Oregon signed a very good class on Wednesday, one that included 17 high school players, three junior college players, and Cal transfer Johnny Ragin. Among the Ducks' biggest needs were defensive tackle, defensive back, and of course, long snapper (bear with me). The Ducks landed five very talented defensive backs and what many consider to be the best long snapper in the country in Tanner Carew. Noticeably absent from this class, however, are defensive linemen (specifically tackles) who can come in and fill the depth chart following the departures of Wade Keliikipi, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, and Jared Ebert. What gives?
The Ducks did sign high school linemen Jalen Jelks (6'6, 260) and Austin Maloata (6'2, 290), as well as JUCO transfer Tui Talia (6'5, 270), but only Talia figures to be ready to make an impact right away. Jelks is raw and needs to put on weight, and Maloata has only been playing football for a few years.
It's not like the Ducks didn't try to bring in more defensive line talent. They made a flurry of offers in January to a handful of beefy tackles, including Poona Ford, Trey Lealaimatafao, Rika Levi, Courtney Garnett, and Austin Maloata, but of the five only Maloata committed to the Ducks, and that only after his offer at USC was reportedly rescinded.
It's a disappointing haul for Oregon fans who are sick of the national narrative about the Ducks being undersized along the lines; fans who are still scarred by two straight losses to Stanford, including last year when the Cardinal successfully ran the same running play 789 times in a row. Never mind that in most of Oregon's losses over the last few years it's been the offensive line, not the defensive line, that has struggled. Defensive line was a clear need in this year's class and the results were underwhelming.
But while the defensive line figures to be thin and vulnerable to injury next year, any other criticism of Oregon's class and recruiting efforts in general is misplaced. Oregon signed the #21 overall class according to the 247composite team rankings. And while recruiting analysts will talk about how many SEC teams finished ahead of the Ducks, who won offseason recruiting championships, or how Sark is making his presence felt in Southern California (call me in three years), the fact is that Oregon has been the best program not named Alabama for the last five years by going about business exactly as they have done in this class.
While recruiting websites are a multi-million dollar industry, they aren't the best predictor of future success. For instance:
Shaw on recruiting rankings: "They mean nothing to me. They are not subjective or objective. They don't make any sense at all."— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) February 6, 2014
Of the 12 schools with a top 20 class in each of the last four years, five (42%) have had a losing season during that stretch #NSD— Andy McNamara (@McNamaraUO) February 5, 2014
+ Boyett, Darron T RT @wilnerhotline: NSD perspective: Oregon's '08 class had Blount, James, Barner, Jordan, Alonso. But ranked #5 in Pac10— Noah Dee (@noahoregon) February 5, 2014
It's pretty easy to identify 25 of the most talented high school players in the country but it's a lot harder to find and develop the diamonds in the rough, and that's where college football coaches make their living. While defensive tackle is a noticeable miss in this class (even Helfrich appeared to admit as much during his press conference), the Ducks otherwise pulled in an excellent class, one that is consistent with the quality of talent that has led the Ducks to a 47-6 record since 2010 -- the best in all of college football.
UPDATE: These comments from Ed Orgeron on Oregon's recruiting class are too good to bury in the comments section. Skip to the 10:07 mark in this interview where Coach O is asked to name the three best 3-star players in the country: two of his choices are committed to the Ducks.
Orgeron also stated that he thinks Royce Freeman is the second best running back in the country behind Leonard Fournette, who many consider THE best recruit out of high school this year. Orgeron also thinks Duck commit Tui Talia is one of the top five JUCO players in the country.
"I know that the guys that we got we love ... We've had five-star guys that weren't any good, we've had five-star guys who were spectacular, we've had no-star guys that were all-Americans," Helfrich said. "It's a great day for a lot of people who have created an incredible niche business in this deal and that's great. But by the same token let's go to spring ball and fall camp and see who shows up."
Andrew Greif has a transcription of Helfrich's comments on each player. Here's a preview:
Dominique Harrison, CB, 5-11, 185, Jr., Tracy, CA (Contra Costa College/Tracy HS). Bay Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year for a unit which led the league in scoring defense: "Really fast, physical, great transition back pedal and lateral movement to full speed. During this time when we can't be with our guys and watch them do 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 he's a guy that's made guys like Marcus come up to us and say, ‘Hey, wait till you see this guy.'"
Haniteli Lousi, OL, 6-5, 295, Jr., Fremont, CA (College of San Mateo/Washington HS). Top junior college guard in the country by 247 Sports: "I just love Teli's everything. His feet, his finish, his passing game and run game, he's a very polished guy. He's somebody who should come in in spring practice and be an immediate ... at least put things in a highly competitive situation."