There’s no better weapon in college football than a deep and talented defensive line.
Other positions such as quarterback and offensive line are also important, but a dominant defensive line is paramount. Even the most explosive offenses become ordinary when facing an elite front four.
Look at last season’s National Championship Game, in which arguably the best offense in college football, led by arguably the best quarterback in college football, was held to just 16 points. How did Clemson stifle Alabama’s record-setting offense? By disrupting it with its ultra-talented defensive line, and making Tua Tagovailoa uncomfortable all game long.
For the Ducks, as well as they’ve recruited at nearly every position, defensive line is one spot where there’s some uncertainty for the 2020 class. In the 2019 cycle, they made headlines by signing five-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. But he’ll need some running mates if Oregon hopes to replicate Clemson’s success and become a true title contender.
Still a Way to Go
The Ducks do have a couple of defensive line commits, but both are middle-of-the-pack three-stars who are expected to be depth-building role players. Role players are important, of course, but with current stalwarts Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu reaching the end of their collegiate careers, Oregon needs to find starting-caliber players to replace them.
According to ScoopDuck, the Ducks are on the hunt for two or three more prospects on the defensive line. The hope is that these new additions will be ones with more upside and star potential than the current defensive-line commits.
Currently, the biggest name that the Ducks are chasing is four-star defensive tackle Omari Thomas. The top-100 prospect from Memphis, Tennessee is just the type of player who would help Oregon’s defensive line go from “solid” to “elite.”
Thomas is a big body at 6’5”, 299 lbs. He’d be a terrific anchor in the middle of new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ aggressive defense. He’s a violent and physical player, always looking to make a punishing hit, and is also a solid athlete, with enough quickness to keep up with nimble edge rushers in pass protection when playing offensive tackle.
Oregon’s interest in Thomas is a bit surprising. Located in the South, it’s not a surprise that SEC programs like Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn and Tennessee are considered the favorites. But the Ducks recently offered him, and at least according to Thomas, they are in the mix. Thomas said the following about the offer in an interview with 247Sports:
“I am very interested in Oregon, and I feel like it’s a good spot. It’s a winning program with a good tradition. I just really wondered why the offer was so late, but I am still interested.”
Maybe Oregon assumed that Thomas was a lock to commit to an SEC school, thus the late offer. Nevertheless, the Ducks are gaining significant ground with him. According to ScoopDuck, he and Oregon have been increasing communication between each other, and a fall visit may be on the horizon. Although the Ducks have only just started recruiting him, Thomas could end up being one of the top commits in the class when all is said and done.
If Thomas is considered big at 299 lbs., then three-star defensive tackle Kenean Caldwell is downright massive. The 6’3”, 336-lb. wrecking ball isn’t a blue-chip prospect, but he has rare physical gifts, with next-level size and strength. The Ducks need skill sets like Caldwell’s to plug gaps and control the line of scrimmage. He’s the perfect Scott replacement.
However, the Ducks are fighting an uphill battle, as Caldwell is currently committed elsewhere. Although he hails from the talent-rich state of Louisiana, he committed to Kansas, of all schools — apparently, new Jayhawk head coach Les Miles can still recruit the Bayou State! But Caldwell’s recruitment is far from over. In an interview with ScoopDuck, Caldwell made it clear that he’s still considering other options. He said:
“I’m committed to Kansas but me and my family are talking about taking other visits. I’ll probably take all five official visits … I haven’t set a date to visit [Oregon] yet, but me and my family will take a trip out there and check it out.”
It’s always difficult to sway a prospect once he’s committed elsewhere, but it’s going to be tough for Kansas to hang on to Caldwell. Oregon is the vastly superior program right now, and with the Ducks making him a priority, they should be able to get him to sign in the end.
Another target who will likely end up committing to Oregon is three-star defensive tackle Quay Evans. For a while, the Ducks weren’t sure if Evans was a “take,” as they were in on higher-rated players such as Montra Edwards and Van Fillinger. But Fillinger committed to Texas, and Edwards underwhelmed at Oregon’s “Saturday Night Live” camp. So, Evans should have a spot if he wants one.
Evans isn’t a big name, and he doesn’t have a big-time offer sheet, but the Oregon coaches like his potential. A commitment from him wouldn’t turn any heads, but he would provide depth and could develop into more than a role player if given time and coaching.
Other names that the Ducks are targeting include three-star defensive end Bradyn Swinson and four-star defensive end Jason Harris. Swinson is another southeastern prospect whom the Ducks offered relatively recently. He’s doesn’t have the biggest frame, and he might be better suited at the STUD position. Nevertheless, he’s a good-looking athlete from a region that is known for churning out elite pass rushers. Oregon just jumped into this race, but things could get interesting if the Ducks really pursue him.
Harris is actually a four-star prospect in both football and basketball. At 6’7”, 220 lbs., he has a lot of filling out to do if he wants to play football (which he has indicated is the plan). But he has length that coaches drool over, and he’s obviously a top-notch athlete to earn such a high ranking in multiple sports. He’s a project player, but one that the Ducks are keeping an eye on.
Finally, Fillinger was a major Oregon target before he committed to Texas, and the Ducks were even favorites for a while. The high three-star prospect would have been an ideal addition to what is currently a sub-par defensive line class. But Texas surged late and Fillinger slipped out of Oregon’s grasp. The battle’s not over yet, though: ScoopDuck reports that the Ducks are still maintaining contact with Fillinger, and who knows what that will lead to? At the very least, there’s a chance that he reconsiders things.
The Ducks aren’t in on any Thibodeaux-caliber defensive linemen this cycle, and that’s fine. Those types of players don’t grow on trees. Still, to be a playoff contender, Oregon needs to acquire as much blue-chip defensive line talent as possible.
That has proved to be a challenge so far, but signing high-upside players like Thomas and Caldwell would be a step in the right direction. A starting defensive unit with those two and Thibodeaux would be a terrifying thought for the rest of the Pac-12 and a tantalizing one for Oregon fans.
Morgantown, West VirginiaTop Photo by Eugene Johnson
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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