The Oregon Ducks’ football program has accrued a wealth of ‘blue chip’ talents over the past several recruiting seasons. With at least three potential first round picks set to be drafted in the next two years (depending on whether or not this postponed spring season has a significant impact on the draft), there’s a great deal of speculation on not if, but when the Ducks’ finest will end up being selected.
If team need and positioning are taken into account, are there any talents on the Ducks’ roster that are simply too good to pass up on? A true no.1 overall talent, not a player reached for based on team need and the sheep thinking that plagues the NFL?
The short answer: absolutely.
Penei Sewell is the obvious front runner of this group. Considering his outstanding performance and progression as a Duck, the expectation is that a top 5 selection will be spent on Sewell in the 2021 NFL Draft. There has been recent out-of-bounds criticism of ‘overhyping’ Sewell’s ability, but that will surely pass once Sewell’s talent is evaluated against the rest of the prospects at his position.
Given the value of an exceptional offensive tackle in the NFL, Sewell has GM’s eager to acquire him as a future cornerstone of their respective franchises. Sewell has immense natural ability, a refined work ethic for his age and an ability to learn quickly, complementing his prototypical stature.
Now, if Sewell were to be drafted later than first overall, there’s no doubt it’d be within the top five, at minimum. Barring a slew of quarterback injuries, or ineptitude in learning pro offenses, there aren’t many other blue chip players that you could really make a case for taking over Sewell in the 2021 draft. LSU’s Ja’marr Chase is a compelling top prospect, but given the ‘hit or miss’ potential of the position, it’s difficult to value him higher than a dominant edge protector like Sewell. Walker Little is another talent that comes to mind, but Sewell’s lack of injuries makes him more favorable.
But say that Sewell, out of team need or ineptitude, doesn’t have the owners of the No.1 pick sold. Who else on the Ducks roster could make the case for the 2021 draft’s No.1 pick, or another draft in the near future? Jevon Holland comes to mind, but considering his position value, his exceptional play on the field may be overlooked until the late first, or even early second round. For example, 2019’s breakout safeties in Grant Delpit and Xavier Mckinney both slid to the second round, after both seemed assured they’d be first rounders.
As of now, the only other Oregon player that has potential to be a first overall pick is Kayvon Thibidoeaux. This may feel like an overstatement, or an unjust and overly biased assumption of Thibidoeaux’s talent, but considering he is an every down defensive end, possesses elite athleticism and a prototypical frame, and already started contributing to the Ducks’ defensive line in a big way as a freshman, this is his true potential.
Thibidoeaux’s positional value is at its peak in the era of slowing down the likes of Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and other exceptional young mobile quarterbacks.
The last No.1 overall pick to be selected as a defensive end was only three years ago in the 2017 NFL Draft, when the Cleveland Browns took Texas A&M product Myles Garrett. Although Thibidoeaux may not be quite the supreme athlete Garrett is, he could eclipse Garrett’s athleticism coming into the NFL with further development at Oregon.
Even Oregon alumni DeForest Buckner went 7th overall in the 2016 Draft, and Arik Armstead went 17th in the 2015 Draft. Both were exceptional defensive lineman at Oregon and have made a great impression as pros, but Thibidoeaux has that it-factor that any NFL team should be itching to utilize.
If I were a GM, I’d have no problem taking Sewell No.1 overall. He’s become a can’t-miss kind of prospect, and there’s not really any reason to doubt his tape, effort or ability to transition to the high standard of edge protecting in the NFL. Thibidoeaux is still young, and he has a lot to prove in the next two seasons to earn the recognition I believe he’s capable of attaining. But, if he continues on the trajectory he established in his freshman year, I wouldn’t doubt hearing his name called first in the 2022 or 2023 NFL Draft. He’s that guy.
Santa Barbara, CA
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Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.
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