When Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir announced they would return for their senior seasons, Oregon seemed poised to field arguably the best secondary in school history in 2020.
Now due to the coronavirus pandemic with both starting senior cornerbacks and nickel cornerback Jevon Holland all opting out of the 2020 college football season, be prepared to see some new Ducks step into larger roles this season.
Here's our projected starting secondary along with who will rotate in and out of the lineup.
FCB No. 1: Mykael Wright (True Sophomore)
Wright will no longer need to wait a season before stepping into a starting role. Despite Lenoir and Graham Jr. being multi-year starters, PFF actually rated Wright the best cornerback on the Ducks roster despite him being just a true freshman. Additionally, ESPN rated Wright as the fifth best cornerback in the county back in May, a list that included Holland.
His most notable defensive play last season was when he forced a fourth-down incompletion in Seattle, WA to clinch Oregon's victory over rival Washington.
But, everyone remembers his 100-yard kickoff return against USC to close out the first half.
With Holland opting out, perhaps Wright can return punts next season as well?
BCB No. 2: DJ James or Dontae Manning
The starting cornerback spot across from Wright will be up for grabs during fall camp with the leading candidates appearing to be either sophomore DJ James or true freshman five-star Dontae Manning.
James did appear in all 13 games last season but for only 85 total snaps, recording 10 tackles (7 solo) and one pass breakup. That his coaches got him on the field given how deep the Ducks secondary was is a good sign.
Manning was one of the Crown Jewels of the 2020 recruiting class for Oregon: a five-star cornerback ranked as the 4th best at his position nationally and projected first-round NFL Draft pick.
After Holland made his decision, Manning announced he's ready to continue what he started.
Free Safety: Verone McKinley III (Redshirt Sophomore)
In base packages, expect McKinley to play safety and then rotating over to nickel cornerback in nickel packages. When McKinley drops down to play the nickel position, then either Nick Pickett or Bennett Williams can replace him at free safety.
After redshirting his freshman season, McKinley immediately made an impact on the field grabbing four interceptions, good for best in the Pac-12. He's also plenty experienced having played 501 snaps in pass coverage (second among FBS freshman in 2019) and made 46 tackles (29 solo), one tackle-for-loss, and two pass breakups.
Boundary Safety: Brady Breeze (Redshirt Senior)
The 2020 Rose Bowl Defensive MVP will look to end his Oregon playing career on a high note. Beginning his redshirt junior season on the sideline, he later took over the starting boundary safety position and balled out as a result. Last season, he had three defensive touchdowns (tied for most in the nation) and was named to the PFF All-Pac-12 second team.
Other potential impact players:
Nick Pickett (Safety, Senior)
The three-year starter got supplanted as the boundary safety by Breeze last season but still saw significant playing time which will be repeated this season. Heading into the 2020 season, he'll lead Oregon with 126 career tackles.
Bennett Williams (Safety, Junior)
Originally an Illinois signee, Williams was an ESPN Freshman All-American recording 64 tackles, including 34 solo, with 1.5 tackles for loss, and three interceptions. He then would transfer to the College of San Mateo and became the top-rated JUCO safety in the 2019 recruiting class by ESPN and Rivals, recording 45 tackles (25 solo), two interceptions and two forced fumbles before enrolling in Eugene last January.
Jamal Hill (Sophomore, Safety)
As a true freshman, the consensus three-star recruit played in all 14 games making six tackles. He primarily played on kickoff and punt return but maybe he can see more playing time on defense this season.
Steve Stephens IV (Redshirt Sophomore, Safety)
The 2018 four-star prospect redshirted as a freshman before playing in 13 games last year, recording seven tackles and getting one interception against Nevada.
Trikweze Bridges (Redshirt Freshman, Cornerback)
Bridges signed with Oregon during the 2019 class as a four-star prospect but redshirted his freshman season. He chose Oregon over Alabama, Duke, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Penn State, Southern Miss, Tennessee, Troy, UCF and others.
One thing's for sure. Rod Chance and Andy Avalos will have their players ready to go the first week of November.