said:
“I think he liked it just as much as I did. We got treated like priorities. Great time for both of us.”
Fryar has a college-ready build and skill set, displaying a punishing style that is necessary on the interior to keep pace with stout nose tackles. Polished high school centers don’t come around often, and many believe the position to be the most important on the offensive line, especially in a zone-heavy scheme. He would be a prime candidate to replace current Oregon stalwart Jake Hanson, and he could anchor the next great Ducks offensive line for years to come.
The Ducks aren’t favorites, but they made up some ground by hosting Fryar for an official visit. However, they’re still chasing Ohio State, the probable leader at this point, and others like Florida State and Penn State.
Fryar’s a big-time talent at a difficult position to find, so the Ducks are doing whatever they can to get him to commit. But it will be a fight to the finish, and they’ll have to fend off plenty of blue-blood programs to land him.
The Best of the Rest
Rosengarten and Fryar are the Ducks’ top targets, but there are lots of options behind them. ScoopDuck listed a handful of potential signees in a recent article, predicting that Rosengarten, Jaylan Jeffers, Nash Hutmacher, Marcus Harper and Faaope Laloulu will sign with the Ducks in the end.
Jeffers is a three-star tackle from Saguaro high school in Arizona, a school that has produced college football stars Byron Murphy, DJ Foster and Christian Kirk. This year, the Sabercats have another round of elite recruits, including five-star cornerback Kelee Ringo. This has brought a lot of attention to Jeffers, who has offers from big-name schools like LSU and Michigan.
He’s not an elite prospect according to the ratings, but the pedigree of his school and the interest he has drawn from national programs suggests that he’s worth pursuing. The Ducks are the favorites for him by a mile, and although it may be a while before he commits, Oregon will likely be his college destination.
Hutmacher is a two-way prospect whose future may be on the defensive line. The Ducks are recruiting him on offense, but he’ll bring plenty of physicality and ferocity to the table wherever he plays. While he’s just a three-star prospect, the South Dakotan is one of the best all-around athletes in the country. Nicknamed the “Polar Bear” for his brute strength and blindingly blonde hair, Hutmacher is also one of the best high school wrestlers in the country.
His feats are the stuff of legend, apparently pinning an opponent in just nine seconds, winning 32 of his 33 victories via pin and earning third-team All-USA wrestling honors from USA Today High School Sports. He’s the first South Dakotan to win three consecutive heavyweight titles, proving just how dominant an athlete he is.
Hutmacher has the profile of a prototypical Cristobal lineman, but it looks like former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost has Nebraska well in front at this point.
Harper is a low-ranking three-star who has a modest offer sheet. At one point, he committed to Illinois, but when the Ducks turned up the heat on him, he decommitted, scheduling a visit to Eugene shortly thereafter. He’s another midwestern prospect who may prove to be better than the experts think.
Laloulu is a mammoth of a player, checking in at 6’6.5”, 390-lbs. He hails from Hawaii, a former Oregon pipeline, and he certainly has the build to clear the way for a devastating rushing attack. The Ducks were one of the first programs to recognize the physical specimen, pursuing him while he was still relatively unknown by the rest of the country. Now he’s a low-ranking three-star, but other programs in the West like USC, Washington and UCLA have followed in the Ducks’ footsteps, offering the massive tackle.
Unfortunately for them, it’s too little too late. On Saturday, Laloulu committed to the Ducks, giving Cristobal his first commit on the offensive line this cycle.
A final candidate is Taliese Fuaga, a prospect from the Huskies’ backyard. At 6’5, 320-lbs., Fuaga has good size, but not much else is known about the currently unranked recruit. He didn’t have any Division 1 offers until just a couple weeks ago when he showed out at the Northwest Showcase. His hard work paid off, as he left with an Oregon offer. He has just started to get recognition, so it’s probably too early to predict where he’ll end up. But if Oregon decides that he’s worth seriously pursuing, smart money says he’ll be a Duck.
The players listed are some of the most pivotal targets for the Ducks’ 2020 recruiting class. Most of them aren’t ballyhooed, premium prospects. But in what is becoming an increasingly difficult position to evaluate, these are the players that Cristobal has handpicked as the best realistic targets.
If there’s any position where fans should ignore the star rankings and trust that the coaching staff knows what it’s doing, it’s the offensive line. If the Ducks are able to land the majority of these players, their Great Wall will be in great shape long after their current stars depart.
Morgantown, West Virginia Top Photo by Kevin Cline
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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