Oregon Football: Cardwell the Ducks’ Next Star RB?

Jordan Ingram Editorials

It was the hit heard around the sports world.

In 2009, the Oregon Ducks had just lost 19-8 at Boise State. In Chip Kelly’s first year as head coach, it was a difficult loss on national television for the Ducks, who were coming off a huge Rose Bowl win the previous year. Postgame emotions were running high, to say the least.

And then, in a moment of explosive frustration, former Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punched Broncos defender Byron Hout in the face after he reportedly told Blount, “How’d you like that a–whoopin’?” (NOTE: There is still debate about exactly what Hout said to Blount. Either way, both players have long moved past the incident.)

Blount was suspended for eight games for his unsportsmanlike behavior, which opened the door for a talented but relatively unseen running back — LaMichael James. The rest is history. James went on to break multiple school and conference records during his tenure in Eugene, including Oregon’s single game record for rushing (288 yards on 23 carries). On the national stage, the Texarkana star won the Doak Walker Award, enshrining his name forever in the annals of college football history. (FUN FACT: James, since retired from the NFL, is a franchisee of a Killer Burger restaurant in SW Portland.)

Back to present day and we have a similar situation unfolding with the introduction of Ducks’ running back Byron Cardwell. Following CJ Verdell’s season ending injury against the Stanford Cardinal (3-4), who handed the Ducks their only loss this season, Oregon skipper Mario Cristobal had the difficult task of replacing the team’s best offensive player. Fortunately, Cristobal has a stable of capable and talented backs waiting in the wings for their chance to shine.

And against the Colorado Buffaloes (2-6) on Saturday, Cardwell took his opportunity and ran with it — LITERALLY — rushing for 127 yards on just 7 carries (averaging 18 yards per carry!), including a 34-yard touchdown scamper for his first career score in the Ducks’ 52-29 win over the enfeebled Buffs.

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Prior to joining the Ducks, here’s what national recruiter analyst Greg Biggins said about Cardwell, who he compared to Denver Broncos’ Melvin Gordon:

“Shows off nice combination of size, quickness and power. Has very good hands out of the backfield and is versatile enough to play in all situations. Has the speed to hit the home run and pick up big chunks of yards but the strength and toughness to run between the tackles and pick up yards after contact. Thick upper body and elusiveness makes him tough to bring down in the open field and he catches the ball well enough to play some slot receiver. Projects as a impact upper tier Power 5 starter and future high round NFL draft pick.”

Craig Strobeck

Cardwell jumped out to a great career start against the Buffs on Saturday.

Physically, Cardwell, who is 6’0″ and 210 pounds, is bigger than than both Verdell (5’8″, 211 pounds) and James (5’9″, 195 pounds). However, they are all very different runners. According to some analysts, Cardwell is not a physical, grind-it-out type of runner like Verdell. But what he lacks in power between the tackles, Cardwell more than makes up for in speed, agility and explosive playmaking capabilities. Check out some of Cardwell’s high school highlights here.

Cardwell also has potential as a receiver in a flex position, similar to that of Byron Marshall, which could prove a dangerous addition to Oregon’s multifaceted scheme under offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

Is Cardwell the next Blount, James or Verdell? The sample size is too small and it’s WAY too early to tell. But from the looks of it, the four-star freshman hailing from San Diego’s St. Augustine and Morse high schools is on the right track.

Jordan Ingram
San Diego, California
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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