Oregon Swings and Misses on Top Recruiting Targets

Joshua Whitted Recruiting 99 Comments

Recruits have been flocking to Oregon, with four prospects committing in the past couple of weeks. With all of the momentum they’re building, many assume that the Ducks are right on track to at least match their recruiting success from the 2019 cycle, in which they finished with a top-10 class.

But don’t be fooled. A flurry of three-star commits does not make an elite class.

The Ducks are filling up spots quickly in what should be a relatively small recruiting class, but they’re not exactly filling them up with premier prospects. Some optimists believe that this is all part of the plan and that the Ducks are still in a great spot.

But the fact is with the way things stand right now, another top-10 class is a long shot. Does this mean Mario Cristobal and his crew have lost their touch? Or have fans prematurely anointed an up-and-coming coaching staff based on a stellar, but outlying, first-year effort?

Where the Ducks Stand

Right now, Oregon’s 2020 class ranks 14th, according to 247Sports. That’s not terribly far off from its seventh-place finish in the 2019 cycle, but there are several reasons why the Ducks may soon drop in the rankings.

First, Oregon already has 12 commits and not much room on the roster. Even with loads of time between now and signing day, the Ducks won’t be able to add as many prospects as other schools behind them in the rankings will. Schools like USC, Texas, Michigan and Penn State are currently behind Oregon, but have more room than the Ducks to add players, which should propel them up the standings.

Volume is taken into account when forming team rankings, so the Ducks are getting a boost for having a relatively high number of prospects committed right now even though half of them are three-stars. By the time other programs fill out their classes, Oregon’s won’t look as impressive as it does now.

From Twitter

Defensive end Jake Shipley is the Ducks’ most recent three-star commit.

Second, while the Ducks’ average rating, a metric that many use as the primary indicator of a class’s strength, is a healthy 0.8980, it has been declining and may continue to do so. The last four prospects to commit to Oregon were three-stars according to the 247Sports Composite, all with a rating less than 0.8900. What’s more, plenty of additional three-stars are expected to commit, including Marcus Harper, Isaiah Newell, Jaylan Jeffers and Montra Edwards. These prospects are solid, but they’re not blue-chip caliber and will subsequently bring the Ducks’ average rating down.

Finally, a couple of the Ducks’ current commits aren’t particularly solid pledges. Avantae Williams, Oregon’s highest-ranking commit, recently released a list that included his top seven schools despite already being committed to Oregon. He has always been viewed as a prospect who has one foot out the door, and at this point, it would be more surprising if he signed with Oregon than if he didn’t.

Four-star safety commit and top-200 recruit Myles Slusher is also feeling the heat from other schools, as Alabama and Georgia are pushing hard for him. It’ll be a fight for Oregon to hold on to him — when premier SEC schools get involved in a recruiting battle, they often come out on top.

These factors make the likelihood of another top-10 class pretty slim. And while that’s no reason to panic, it’s fair to point out that the Ducks have gotten punched in the mouth a bit this cycle, more so than they did a year ago. Some suggest that the Ducks are targeting more under-the-radar prospects out of choice. But the truth is, the Ducks have had their share of misses recently, and they’ve had to go back to the drawing board a number of times this time around.

Three Strikes and the Ducks Are Out

Five-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is the Ducks’ biggest “miss” in the 2020 recruiting cycle. By now, fans are very familiar with Uiagalelei’s well-documented talents and pedigree, but the fact remains that he would have been the biggest signee in Oregon history had he chosen the Ducks. (Five-star quarterbacks are more valuable than five-star pass rushers. Sorry, Kayvon Thibodeaux.)

From Twitter

Uiagalelei chose Clemson over Oregon.

For a while, Oregon actually led in his recruitment. But they weren’t able to seal the deal, and ultimately let a west coast prospect take his talents clear across the country. That’s discouraging. Yes, Clemson is the reigning national champion, and the Tigers are compiling one of the best recruiting classes in recent history. But these are the types of battles that Oregon needs to win if it wants to be a recruiting mainstay.

But losing to Clemson doesn’t sting nearly as badly as losing to Pac-12 recruiting rival USC. The Trojans have been directly impacted by Oregon’s recruiting rise, losing their spot as the Pac-12’s recruiting champion in the 2019 cycle, with the Ducks taking over as public enemy No. 1. This hasn’t sat well with the Trojan faithful, and they’re doing everything they can to stick it to Cristobal and the Ducks whenever they get the chance.

They did just that when they nabbed four-star transfer Chris Steele after he had committed to Oregon and planned to enroll shortly thereafter. Steele explained his last-second change of heart in an interview with The Athletic (subscription required), and fans can take his words for what they’re worth. But in the end, regardless of the reasoning, it was a bad look for Oregon to have an elite prospect, who had made a very public commitment, decide to backpedal and go elsewhere less than a month later. That type of thing rarely happens to the Alabamas and Ohio States of the recruiting world.

From Twitter

The Steele debacle was a bad look for Oregon.

Finally, perhaps the biggest shock of all came on Friday when long-time Oregon lean Roger Rosengarten committed to Washington. The four-star tackle was one of the Ducks’ top offensive line targets, and for practically his entire recruitment, it was assumed that he would be heading to Eugene. It was a matter of “when” not “if.”

But apparently, a final visit to Washington was enough to convince Rosengarten that Seattle was a better destination. Both ScoopDuck and 247Sports report that the Huskies sold him on early playing time and a clearer path to the field at Washington than at Oregon. Evidently that was a big selling point.

While Rosengarten didn’t rank as highly as Uiagalelei or Steele, the miss hurts for a few reasons. First, the Ducks are going to have to face him every year, as he’ll be playing for their fiercest division rival. Not only does it hurt to miss on a top prospect, but facing him every year for the next four years just rubs salt in the wound.

Second, the Ducks were such overwhelming favorites for Rosengarten that his commitment elsewhere is nothing short of a collapse. It’s troubling that one visit by a rival coaching staff was enough to trump the months of momentum that the Ducks had built in this battle. That suggests that the Ducks still have a way to go in becoming a national recruiting power.

Are the Ducks on the Verge of a Recruiting Decline?

These misses and the Ducks’ apparent regression on the recruiting trail need to be taken in stride. The fact is, what the Ducks did with their 2019 recruiting class was remarkable, but it set an unrealistic expectation.

From Twitter

Thibodeaux (No. 5) put the Ducks’ 2019 recruiting class in the top 10.

For a team that barely has a record above .500 over the last three years, getting consistent top-10 classes is going to be a struggle. The Ducks had a great finish last cycle, snagging Thibodeaux when many expected him to go elsewhere. But that can’t be expected every year, at least not until the Ducks play like a contender.

This staff knows how to recruit; that much is evident. Even with all the misses, the Ducks are still punching above their weight on the recruiting trail. They’re in the running for a couple of five-stars and a few more top-100 prospects. They’ll easily secure a top-25 class, potentially even sneaking into the top 15 if the chips fall right.

For a program that hasn’t played at a top-25 level during the past three seasons, this is an accomplishment in its own right, and perhaps a more realistic standard to hold the coaching staff to. And if the Ducks continue to improve on the field, as they have the past couple seasons, then the coveted top-10 classes will soon follow.

Joshua Whitted
Morgantown, West Virginia Top Photo by Ahsan Awan

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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