Oregon’s highest-ever rated recruiting class didn’t just make history, it filled position needs with top talent with lofty expectations of making an immediate impact. Some of those expectations are being exceeded and some are not.
Whether it be sacks, interceptions, catches, kicks, sharing reps, asking the right questions or pushing veterans, the young Ducks have already began their impact on the 2019 Oregon football team.
“I’m very impressed by how smart this freshmen class is as a whole in the game of football,” said junior cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. “Their football IQ is very, very high.”
Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal literally brought out a paper list after the first fall camp practice of freshmen capable of making an impact in their first season. Cristobal’s list included Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mase Funa, Josh Delgado, Mykael Wright, DJ James, Jamal Hill, Sean Dollars, Trikweze Bridges, Isaac Townsend, Brandon Dorlus, Kristian Williams, Patrick Herbert and Mycah Pittman.
In the first four games, which of those true freshmen have transitioned smoothly and lived up to the high expectations?
The highest ranked linebacker recruit in school history, Funa is already making an impact and providing highlights for Oregon. The Mater Dei High School alum is the only freshman to have two sacks in a game this season in the FBS, leading the Ducks and nation’s freshmen in sacks (three) and tackles for loss (five).
He’s comfortable in Andy Avalos’ STUD position because it is a similar position to what he played in high school. Although, Funa played at 245 pounds in high school and is currently at 268 pounds after missing his senior season with an injury. His goal is to get closer to 255 pounds, which the 6-foot-2 freshman feels most natural at.
"He's got a lot pent up now," Cristobal said. "He missed his entire senior season due to injury. This is his first action in over a year. It's impressive to see what he's done so far, but again, his best football is ahead of him."
Already totaling nine tackles, I believe Funa will continue to have success this season in the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position backing up senior Bryson Young.
Wright, 2019’s top-ranked cornerback in the nation by ESPN, has earned the nickname “silent assassin” on the Oregon football team. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback doesn’t talk much but humble confidence has turned heads and earned the respect from his teammates.
“Mykael Wright, he’s been pushing me for reps,” said junior cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. “And I want him to do that, I want him to get reps because at the end of the day I want him to get in games. I feel he will be a freshman All-American.”
Backing up Graham Jr., Wright’s limited reps have been impressive. His potential shined against Montana when he picked off his first career pass, made three tackles and two pass break ups.
Delgado has been apart of Oregon's regular wide receiver rotation this season with the mounting injuries at the position. The former four-star recruit is the only true freshman who earned a start in the season opener vs. Auburn and has proven to be reliable. He’s caught a pass in every game so far this season, totaling seven receptions for 86 yards.
Realistically, while a few freshmen have emerged ready from the start, others will take a little more time to adjust to the college pace.
Cristobal named Thibodeaux a “game changer” from the moment he committed to the Ducks. ESPN's No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class set a goal of 10 sacks every season. After completing non-conference play without a sack, he notched his first (assisted) sack on Saturday against Stanford.
Thibodeaux has appeared in all four games and is seeing his role increase each week. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with explosiveness, scary speed and agility that creates major chaos… it feels like his breakout game is coming.
Pittman, who was expected to contribute or possibly start this season, has been sidelined with a shoulder injury for the beginning of the season. Before the injury, he was turning heads and splitting first team reps at slot receiver. Pittman has strong hands, a running back body and excels at getting separation.
The initial 6-8 weeks projection would mark Pittman healthy as early as Oregon’s game against Cal on Saturday, Oct. 5.
Dollars and Patrick Herbert were both named by Cristobal as Ducks who broke loose in practice and in the mix to get in the rotations at running back and tight end, respectively.
Dollars is the highest rated running back on Oregon's 2019 roster and the nation's No.1 all-purpose back, per 247sports. While the Ducks have a plethora of options at the position, UO has struggled to successfully run the ball, leaving Dollars with little contributions and opportunity so far. Dollars has only played in two games, against Nevada and Montana and totaled 81 rushing yards on seven carries with two receptions. Will he get more reps or will he burn his redshirt?
Patrick Herbert has only appeared in the Nevada game and has not caught a pass from brother, senior quarterback Justin Herbert. Will the two connect as Ducks before Justin Herbert moves on to the NFL? To be determined…
The Ducks have yet to score a field goal in their first four games. Former five-star prospect Lewis is 0-for-2 on both attempts that were less than 30-yards out: missing against Auburn and Stanford. The second missed kick was caused from a bad snap.
Oregon is utilizing Lewis for kickoffs, point-after attempts, and field goals. He’s nailed all his extra points but it’s less than ideal that Lewis hasn’t seen the ball go through the uprights for a field goal through the first four games. Lewis is the only remaining scholarship placekicker for the Ducks after Adam Stack elected to transfer.
By the way, eight true freshmen have played in all four games and would burn their redshirt if they appear in the Ducks’ upcoming game against No. 15 California at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5 in Autzen Stadium. After a peek into Oregon’s not-so-far-off future, are you impressed with the 2019 class?