With the college football regular season ended and bowl games about to begin, many players and fans have already turned their thoughts to next season. For many players, that means looking for new opportunities at the college level through the transfer portal. For others, it means looking to take the next step and take a shot at the professional ranks.
I will be summarizing the prospects of those players for Oregon who have been rated as probable draft picks. While there are other players who could enter their names for the draft, many of them are expected to be undrafted free agents and will not be covered in this article.
Draft Graded Seniors and Declared Underclassmen
Bo Nix - QB
The Heisman Trophy finalist played five full years as a starter with the COVID-19 exception for 2020. Nix was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school in 2019 but was inconsistent at best during his three years at Auburn. Once at Oregon with a new offense and better offensive talent around him, Nix thrived. This past year he completed an astounding 77.2% of his passes for 4145 yards and 40 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions over 13 games. Nix has the arm strength and athleticism to be successful in NFL competition, though he is not the most physically gifted QB in this class. He has demonstrated the ability to adjust the offense from on the field, frequently changing plays at the line of scrimmage. North Carolina’s Drake Maye and USC’s Caleb Williams are likely to be the first two quarterbacks chosen. Nix has the opportunity to be selected soon after them in the 1st round if he impresses during the lead up to the draft, and is almost certain to be selected during round 2 at the latest.
Troy Franklin - WR
Franklin re-wrote Oregon’s receiving record book in his three years with the team. In his junior season his numbers were superior in most categories to Heisman Finalist Marvin Harrsion Jr. while serving as Nix’s favorite target on the outside. Franklin’s strengths are his elite speed, acceleration, and change of direction ability in the open field. He has generally reliable hands, though did have random drops at points this season. He has the height at 6-3 to continue to be an X-receiver in the NFL, but there are concerns about his strength at only 187 lb. Professional teams will want to see him bulk up to improve both his blocking and ability to beat press coverage. Until then, he may still be able to find playing time in the slot and on special teams. Franklin is still considered a top 10 receiver and should hear his name called by the end of round 2.
Brandon Dorlus - DL
Another 5th year COVID senior, Dorlus developed into one of the Ducks greatest assets on the defensive line. Playing a 4i technique in the Mint Front scheme coach Dan Lanning brought with him from Georgia Dorlus was the anchor of a much improved unit this season. Though physically imposing in college at 6-3 and 290 lb., the former 3-star recruit is seen as a “tweener” by professional scouts. Dorlus may need to add another 10-20 pounds of muscle to hold up as an end in an odd front, or slim down and try to find increased burst off the line in an even front. His ideal position could be the kind of “big end” used by San Francisco’s even front, where Oregon alumnus Arik Armstead has thrived. His motor and experience should see him taken at some point in the 2nd or 3rd rounds.
Jackson Powers-Johnson - IOL
Powers-Johnson recently received the Rimington Award for the best center in major college football. The three-year starter has been the lynchpin of a unit that experienced a large amount of turnover after 2022 but grew over the course of the 2023 season to be one of the best in the country. Powers-Johnson can snap consistently with the QB under center or in the gun and has been an excellent run blocker. There are concerns about his balance and technique in pass protection. The NFL team who takes him will want to be confident he can grow in this area of the game with coaching and experience. His ultimate future is probably still at center, but NFL teams value versatility in offensive linemen due to limited game day roster spots. There are concerns with Powers-Johnson’s mobility when pulling or getting to the second level, which would limit his usefulness as a guard. He has areas he needs to improve, but plenty of upside and proven ability and should be selected in either the 3rd or 4th round.
Bucky Irving - RB
Irving backed up Mo Ibrahim at Minnesota his freshman year, but transferred to Oregon for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Irving was Oregon’s featured back, though he frequently rotated with Noah Whittington and Jordan James. This may prove to be more of a boon than a hindrance in the draft process, as NFL teams are very wary of backs that have absorbed large numbers of impacts over their careers. Though unafraid to take on defenders as a runner, Irving is listed at 5-10 and 195 lb., which might be generous. His greatest assets are his sudden change of direction ability and excellent hands as a receiver. Irving projects as a classic third down back who can pick up big yardage on explosive runs and be an asset in the passing game. He also has the potential to serve as a returner or gunner on special teams, though he did not serve in those roles for the Ducks. Probably a day 3 pick, Irving could go as high as the 4th round if a team sees him as a good scheme fit.
Khyree Jackson - CB
After two years with infrequent playing time at Alabama, Jackson transferred to Oregon for his junior season and quickly locked down a starting spot. Unfortunately, various injuries impeded him throughout the season. Despite this, when on the field his effectiveness was undeniable and offenses frequently targeted other Ducks defenders rather than challenge Jackson in coverage. His size makes him highly effective in press-man coverage, but scouting reports state refinement is needed in other aspects of his game. Despite his inexperience, athletic 6-3 corners do not grow on trees and plenty of teams should be willing to use a 4th or 5th round pick on a developmental pick with Jackson’s upside.
Draft Graded Players Yet to Declare
Jordan Burch - Edge
It was a big deal for South Carolina’s program when Burch chose the Gamecocks as a 5-star recruit going into the 2020 season. While in Columbia Burch was primarily used as a pass rushing end, but never developed into the kind of game-wrecker his recruiting rating might have indicated. Rather than having him work from the rush end position in the mint front, Oregon helped him add muscle mass and play as 4i defensive end opposite Brandon Dorlus. The experiment seemed to pay off and he served admirably in the role. Unfortunately he was also hurt in the Pac-12 Championship, and his absence was sorely felt by the Ducks’ defense. The combination of injury concerns and limited film playing at his current weight and position mean he has a chance to improve his draft stock with another year in college. Were he to come out this year, he is seen as a late day 3 pick.
Ajani Cornelius - OT
Originally recruited to play at FCS Rhode Island, Cornelius developed into an impressive athlete at offensive tackle and was one of the most highly regarded recruits in the transfer portal in 2023. He decided to play at Oregon and quickly became a starter at right tackle. His physical gifts served him well in Pac-12 competition, but he showed he still needed to refine his game. In particular, he struggled with penalties at times during the season. NFL teams would probably be willing to part with a late round pick this year just to see how they could coach up such a physically gifted athlete. It seems likely Cornelius will return for another year against high level college competition. If he shows improvement, he may well play his way into an early round pick in a year’s time.
Jestin Jacobs - LB
Oregon was very pleased to earn Jacobs commitment after he decided to transfer from Iowa following the 2022 season. The Ducks were reworking their personnel in the front seven to better fit Dan Lanning’s preferred mint front scheme and the coverage skills Jacobs had demonstrated with the Hawkeyes were an ideal match. Unfortunately, the injury issues that affected the end of his time at Iowa followed him to Eugene and he struggled to stay on the field. NFL teams might be willing to go off his Iowa tape and use a late round pick on a potential substitutional linebacker on passing downs. He could also move up draft boards next year if he is able to be a consistent contributor to Oregon’s 2024 defense.