Posted on October 4, 2020
Since 2018, Oregon has had the Pac-12’s best football recruiting class each year, landing four five-star prospects, 31 four-stars, and 35 three-star athletes.
With the departure of Justin Herbert and five starting offensive linemen, including Penei Sewell, along with defensive backs Deommodore Lenoir, Thomas Graham Jr., Jevon Holland, and now Brady Breeze, it’s time for these recruits to show why Mario Cristobal and his staff wanted them in Eugene.
Some of these recruits have already made an impact last year, in their freshmen seasons.
- Five-star Kayvon Thibodeaux is arguably the Ducks best pass rusher, accumulating nine sacks last season.
- Four-star wide receiver Mycah Pittman is one of Oregon’s best receivers, pulling in two touchdowns.
- Four-star safety Verone McKinley III made huge plays for the defense, leading the team with four interceptions.
- Four-star tight end Spencer Webb filled in for injured Jake Breeland, and scored 3 touchdowns.
- Four-star outside linebacker Mase Funa impacted every game in which he played, logging 26 tackles.
- Their performances in their first year at Oregon show why they were ranked so highly among their recruiting class. It also shows why the future looks so bright for the Ducks.
Thibodeaux is an undisputed starter on the defense, earning his stripes during the regular season, and making big plays in both the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Rose Bowl.
Pittman is only going to get more targets and playing time as the third wide receiver in the Duck offense behind elite receivers Johnny Johnson III and Jalen Redd.
McKinley III will fill in for Holland, and should have more reps to make more splash plays like he did in the previous season.
Webb is also an undisputed starter for Oregon, having filled in without missing a beat after Breeland was injured last season.
Funa showcased why he should get more playing time this season, getting four sacks to go with his 26 total tackles.
These are just the underclassmen who made impacts in just their freshmen season. There are other underclassmen who either redshirted, didn’t get to play much, due to having veteran starters being in front of them, or are just now entering the fold as true freshmen.
Some of the players to watch who redshirted last season include four-star running back Sean Dollars, four-star cornerback Trikweze Bridges, four-star tight end Patrick Herbert, four-star defensive linemen Keyon Ware-Hudson, and offensive linemen Cole Young.
Dollars may not get a lot playing time this year behind the three-headed monster of CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, and Cyrus Habibi-Likio, so he will have to make the most of the playing time he gets.
Bridges is good-sized cornerback at 6-foot-3, and with the departure of Lenoir and Graham Jr., he will get more reps and have an opportunity to become a starter.
Herbert is one of those players that Ducks Fans should be very excited about, as he spent his redshirt season studying the playbook and getting physically better. He will make a case for himself to share reps with Webb.
Ware-Hudson will make an impact on defense, as he has already shown the ability to get to the quarterback, notching three sacks in 30 reps last season.
Young is a raw talent who is in a perfect situation, with Cristobal’s focus on the offensive line, and the departure of five starters. With development, he could become a starter this year.
Now let’s look at some of players who didn’t get much playing time in their freshmen season, but should make their presence known this season: four-star wide receiver Devon Williams, four-star cornerback Mykael Wright, four-star quarterback Tyler Shough, three-star cornerback DJ James, and three-star linebacker MJ Cunningham.
At 6-foot-5, Williams’ size alone makes him a prime red zone target on fade routes, and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will likely be drawing up a number of other plays to get him the ball.
Wright made plays on the defense last season, including an interception, and became just the third player in program history to return two kickoffs for a TD in a single season. With Lenoir and Graham Jr. leaving, Wright will get more reps and have a chance to make more plays on defense.
Shough could be the Ducks starting quarterback, with Herbert in the NFL, but even if Moorhead opts to have him split reps with another quarterback, he figures to get a lot of playing time.
James, like the other cornerbacks mentioned, will benefit from the departure of Lenoir and Graham Jr., giving him a chance to play more this season.
Cunningham is one of those players who controls how much playing time gets, based on what he shows defensive coordinator Andy Avalos during practice and in games.
The only freshmen I see getting consistent playing time this year are five-star linebacker Justin Flowe, five-star linebacker Noah Sewell, and four-star quarterback Jay Butterfield.
Flowe was the number two recruit in California last year, and will have the opportunity to immediately make an impact with the departure of Dye to the NFL.
Sewell, another elite recruit, will join with Flowe in what could be the nation’s premiere linebacking tandem over the next couple of years in Eugene.
Butterfield has the talent to be Oregon’s starting quarterback, but I think Moorhead will have Butterfield and Shough split reps throughout the season, provided the skilled and experienced Boston College transfer, Anthony Brown, doesn’t win the job outright.
With so much existing and incoming young talent, it’s easy to see why analysts are so high on the Ducks, despite significant losses. And with Eugene becoming a destination for top recruits over the past couple of years, it’s difficult to see Oregon’s talent level dropping off anytime soon.
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