De'Anthony Thomas is just one of several top recruits in recent years who committed elsewhere before choosing the Ducks on signing day. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Last week caused much consternation amongst Ducks fans as arguably the top target in the 2013 recruiting class, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, made a surprise decision by committing to USC. Vanderdoes is one of the top defensive tackles in the country and was thought by many to be a strong Oregon lean, a product of his having taken unofficial visits to campus and his close friendship with 2012 commit Arik Armstead. His interest in USC was no secret but Vanderdoes had insisted that he would take his time with the process before making a commitment. Then last Wednesday Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee broke the news that Vanderdoes had committed to the Trojans before his senior season had even started.
In the aftermath many people have questioned Oregon's recruiting tactics. In a year that has seen unprecedented early offers and commitments, the Ducks have been patient and deliberate in their process, sticking to their custom of gathering a lot of information about a recruit before making an offer. In the meantime, many top players with interest in the Ducks have committed elsewhere, begging the question: does Oregon need to change their recruiting practices?
Time will tell, but with so many early commitments, many have speculated that we will also see unprecedented "switching" by recruits. There is no early signing period in college football like there is in basketball, and a verbal commitment by a recruit isn't binding unless and until they sign a letter of intent in February. There is reason to believe this will favor the Ducks. Chip Kelly and his staff have gained a reputation for closing the recruiting period strongly. In 2010 they gained commitments near signing day from a trio of four-star players in Josh Huff, Ricky Heimuli, and Erick Dargan. In 2011 they flipped Jake Fisher after Rich Rodriguez's departure from Michigan, and had the coup of signing day by flipping football wunderkind De'Anthony Thomas, who had been verbally committed to USC for over a year. Then this past February they gained the commitment of one of the best lineman in the country in Arik Armstead, despite being considered longshots, and on signing day flipped two stud wide receiver prospects from Texas in Chance Allen and Bralon Addison.
Still, you can't fill an entire recruiting class on signing day, and much work needs to be done leading up to that point. High school players in the 2014 class are already making commitments to schools, while Oregon has yet to offer a player in that class. Right now the Oregon staff seems to be banking on their patience and deliberateness being viewed as a virtue. The Ducks under Chip Kelly pride themselves on preparation, integrity, and professionalism. They do things their own way on the field and off, and have had a lot of success doing so. For now their process with recruits deserves some deference, especially considering the last three classes, which are the best classes in a three year period in Ducks history.
While the loss of Vanderdoes stings, there are still a lot of top players who are very interested in Oregon, including those who have committed elsewhere, like USC commits DB Chris Hawkins and OT Nico Falah. Safety Max Redfield, WR James Quick, CB Priest Willis, and DE Torrodney Prevot are other top uncommitted players who still have the Ducks high on their list.
Oregon has been the top team in the west for the last three years. Their success speaks for itself and it would be premature to let the loss of a few individual recruiting battles dampen anyone's enthusiasm for the program and their way of doing things, especially since they've been very successful in addressing the two positions of biggest need in this year's class: offensive line and running back. As an Oregon coach reportedly told four-star recruit Wyatt Teller recently, "We're either going to win with you or we're going to win without you." That's been true regardless of who has donned a Ducks uniform under Chip Kelly. While schools like Texas, Florida State, and Miami have been winning recruiting battles the last few years, Oregon has been winning games. That fact isn't lost on recruits. As signing day approaches next year, don't be surprised if the Ducks are sitting on another top 10 class.