Oregon football; Defensive Back University?

Oregon football; Defensive Back University?

Oregon football, also known as; Nike University, Running Back University and Defensive Back University?

The Ducks’ highest-rated recruiting class in program history received another major addition; the highest-rated defensive back commitment in program history, Chris Steele.

Steele, the nation’s No. 3 cornerback and No. 19 overall prospect in the class of 2019, transferred from Florida after spring football.

According to the Gainesville Sun, in late January, Steele asked the Florida coaching staff for new roommate assignment, away from quarterback Jalon Jones, expressing concerns about Jones' behavior. In April, Jones was accused of sexual battery by two Florida students. The Florida Staff declined to act and postponed his request until summer and Steele decided to enter the transfer portal.

The 6-foot, 175-pound athlete, out of St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower, California) returned to the west coast via Oregon.

"Coach Donte. Our relationship is known." Steele told 247sports of Oregon coach Donte Williams. "Me and that dude, he’s like a big brother to me. The opportunity to play for somebody who is going to care about me off the field but at the same time is going to develop me better than other people, it’s a win-win situation." 

Had Steele signed with Oregon before National Signing Day, the Ducks’ 2019 class would have been ranked at No. 5 overall, their first top five finish ever. Oregon finished No. 7 without the signing of Steele. 

A few notes on what adding another five-star piece means…

Can Steele play next season?

Steele enrolled at Florida, so it's unclear if he will be eligible for the 2019 season, but he can apply for a waiver to play immediately.

Oregon’s 2019 secondary is locked and loaded with talent.

Juniors Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir have depth and talent behind them. If Steele is granted a waiver to play immediately, Oregon will have two star freshmen cornerbacks in Steele and Mykael Wright, plus redshirt freshman safety Steve Stephens. The pair of safeties, Nick Pickett and Jevon Holland, will also return. 

Lenoir often tweets "TMC," which stands for "The Marathon Continues." It's a reference to the sixth official mixtape by American rapper Nipsey Hussle, but it means something more to the Ducks secondary. "This journey has only begun to become the best secondary," said Lenoir. "It's a marathon not a race. We will prove a lot this year."

The #CaliFlock is real.

The Ducks scored three of the top six ranked players in the state of California in the 2019 class. All three are defensive players; including Steele (No. 5), Wright (No. 4) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 1). A total of seven of California’s top 21 2019 prospects are at Oregon.

The veterans are hyped.

When Steele transferred from Florida, a few Gator wide receivers tweeted pictures of themselves making catches over Steele. When Steele joined the Ducks, he was met with a different feeling on Twitter from Oregon football.

The ripple effect.

Now the defensive backs are rolling in. Four-star safety Jared Greenfield (class of 2020) has included Oregon in his final five. The coveted 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back out of Narbonne High School (Harbor City, California), is expected to having Oregon as his heavy favorite.

[Official] Oregon basketball whiffs on Cassius Stanley; Where the Ducks stand

[Official] Oregon basketball whiffs on Cassius Stanley; Where the Ducks stand

Oregon basketball is still piecing its 2019 recruiting class together.

The Ducks whiffed on Cassius Stanley, who committed to Duke. The No. 29 player in the country is ranked No. 3 among combo guards, according to 247 Sports. Oregon was heavily pursuing Stanley, who originally narrowed his top three schools to UO, Kansas and UCLA, ahead of his visit to Duke last weekend, when he added the Blue Devils to the finalist list. 

During his announcement, Stanley praised Oregon as an “up and coming program” with “elite coaches” before selecting Duke.

A commitment from Stanley and consensus five-star combo guard Cole Anthony, would have likely launched Oregon back into the discussion for a top-10 class nationally.

Anthony is expected to make his college decision tomorrow. He’s narrowed the choices to North Carolina, Oregon, Georgetown and Notre Dame.

Oregon defensive lineman and the nation’s top football 2019 recruit, Kayvon Thibodeaux made his feelings known on Twitter.

Currently, Oregon’s 2019 class is ranked 12th nationally and third in the Pac-12 Conference after landing a big verbal commitment from transfer guard on Saturday.

After visiting Eugene for the Oregon spring football game, Duquesne sophomore guard Eric Williams, Jr. announced on Twitter that he committed to the Ducks will enroll at Oregon for next basketball season.

6-foot-6 Williams, who averaged 14 points and 7.6 rebounds per game this season, will sit out the 2019-20 basketball season and then be a redshirt junior for the 2020-21 season.

The Ducks have also landed commitments from junior college national player of the year candidate Chris Duarte and consensus four-star big man Isaac Johnson, who is expected to take a two-year LDS mission and won't be back in Eugene until 2021. Rounding out Oregon's 2019 class is two 6-foot-8, four-star prospects CJ Walker and Chandler Lawson. 

Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux joins elite club of stars, busts and backups

Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux joins elite club of stars, busts and backups

The nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, check!

Oregon’s highest overall rated player, check!

Highest rated Duck defensive end in history, check!

Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux ended Oregon's three-year drought of signing a five-star player. The defensive weapon was wanted by everyone, and passed up Alabama, Florida State and Florida to sign the dotted line with Oregon and coach Mario Cristobal.

Cristobal called the defensive weapon a “game changer” and there is no doubt Thibodeaux will compete for a starting job from day one. Listed at 6-foot-5, 234 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with scary speed and agility that creates major issues for offensive lines.

You can read more on Thibodeaux and Oregon’s 2019 recruiting class here.

Landing the nation’s No. 1 recruit is unchartered territory for the Ducks. To put this in perspective, I researched ESPN’s No.1 recruits from the last five years to see where they went, where they are and if they lived up to expectations.

What I found is five athletes that have five very different futures and one common thread; the pressure and hype that arises with being the highest-touted players in the nation. Like it or not, Thibodeaux is now in this elite club of players who you may or may not have heard of. Whether he busts or excels is yet to be seen.

2014: Running back Leonard Fournette, signed with LSU

A name you definitely know and a tale of success.

Leonard Fournette signed with LSU with near-unprecedented hype in 2014. During his three seasons as a Tiger, he set school single-season records with 1,953 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. As a sophomore, he led the country with 162.8 rushing yards per game and was compared to all-time great Herschel Walker.

In his three seasons at LSU, he totaled 3,830 rushing yards and 40 rushing touchdowns. But his football career didn’t end there.

Fournette was the first running back drafted in the 2017 NFL draft. He was selected by Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 4 overall pick. His contact? Four-year, $27 million, with a $18 million signing bonus.

In his rookie season, Fournette helped the Jaguars clinch the AFC South, rushing for 1,040 yards, 302 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns.

Injuries and getting into a fistfight that led to suspension, have hampered his second NFL season. He’s played in six games and rushed for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Although there has been a noticeable decline in his productivity this season, as a once No. 1 recruit in the nation, Fournette has lived up to expectations.

2015: Defensive end Byron Cowart, signed with Auburn

Labeled the biggest five-star bust in college football.

Expected to make an immediate impact as a freshman in 2015, Byron Cowart played sparingly and finished with just six tackles and no sacks in five games with the Tigers. Hopes that he would improve as a sophomore were shut down quickly. As a junior, Cowart was beat out by a true freshman and left after three games to go home to Seffner, Fla., and take classes at a local junior college.

In 26 games at Auburn, he made just 15 tackles and no sacks.

Cowart posted on his social media about struggling with the pressure of living up to the No. 1 recruit in the nation title. Ultimately, he was unsure of himself and the longevity of his football career.

He did choose to return to football, enrolling at Maryland, a program that recruited him out of high school. Cowart led the Terps with three sacks and was tied for third on the squad with five tackles for loss. He started all 12 games and recorded interceptions against Rutgers and Michigan State. His modest career at Maryland earned him Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.

2016: Defensive tackle Rashan Gary, signed with Michigan

A projected top NFL draft pick and potential galore.

Rashan Gary is currently in the news for declaring his intention to enter the 2019 NFL Draft. The junior will not play for Michigan in the Peach Bowl vs. No. 10 Florida, according to coach Jim Harbaugh.

The defensive end finished his career at Michigan with 137 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 35 career games. His three years were not jaw-dropping or spectacular, but he was dependable.

However, it’s the combination of his size, speed and athleticism that lands Gary in the first round of 2019 NFL Mock Drafts. Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board projects him going eighth overall, while NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay thinks he will be selected second overall.

"For him, maybe it's more 'what could have been (at Michigan),'” NFL draft analyst Matt Miller said. “I think he got played out of position some as an edge rusher instead of a three-technique. But he's going to test so well. People are going to fall in love with his potential. He'll end up as a top-10 pick as long as everything checks out medically, and it should."

2017: Offensive tackle Trey Smith, signed with Tenneessee

Lived up to the bill, but now out with blood clots in his lungs.

Last season as a freshman, Trey Smith was the only offensive lineman to start every game for Tennessee, playing four different positions and becoming the first Vol true freshman to start at left tackle in more than 30 years. Smith was the only Tenneessee player to earn All-SEC honors in 2017, named second-team by SEC coaches. He also earned a spot on the FWAA Freshman All-America team.

He played and dominated the first seven games of the 2018 season before doctors found blood clots in his lungs for the second time this year. The first time coming in February, which caused him to miss spring football and summer conditioning.

He is expected to make a full recovery with the help of Tennessee physicians and treatment.

2018: Dual threat QB Justin Fields, signed with Georgia

Ohio State’s next starting quarterback?

Justin Fields spent his freshman season playing behind Bulldogs star sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm, who has a 23-4 record as a starter.

As many college football backup quarterbacks do; Fields is exploring his transfer options. Wanting to escape his backup duties, Fields is interested in transferring to Ohio State, as Bulldog quarterback Dwayne Haskins is expected to enter the 2019 NFL draft.

Fields played in 12 games this season, but most of his action came in garbage time. He completed 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

It appears his last game as a Bulldog will be in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day when No. 5 Georgia faces No. 15 Texas.

2019: Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, signed with Oregon

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Beyond the rankings; Oregon football fills needs with historical 2019 recruiting class

Beyond the rankings; Oregon football fills needs with historical 2019 recruiting class

Oregon’s 2019 highest-rated recruiting class didn’t just make history; it filled position needs with top talent that could make an impact as early as next season.

The Ducks' recruiting class is ranked fifth in the country and for the first time ever, holds a firm grip on the Pac-12 Conference's top football recruiting class. As Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said, it’s an “awesome day to be a Duck.”

You knew that though.

[RELATED: Oregon football's best recruiting weapon: Mario Cristobal's authenticity]

It’s incredible that Oregon collected a pool of talent of 22 new Ducks, including the program's highest-rated recruit in program history and 11 four-star athletes, after a predictable 8-4 season. Cristobal expects 12 or 13 to enroll early and be on campus for spring football practices. Most impressively, the 2019 class is full of athletes that are seriously needed when looking at the roster for next season.

NEEDS

Let’s start with the quarterback.

Justin Herbert’s decision to turn professional or not most likely won’t be known until after Oregon’s bowl game. Regardless if Herbert stays for his senior season or not, the Ducks needed to secure a quality 2019 quarterback and Cale Millen was the their answer.

6-foot-4, 200-pound Millen competed in the Elite-11, a quarterback-focused camp held by Nike, and led the state of Washington with 4,260 total yards as a senior. His size and arm should excite Duck fans. He completed 75.9 percent of his passes for 3,807 yards with 51 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a senior. 

Oregon’s current backup quarterbacks were underwhelming this season. If Herbert forgoes his senior year, then Millen would be part of a three-player position battle starting next fall with Tyler Shough and Braxton Burmeister.

Should Herbert return for his senior year, Millen would be a lock to redshirt in 2019 and then compete to be Oregon’s starting quarterback in 2020.

“I felt that I was needed more at Oregon rather than just kind of being another guy filling a spot,” Millen told the Register Guard. "At other schools it was kind of, ‘Oh, we need a quarterback for the class, let’s take him.’ At Oregon, I felt like it wasn’t just filling a position. It was, ‘We need you here.’"

Receivers

2018 was the Dillon Mitchell show, and the junior wide receiver is considering striking while the iron is hot and declaring for the NFL. Should he choose to declare, Oregon's receiving corps would severely miss Mitchell. UO's second returning receiver, sophomore Jaylon Redd, has less than half of Mitchell's receptions and yards with 368 yards on 31 catches. 

The Ducks needed talented pass catchers in the 2019 class and they signed four, four-star receivers and one underrated three-star athlete. There are at least two commits that could conceivably make an impact as soon as next season. 

Four-star wide receiver Mycah Pittman is the third-highest rated wide receiver to ever sign with the Ducks. 5-foot-11, 200-pound Pittman is the type of talent that could step in from the start. Pittman has strong hands, a running back body and excels at getting separation. He also could make an impact on special teams. Cristobal called him, "an explosive and strong route runner.”

The lone in-state prospect, four-star tight end Patrick Herbert, also could contribute right away. He is the fourth highest-ranked tight end prospect to ever sign with Oregon and the little brother of quarterback Justin Herbert. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, Herbert’s strength is catching the ball in traffic.

Running back

Speaking of offensive weapons, 2018 saw the emergence of Ducks duo CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who will be excellent for years to come. But beyond those two freshmen, Oregon’s depth is very limited at the running back position.

Enter Sean Dollars. “You name it, he can do it,” Cristobal said.

Dollars, 247Sports’ top ranked all-purpose running back, has an opportunity to make an instant impact. The four-star out of Mater Dei High School is a workhorse, every-down type of back that can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Look for Dollars to enter the rotation as a freshman.

Linemen

“We’re going to keep investing in the trenches,” said Cristobal. And he wasn’t kidding.

The Ducks are set to return all five starters from this year's offensive line for next season, but bolstered their roster with the nation's best junior college offensive lineman, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. He's the fifth-highest rated offensive lineman to ever sign with Oregon. At 6-foot-7, 345 pounds, Aumavae-Laulu will push competition for a starting position, and at the very least, see minutes in rotation. 

Oregon’s pass rush will lose two leaders in Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks to graduation. But no fear, Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top-rated high school player in the country is here! Thibodeaux will compete for a starting job from day one and should be an immediate impact player. Oregon recruited him to play defensive end. Listed at 6-foot-5, 234 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with scary speed and agility that creates major issues for offensive lines.

Inside Linebacker

At inside linebacker, Oregon loses senior Kaulana Apelu and possibly junior Troy Dye, if he elects to go to the NFL. The Ducks signed a four-star linebacker that could jump in right away at the rather thin position. 

Mase Funa is the highest-rated linebacker to sign with the Ducks in program history. Cristobal referred to Funa as "hands down the best linebacker out there." Funa’s strength and great instincts could make an impact right away for the Ducks.

Kicker

Oregon did not have a reliable option when it came to field goals last season. Sophomore Adam Stack struggled, finishing 6-of-10 from 40 yards-or-more this season.

Oregon’s first national letter of intent came from three-star place kicker Camden Lewis. Lewis has elite leg strength and performs under pressure. Scouting reports say Lewis is college ready. Cristobal says he will “elevate competition” at kicker. It’s extremely possible that Lewis is Oregon’s answer to its field goal problem. 

AREA OF CONCERN

Safety 

Oregon will need to replace major playmaker senior Ugo Amadi at safety in 2019. Who will step up? This has yet to be determined, but the Ducks signed only one safety during the early signing period. Oregon wanted to sign three prospects but whiffed on Jeremiah Criddell, who switched his commitment from Oregon to Oklahoma, and junior college safety Quandre Mosely, who was considering Oregon, but later signed with Kentucky. 

Between now and February’s Signing Day, Oregon will have to re-evaluate their options at safety for the 2019 class.

BONUS!

Cornerback

Oregon’s Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham were impressive in 2018. The duo returns and will be pushed by the highest-rated cornerback to sign with Oregon in history, Mykael Wright. Wright is extremely physical and excels in open field tackling. Look for the four star to make an impact in the rotation as a freshman.

Which new Duck do you think will make the biggest impact for Oregon next season?

Oregon football's best recruiting weapon: Mario Cristobal's authenticity

Oregon football's best recruiting weapon: Mario Cristobal's authenticity

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s middle name might as well be “genuine”... it's how his team refers to him over and over again.

Cristobal came to Oregon in 2016 with a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country, an instrumental piece to Alabama hauling in top prospects year after year. Oregon promoted Cristobal in 2017 to head coach with large recruiting expectations… and the 2015 National Recruiter of the Year has delivered.

UO has landed the program's highest-rated recruit in program history and highest-rated class ever AFTER a predictable 8-4 season, finishing 4th in the Pac-12 North, and winding at the Redbox Bowl… How?

Yes, Oregon is considered to be Nike University and has been for the last decade. Certainly, high schoolers love the Oregon Football brand and its facilities, but it’s Cristobal’s honest and welcoming approach that has made the difference.

Senior defensive end and first team All-Pac-12 selection Jalen Jelks has three head coaches during his time at Oregon. He recounts why Cristobal is special.

“He will text you in the middle of the day, ‘Hey how is it going? What’s your class schedule like?’ and then he will pop by and see you,” Jelks said. “Little stuff like that shows the kind of person he is and how much he really cares about you… He’s just a real genuine guy.”

While many draft-eligible players are deciding to forgo bowl games to focus on the 2019 NFL Draft, not only does Jelks want to play as a Duck one last time on December 31, he wishes he could return for another season under Cristobal.

Sophomore nose tackle Jordon Scott agreed that one of the biggest reasons recruits gravitate towards Cristobal is how much he cares about his players’ well-being off the field. Scott, who has started 22 consecutive games, told a story about the week leading up to Oregon’s upset victory over rival Washington.

“I had gotten a real bad stinger in practice and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play because I couldn’t really life my arm up,” Scott said.  “(Cristobal) texted me, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine’. I think that’s the biggest thing about him, he’s genuine and he knows that little things like that can really help us mentally.”

The Ducks expect their commitments to put ink to paper on during early signing period, which begins Wednesday. Oregon has never finished with a class ranked in the top 10 of the 247Sports team rankings. Currently, the Ducks have 20 commitments that have bought into Cristobal’s vision and shaped the No. 5 ranked 2019 class.

The top-rated high school player in the country, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, is proof that Cristobal and his staff can compete against the top programs in the country. Thibodeaux passed over Alabama, Florida and Florida State for Cristobal, the coach that Thibodeaux’s mom liked.

“Mario Cristobal is a great guy, my mom loves him, and he’s a God-fearing man,” Thibodeaux said during his selection. “He can take my game to the next level.”

The five-star recruit also said Cristobal talked to him about more than just football, expressing an enthusiasm in his other interests, which include journalism.

Mario “genuine” Cristobal, has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?