Don’t Sleep On Oregon’s Secret Superstars

Joshua Whitted Editorials

Without a doubt, the most pleasant surprise for Ducks’ fans in 2022 was the resurgence of the Oregon offense. Mr. FishDuck took some time from his NFL live betting, and studying the NFL to ponder these secret Duck superstars with me, that will emerge in 2023.

The Ducks were once synonymous with offensive explosion and ingenuity, but the unit was reduced to bare bones under Mario Cristobal. Thankfully, Dan Lanning and company made it a point to do what put Oregon on the mainstage in the first place. The Ducks fielded one of the most productive and exciting offenses in all of college football in 2022, and the future looks bright for the unit.

Much of the credit for the offense’s success has been given to Bo Nix, and deservedly so. He significantly elevated Oregon’s quarterback room and quickly became the team’s most valuable player. But if he continues his success this season, it will likely be due in large part to two of the team’s more understated stars.

Oregon’s Dynamic Duo

When most of the national media discusses Oregon, they generally reference two of its superstars: Bo Nix and Bucky Irving. Again, this recognition is well-deserved, as both Nix and Irving will be among the nation’s best at their respective positions this season.

But perhaps the biggest reason the Ducks’ offense will not skip a beat this season, despite turnover on the offensive line and at coordinator, is because of its all-star receiving duo.

Troy Franklin and Tez Johnson form a tandem that is the best Oregon has had in nearly a decade. Both have superstar potential — if they’re not superstars already — and either would be the clear-cut, go-to option on just about every roster in the country. They just so happen to play on the same team.

Photo by Craig Strobeck

Franklin is the more heralded of the two stars, with some already putting him on the radar as one of the top draft-eligible receivers. His skill set is undeniable. At 6’3”, he has the height and length to absolutely thrive in contested catch situations. Even when he’s covered, he’s open simply because of his height and ability to control his body when attacking the ball.

But he’s far more than just a jump-ball specialist. Despite his gangly frame, Franklin is a smooth mover, which allows him to create separation at every level. And when he opens his stride, he is very hard for opposing cornerbacks to keep up with.

Plus, Franklin is surprisingly skilled at gaining yards after the catch. He is relatively agile in the open field and he’s not as easy to corral as one would assume given his build.

Franklin was outstanding in 2022, catching 61 passes for nearly 900 yards, and he scored nine touchdowns. He’s easily one of the top returning receivers in America, and he has the talent to finish his career at Oregon as one of the best ever to don the green and yellow.

The only thing standing in his way is … one of his own teammates.

The casual college football fan might not even know who Tez Johnson is. Some only know him as Nix’s adopted brother. Rest assured, by the time this season is over, even those living under a rock will be very familiar with Johnson.

The transfer from Troy is one of the most electric players in the nation. Johnson was the Trojans’ leading receiver in each of the last two seasons, putting up impressive, but not outlandish numbers in the process.

Photo From Twitter

But conventional stats don’t always tell the full story. Johnson’s 863 receiving yards in 2022 might not seem like anything spectacular, but he played in an offense that passed the ball at one of the lowest rates in the country.

Troy finished the season ranked 93rd in passing attempts per game. That Johnson was able to put up nearly 1,000 yards in a system that rarely aired it out is noteworthy.

But what’s downright insane is that he finished the season with the best receiving grade in all of college football last season, per PFF. (Yes, he had a better receiving grade than Marvin Harrison Jr.)

Johnson did more with less than any other receiver in 2022, and now he will be in a system, and with a quarterback, better suited to let his talents shine.

What Johnson lacks in size, he makes up for in game-breaking athleticism and innate creativity. He can change directions on a dime, and go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye. This helps him create separation when running routes, but it’s especially useful when he’s gaining yards after the catch.

Oregon fans got a taste of what Johnson brings to the table when he took a short pass from Ty Thompson in the Ducks’ spring game, and he juked a couple of defenders en route to a 63-yard touchdown catch and run.

Franklin and Johnson are like peanut butter and jelly. Both are very different, both in their attributes and in their play styles. But together, they form an incredible tandem — one that will undoubtedly cause headaches for every Pac-12 defensive coordinator that goes up against it.

Much is talked about other Oregon stars, and while they have certainly earned their time in the spotlight, let’s not overlook the spectacular talents of Franklin and Johnson. They may well be the driving force behind another special offense at Oregon in 2023.

Joshua Whitted 
Grove City, Ohio
Top Photo by Eric Evans

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