It’s no secret that Oregon’s recruiting has improved over the past few years. Yes, in the proxy that is the commercial national recruiting rankings, but also in the eyeball test of the athletes on the field and the extraordinary results they have been putting up. However, when it comes to recruiting on the west coast Oregon continues to play runner up to USC, and recently Stanford, in West Coast recruiting.
The program has a lot of things going for it these days, national attention, a competitive team, and some of the nicest sports facilities this side of Augusta National. But there are two things that Oregon has not been able to compete against those two schools in, the opportunity to play close to home and success putting players in the NFL (well and a Private School education if you care about that kind of thing). The latter point especially is what separates the big boys (Alabama, USC, FSU, LSU, Michigan) in recruiting. I know how we all feel about the word around here, but when the coaches cite tradition it’s true. It’s a tradition of getting players paid with a first round contract.
Since 2005, the Oregon Football team has enjoyed unparalleled success in the modern history of the program with 2006 being really the only blemish on that record. However, in that time, there have been only 2 Ducks selected in the first round of the draft, Haloti Ngata and Jonathan Stewart. Both of those guys were highly ranked recruits, who excelled at Oregon under Belotti and would have excelled under Chip, and likely just about anywhere. As annoying as it is to hear (over and over and over and over) the systems the Ducks run don’t line up with what the majority of the NFL is doing. The guys we’ve seen play in Autzen fit right into what the coaching staff is looking to do. But that means that most of the players who appear to be superstars in the Ducks’ scheme that maximizes what they excel at aren’t the elite, ready to play, talent NFL scouts are going to suggest investing a first round pick in. If you’re not getting your own guys drafted, it’s hard to sell to a recruit that you’ll be offer him an inside track on getting drafted high.
What we have seen over the past three seasons may be a development to combat that, however. In 2010 the Ducks played 4 true freshman, the most notable being Josh Huff and Ricky Heimuli. Last year, that number rose to 7 with quality contribution from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Colt Lyerla, Anthony Wallace, oh and this guy called De'Anthony Thomas. So far this year we have seen 7 again take the field. Guys like Braylon Addison and Arik Armstead have been played meaningful minutes too. And maybe that’s where Kelly’s recruiting edge will be.
The schools I mentioned earlier will find a way to get their quality true freshman on the field (Marqise Lee anyone?), but in a lot of cases it’s going to be tough for that freshman to have meaningful minutes in year one if there’s a potential first round pick sitting ahead of you. Kelly and Allioti’s system means they need more guys in the rotation. And they seem fully willing to embrace getting young guys in who they feel can contribute. Last year Bennett, Grasu, Hill, Mitchell, and Washington all saw meaningful time as redshirt freshman. This year, Mariota, Kelley, Ka’ai, and Euscher are getting their names called. Even if you have to redshirt, knowing there’s a possibility to play meaningful snaps as a redshirt freshman, as opposed to practicing for 3 years to play 2, sounds like an enticing proposition. And this is something the coaches can sell to potential recruits.
I don’t expect Chip to be pulling a Tommy Bowden and promise his star running back recruit the first carry of the season. But he can honestly tell a player with the talent and size to play, that if he works hard, he will probably have a chance to see the field quite early. And maybe, just maybe, that will attract a few more top west coast recruits out of California.