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2023 Team Talent Preview: Oregon State

Can Jonathan Smith coach the Beavers to another double-digit win season?

Oregon State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Welcome to the 5th part in our series looking at the rosters of every Pac-12 team as we head ever closer to opening day. The order is organized by my team talent rankings. For more information on how those numbers came about, check out the intro for the WSU post. And while you’re there, go ahead and read the whole thing then come back. We’ll wait for you.

Past Teams- 12. Washington State Cougars, 11. Stanford Cardinal, 10. Arizona Wildcats, 9. California Golden Bears

(Names in bold are projected starters by Phil Steele. Otherwise, names are listed in order of scoring in the talent ranking system)

TOTAL OFFENSE- 1122.4 (3rd)

Quarterback- 127.4 (2nd)

Starter- DJ Uiagelelei (95.4)

Reserves- Ben Gulbranson (64.0), Aidan Chiles (52.6), Travis Thockmorton (26.1)

Considering the Pac-12 is the conference of quarterbacks this year it might be a massive surprise to see Oregon State come in 2nd overall. Especially considering they had quarterbacks transfer out to CFP participants TCU and Ohio State. But this rating system is a lot higher on Clemson transfer DJ Uiagelelei than the average person. He was a top-five overall recruit coming out of high school and PFF thought more highly of his time at Clemson than traditional statistics do. Put that all together and DJU finished 3rd among QBs and 4th overall. It’s fair to think that might be too rich but we’ll see how he does in Jonathan Smith’s offense rather than under a first-time OC who was immediately fired after one season.

Backing up DJU is likely to be Ben Gulbranson who game managed his way to a 7-1 record once taking over as starter for those fans of QB Winz (with the lone loss at Washington in a giant windstorm). He gives the Beavs a very solid backup option in case of an injury during an era where backups with any experience normally transfer. True freshman 4-star Aidan Chiles has a ton of hype as well and could easily wind up winning at least the backup job.

Running Back- 116.2 (8th)

Starter- Damien Martinez (83.7)

Reserves- Jam Griffin (64.9), Deshaun Fenwick (62.5), Isaiah Newell (31.6)

On the flip side, I’m personally a little surprised to see Oregon State rated this low at the running back spot. Damien Martinez emerged as an absolute stud as a true freshman putting up nearly 1,000 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. It makes total sense he’s a Phil Steele pick for 1st team all-conference in the preseason. The primary reason they finish 8th here is because there are just a lot of really good backs in the Pac-12 this year. Only 7 points separate 8th place from 3rd place. And those same 7 points separate the 9th overall back from 1st in the individual rankings.

There is a bit of a drop between Martinez and the 2nd and 3rd options although neither is a scrub. Griffin and Fenwick combined for more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns splitting carries fairly evenly as the backups. This should be an extremely potent rushing attack no matter who is carrying the ball.

Wide Receiver- 231.5 (12th)

Starters- Silas Bolden (69.6), Anthony Gould (60.4), Montrel Hatten (44.2)

Reserves- Jesiah Irish (43.0), Tastean Reddicks (38.6), Zachary Card (32.9), David Wells (28.9), Jimmy Valsin (27.8), Trevor Pope (12.7)

The Beavers only return two receivers with any career starts and it shows in the ratings above. Bolden and Gould were 3rd and 2nd on the team respectively in receiving yards last year. On the one hand, having two of your best three receivers sounds pretty good. In reality though it’s worth noting that both of them are 5’8 gadget/speed guys so that definitely changes the type of offense you can run. Jesiah Irish out of Mount Si HS is the only other receiver on the team with more than 50 career offensive snaps.

Phil Steele has Trevor Pope as the nominal 3rd receiver right now despite him having appeared in just 3 games in 3 seasons. The Beavers thought they had their guy in Penn State transfer John Dunmore but he re-entered the portal at the beginning of June. Pope also entered in December before withdrawing so if Dunmore did the same it would be a great help to the position group. Otherwise, this looks like a very underwhelming group and may need a true freshman like Montrel Hatten to emerge if they want to overperform.

My ranking system assumes base 11 personnel for everyone in the conference but Oregon State might be the only team to legitimately start and play 2 tight ends the majority of the time. Given their wide receiver depth or lack thereof, that might be a necessity.

Tight End- 96.5 (6th)

Starter- Jack Velling (65.7)

Reserves- Jermaine Terry (61.7), Jake Overman (46.5), Cooper Jensen (35.0)

Oregon State took a tough blow last year when Luke Musgrave went out injured after just 2 games before becoming a 2nd round NFL Draft pick. The good news for OSU is that it let them build up their depth at the tight end spot. Jake Overman mainly served as a blocking option but started 9 games. True freshman Jack Velling ended up starting 7 towards the end of the year and finished with 277 yards and 3 TDs. He should be the primary pass catcher this year.

Jonathan Smith also brought in a transfer to bolster the ranks. Jermaine Terry was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school but had just 41 receiving yards in 12 starts for Cal. We’ll see if he’s able to turn it around in Corvallis and should get a chance to at least be a major part of the rotation.

Offensive Line- 550.8 (2nd)

Starters- LT Joshua Gray (82.8), C Jake Levengood (76.1), RT Taliese Fuaga (73.5), RG Grant Starck (73.4), LG Heneli Bloomfield (61.0)

Reserves- Marco Brewer (54.3), Jacob Anderson (39.8), Tanner Miller (37.2), Luka Vincic (36.6), Dylan Lopez (32.4), Zander Esty (32.1)

If the Beavers are going to have another year of 9+ wins then it’s going to be because of this unit. On paper this looks like one of the absolute best lines in the conference. They lost honorable mention all-conference RG Brandon Kipper but brought in Nevada’s starting left tackle and are expected to move him to that spot. Otherwise, everyone else is back. Marco Brewer started last year at LG but was lost for the year due to injury after 5 games and Heneli Bloomfield stepped in for him. Both return as well.

The stars on the line though are the first 3 names listed in the starters above. In particular, the tackles Gray and Fuaga each were named 2nd team all-conference last year and are on the media’s preseason 1st team. They will compete with Fautanu and Rosengarten at UW for the best set of tackles in the Pac-12. The center Levengood is no slouch either and is on Phil Steele’s preseason 3rd team. The top-6 guys all have career PFF grades of at least 72.0 where 60 is considered average. Expect this to be a dominant unit which clears massive holes for Damien Martinez and company.

TOTAL DEFENSE- 882.0 (9th)

Defensive Line- 191.1 (5th)

Starters- Sione Lolohea (68.6), Isaac Hodgins (62.6)

Reserves- James Rawls (61.7), Joe Golden (58.0), Kelze Howard (49.8), Abraham Johnson (33.3), Thomas Collins (33.1)

Sometimes it’s difficult to fit everyone into neat little position boxes which is why there are 3 names bolded above. Lolohea is listed as a DL on the Oregon State roster but played mostly on the edge last season at 263 pounds. I’m going with the official roster designation which leads to OSU having one of the better defensive lines in the conference. The aforementioned Lolohea had 29 pressures and 3 sacks last year for the Beavers but is still the least experienced of Oregon State’s 4 primary linemen.

The veteran mainstay along the line is Isaac Hodgins who has 34 career starts. Perhaps the highest upside though is Rawls who was honorable mention all-conference last year and is on Steele’s preseason 1st team. He had a pair of sacks last year.

If there’s a big concern for this group it’s a lack of raw size. Northern Colorado transfer Joe Golden is one of the biggest of the expected rotation players at 292 pounds. Still, there are 4 players with at least 500 defensive snaps each and above average career PFF grades. That’s a major rarity in college football, particularly in the Pac-12.

Edge Rushers- 171.4 (9th)

Starters- Andrew Chatfield (66.7), John McCartan (53.9)

Reserves- Olu Omotosho (51.5), Riley Sharp (50.1), Nikko Taylor (43.6), Cory Stover (39.7)

Even when counting Lolohea as a defensive lineman, Oregon State has plenty of returning experience from their edge spots. The top-3 in sacks and snaps played all return with Chatfield, McCartan, and Sharp. That trio combined for 69 QB pressures and 7 sacks with almost identical numbers across the board. McCartan played the most snaps but all of them will almost certainly see heavy playing time again this year. All of them are also either in their 5th or 6th years of college football so it’s an extremely old group.

That returning group is fortified by Wyoming transfer Oluwasyi Omotosho. He had 6 sacks for the Cowboys last season in his first dose of on-field action and might be able to provide some pass rushing juice for a team where no one had more than 3 last year.

Linebackers- 143.3 (10th)

Starters- Easton Mascarenas-Arnold (60.3), Makiya Tongue (47.9)

Reserves- Leonard Ah You (36.5), Calvin Hart (33.6), Isaiah Chisom (33.3), Melvin Jordan IV (32.3), Mason Tufaga (31.3)

This would’ve been one of the elite units in the Pac-12 if Oregon State had managed to keep the roster intact. But 1st team all-conference pick Omar Speights transferred to LSU which leaves a major void. Last year’s 3rd option at linebacker was Mascarenas-Arnold who played 300 snaps but missed 23% of his tackle attempts. He’ll likely be elevated to a starter.

Opposite him the favorite is probably Illinois transfer Calvin “CJ” Hart. He started his career at North Carolina State and has 838 career defensive snaps including starting on what was a very good Illinois defense last year. His PFF grades are only so-so though and only getting starting reps once in his 5th year of college hurts him in my formula leading to the not great grade above.

Makiya Tongue is listed as 2nd on the options here and he’s a former 4-star recruit who transferred in a few years ago from Georgia. He’s also going through a position change after not really cracking the depth chart at wide receiver for the Beavers which my formula doesn’t try to account for at all. True freshmen Leonard Ah You and Isaiah Chisom have a chance to carve out early playing time as does redshirt freshman Melvin Jordan IV.

Cornerbacks- 183.5 (12th)

Starters- Ryan Cooper Jr. (64.7), Andre Piper-Jordan Jr. (36.8), Noble Thomas (33.4)

Reserves- Tyrice Ivy (33.3), Jaden Robinson (32.6), Jermod McCoy (31.2), Sam Mason Jr. (23.8)

Last year’s group of corners for Oregon State was right up there with the best in the conference. The trio of Rejzhon Wright (1st team all-conference), Alex Austin (HM all-conference) and Ryan Cooper Jr. (HM all-conference) shut opposing passing games down. Then Wright and Austin graduated and Cooper is the lone man standing.

When you look at this group you realize that he’s really, really the last one left. The only other cornerback with more than just 3 career snaps is Jaden Robinson who started 1 game last year as a reserve but it was also his first major playing time in 5 years of college ball. Otherwise, the depth chart is entirely made of 1st or 2nd year 3-stars who haven’t played at all. There’s always the chance that several of them break out and are immediately good but this group is entirely dependent on Cooper being amazing and then hoping they string together at least average options around him.

Safeties- 192.7 (5th)

Starters- Alton Julian (77.2), Kitan Oladapo (69.7)

Reserves- Akili Arnold (57.3), Harlem Howard (34.1), Carlos Mack Jr. (20.2), Wynston Russell (19.1)

The losses in the secondary didn’t only come at corner. Starting safety and 2nd team all-conference pick Jaydon Grant is also gone but there’s a little more left in the tank here than at corner. Kitan Oladapo is a Phil Steele preseason 2nd team pick after starting alongside Grant last year and putting up 76 tackles plus 4 pass breakups. His status as a former walk-on hurts his ceiling a bit in this rating system but he’s a very good player.

Alongside him will be some combination of Arnold and Julian. Arnold was the #3 safety last year and has 13 career starts. If he wins the job he should be perfectly serviceable. The higher upside play will be if the starting gig goes to Alton Julian who tore his ACL during preseason camp last year and missed the entire season. My system doesn’t have any adjustments build in for guys coming off ACL tears but Julian was very good in 2021 after taking over as a starter for the 2nd half of the season. If he’s fully healthy again and returned to form then at the very least he’ll make for an above average 3rd safety.

OVERALL TEAM- 2,004.4 (8th)

When DJ Uiagelelei transferred to Oregon State I’ll admit that I was very much ready to call Oregon State a true contender for the Pac-12 title this season. After all, they made a spirited run at it last year after getting very little from the quarterback position. Put in a former 5-star with that kind of raw talent in Jonathan Smith’s offense with a very good offensive line and the sky should be the limit. This analysis though definitely gave me pause.

As much as we like to give credit to Smith and his offense, it was the defense that absolutely carried the Beavers last season. That defense doesn’t really exist anymore. Oregon State lost a pair of 1st team all-Pac-12 players, one 2nd teamer, and two more honorable mention picks. That’s 5 high level starters gone and no surefire additions in the portal to replace them.

At the very least this Oregon State team is going to be able to control the clock and consistently move the ball on the ground. They might even be able to win a game in the 2nd half while running the ball 19 straight times. Who knows?

I just have concerns that they’ll be able to win games that way if the other team is actually able to reliably put up 28+ points against them. Expect Oregon State to be able to win 1 or 2 games against the perceived top of the conference but with the defense taking a step back I think this is likely somewhere between a 7-9 win team depending on how they finish in close games.


Top-10 Players (with position rank and conference rank)

  1. QB D.J Uiagelelei*, 95.4 (3rd, 4th)
  2. RB Damien Martinez, 83.8 (8th, 45th)
  3. OL Joshua Gray, 82.8 (7th, 50th)
  4. S Alton Julian, 77.2 (5th, 78th)
  5. OL Jake Levengood, 76.1 (12th, 86th)
  6. OL Taliese Fuaga, 73.5 (14th, 100th)
  7. OL Grant Starck*, 73.4 (15th, 103rd)
  8. S Kitan Oladapo, 69.7 (13th, 142nd)
  9. WR Silas Bolden, 69.5 (29th, 145th)
  10. DL Sione Lolohea, 68.6 (9th, 155th)

*Incoming transfer