Running back is one of the few question marks for the Ducks heading into the 2013 season. De'Anthony Thomas is still considered a hybrid RB/WR while Byron Marshall played mostly in garbage time as a freshman last year. Behind those two are two incoming freshman, the highly touted 5-star recruit, Thomas Tyner, and Kani Benoit. Given the Ducks' success at running the ball under multiple head coaches the assumption is that some combination of the above players will allow the team to continue dominating on the ground, but it remains to be seen how carries will be divided and whether any of the aforementioned players can follow a long line of star, every down backs at Oregon.
Given the question marks at running back and the possibility that De'Anthony Thomas could leave after his junior season, running back is a priority in this year's recruiting class. According to DuckTerritory, at least five offers have already been extended to some of the top talent in the country. Here are some notes on each:
Joe Mixon: Mixon is the Ducks' most recent offer at running back. He is DuckTerritory's #5 running back in the country and the #7 running back according to the 247 composite ranking. He is also a top 50 overall recruit according to every recruiting service and has over 50 offers from D1 schools. Mixon has been very public about his affinity for the Ducks and many recruiting experts consider it a two-team race for his signature between USC and Oregon. SBNation's Derrell Warren had this to say about Mixon in April:
Joe Mixon is one of the best game breaking backs in the nation. An explosive athlete, he takes shorter strides than you'd expect from a taller runner but his turnover allows him to get up to top speed quickly to exploit open lanes and creases.
In the pass game Mixon appears to have good hands but his most impressive attribute might be his route running ability. On tape he runs a nice assortment of patterns, but what really stands out is his ability to sell his routes and create separation from linebackers after inducing them to lose leverage.
Royce Freeman: Freeman is the kind of bigger back that Oregon has been known to covet for some time. A player who has recently started to garner more attention nationally, Freeman is ranked as the #8 running back by DuckTerritory and the #16 back according to the 247 composite ranking. He has been offered by most of the Pac-12 schools, as well as Florida, Arkansas, Florida State, Nebraska, Tennessee, and many others. Like Mixon, Oregon's stiffest competition will probably come from L.A. as both USC and UCLA are very high on Freeman. Derrell Warren had this to say in May:
Freeman is a big runner with the ability to create out of the edge. With that being said, he is at his best attacking defenses in between the tackles and getting vertical. Though he runs a bit high and can do a better job running behind his pads, he shows patience in pressing the hole and the peripheral vision to see the cutback lane. He shows jump-cut ability as well. After bursting through the initial crease he makes tight interior cuts, unlocking the defense at the second level. Shows agility that belies his size when side-stepping defenders.
Racean Thomas: Racean Thomas is a 5-star recruit according to most recruiting services and one of the most sought after players in the country. It is thought Alabama and Auburn are the frontrunners but it's worth noting that Oregon is the only school outside of the SEC that Thomas has said he will consider.
Derrell Scott: Scott is the number 1 "all-purpose back" in the country, and a top 150 recruit overall. A native of North Carolina, it is thought that South Carolina leads for his services, though Oregon appears to be the lone West coast school that could crash the party.
Tony James: a Florida native, James is a consensus 3 star back who nonetheless has an impressive list of offers that includes Ohio State, Florida, Auburn, Miami, Florida State, and Oregon, among many others. It's always tough to get players from the southeast to come to the Pacific Northwest but Oregon is currently considered to be among his top 5.
Mixon and Freeman appear to be the top targets based both on their skillset and reciprocal interest in the Ducks. If Oregon misses on one or both of these players, expect some more offers to go out, though chances are good that the Ducks land at least one of if not both Joe Mixon and Royce Freeman.