clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Team Talent Preview: Oregon

Will the Ducks make strides in year 2 under Dan Lanning or will they falter despite the immense on-field talent?

Washington v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Welcome to the final edition of 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, 8. Oregon State Beavers, 7. Colorado Buffaloes, 6. Arizona State Sun Devils, 5. Utah Utes, 4. UCLA Bruins, 3. Washington Huskies, 2. USC Trojans

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

TOTAL OFFENSE- 1,245.3 (1st)

Quarterback- 124.5 (4th)

Starter- Bo Nix (97.1)

Reserves- Ty Thompson (54.6), Austin Novosad (53.1)

It’s somewhat amusing that (spoiler alert) quarterback is the only position in these entire rankings where Oregon doesn’t rank in the top-3 overall in the conference. Despite the fact that Bo Nix is the face of the team and viewed by many as a Heisman contender again. He was in consideration last year before the loss to UW and the injury suffered during the 4th quarter of that game.

That drop doesn’t say anything about Nix. He’s the #2 overall player in the Pac-12 in this ranking set after putting up 8.8 YPA with 29 TDs and 7 INTs through the air plus another 500+ yards and 14 TDs on the ground in his 4th year as a starter. Husky fans may not want to admit it but he is very good. We’ll see if that carries over in new OC Will Stein’s offense after Kenny Dillingham left to be the head coach at Arizona State.

Oregon falls to 4th because of their backup situation. Ty Thompson was an elite recruit but the play on the field has been outright bad. How bad? Here’s a blind test for you.

Player A: 45.2% completion percentage, 5.4 yards per attempt, 5.2% interception rate

Player B: 50.0% completion percentage, 4.6 yards per attempt, 8.8% interception rate

Player A is Ronnie Fouch for the Huskies back in the winless 2008 season and Player B is Ty Thompson so far in his career. It’s only 34 pass attempts so there’s all the warnings of small sample size but it certainly suggests that if Nix misses any time then either true freshman Austin Novosad will have to be fantastic and win the backup job or else Oregon is kind of screwed.

Running Back- 123.7 (3rd)

Starter- Mar’Keise (Bucky) Irving (89.0)

Reserves- Noah Whittington (69.6), Jordan James (57.8), Dante Dowdell (53.0), Cole Martin (50.9), Jayden Limar (49.5)

Last year Bucky Irving came in as a transfer from Minnesota and mostly dominated the Pac-12. He finished with an astounding 6.8 yards per attempt but somehow didn’t make the all-conference team except as an honorable mention. That was likely because he split carries close to 50/50 with Whittington despite being more effective. Also, Nix stole a lot of the goal-line TDs so he only had 5 scores. There’s no reason to think he won’t again be one of the most effective backs in the conference.

Noah Whittington also came in as a transfer last offseason (Western Kentucky) and was good but not quite as effective as Irving. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and also finished with 5 touchdowns. Oregon also returns their #3 option Jordan James who finished with, say it with me now, 5 touchdowns. James though was by far the least effective averaging just 4.2 YPC.

Just about everyone below that trio on the depth chart though is gone and Oregon brought in three 4-star running backs who will duke it out to try to surpass James for the #3 spot in the rotation.

Wide Receiver- 343.6 (3rd)

Starters- Troy Franklin (92.2), Traeshon Holden (76.9), Kris Hutson (73.8)

Reserves- Gary Bryant Jr. (73.2), Keyonteze Johnson (72.8), Jurrion Duckey (55.1)

It was a fun argument last year trying to determine who should make the all-conference 1st and 2nd teams at WR when the Pac-12 stubbornly only puts 2 spots on there despite most teams starting 3 or even 4 at the position. Troy Franklin ended up getting named to the 2nd team and it’s hard to say he wasn’t deserving. Oregon threw the ball less than some of the other teams in the conference but Franklin was still 6th in receiving yards, 7th in yards per route run, and tied for 1st with Jalen McMillan in receiving TDs. He returns as the clear #1 option.

Oregon went to the portal to try to fortify their receiving corps. Traeshon Holden comes from Alabama where he started 5 games and has 7 career TD catches. They also added another former 4-star recruit from an elite WR program when USC’s Gary Bryant Jr. signed on this spring. He has 7 career starts but decided to intentionally redshirt after a few games last year when it was clear that he had been surpassed in the rotation by a few of the new incoming transfers. The most intriguing of the bunch may be Troy transfer Tez Johnson. At only 150 pounds he is not a big guy but the speedster had 850+ yards and received an elite PFF grade.

There’s also some returning depth even beyond that group. Kris Hutson has started 20 games for Oregon in his career and caught 85% of his targets last season for 473 yards as an underneath option. Josh Delgado has 3 career starts. We should also see some of 5-star incoming freshman Jurrion Dickey who has a chance to be a red zone threat right away.

Tight End- 101.8 (3rd)

Starter- Terrance Ferguson (75.1)

Reserves- Kenyon Sadiq (53.4), Casey Kelly (45.9), Patrick Herbert (45.7)

Ferguson returns after winning the starting job last year when he made the most of it. He finished 4th on the team in receptions with 32 for 391 yards and was 2nd behind Franklin in TD catches with 5 of them. The number 2 and 3 options behind Ferguson both transferred out but Patrick Herbert (younger brother of Justin) was the #4 and is hoping to elevate with those departures. That might be tough as Oregon brought in Ole Miss transfer Casey Kelly plus signed Kenyon Sadiq who was the highest rated recruit in the state of Idaho for the class of 2023.

Offensive Line- 551.7 (1st)

Starters- Junior Angilau (91.4), C Jackson Powers-Johnson (91.1), Steven Jones (78.2), LT Josh Conerly Jr. (78.0), RT Ajani Cornelius (72.7)

Reserves- LG Marcus Harper (70.9), RG Nishad Strother (62.2), Dave Iuli (50.8), Iapani Lalaoulu (48.5), George Silva (47.9), Gernorris Wilson (47.8)

The Ducks always had a stacked offensive line under head coach Mario Cristobal given his background as the OL coach before being promoted to the top job. Dan Lanning inherited all of that talent and Oregon had one of the best offensive lines in the country last year. That unit is mostly gone with 4 major contributors graduating.

Steven Jones began the season as the starting right guard before going out for the year with an injury. Jackson Powers-Johnson stepped in and started the rest of the season in his place. Marcus Harper manned the left guard spot and also returns. Seattle native and 5-star Josh Conerly Jr. managed 115 snaps backing up at left tackle and serving as the 6th OL in jumbo packages.

Oregon though isn’t trusting that group along with anyone else who didn’t see the field last year getting better. The Ducks went hard and brought in 3 former starters through the portal. Texas OG Junior Angilau finishes the highest in this system with his 34 career starts but he missed all of last season due to a preseason ACL tear. Whether he starts will depend on how well his rehab goes but he has the experience. Rhode Island transfer Ajani Cornelius was one of the darlings of portal season and put up an elite PFF grade last year albeit at the FCS level. They also brought in East Carolina transfer Nishad Strother who has 2,100 career snaps in the AAC.

The top-7 names on this list are as deep as any OL group in the Pac-12 and all of them rank in my system’s top-20 overall at the position. There is significant depth especially at the guard spots but we’ll see how the tackles hold up. Conerly and Cornelius each have the potential for all-conference type seasons but it’s not a guarantee. That duo plus Powers-Johnson all made the media’s preseason honorable mention group.

TOTAL DEFENSE- 1,184.0 (2nd)

Defensive Line- 212.5 (2nd)

Starters- Taki Taimani (82.2), Keyon Ware-Hudson (72.0)

Reserves- Popo Aumavae (64.7), Johnny Bowens (51.8), Ashton Porter (50.9), A’mauri Washington (50.6), Terrance Green (50.4), Casey Rogers (47.6)

It will be interesting to see how things shake out along Oregon’s defensive line. Popo Aumavae was set to start last season but went out for the year due to an injury sustained in preseason camp. He was second on the defense in PFF grade back in 2021 only behind Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Former Nebraska transfer Casey Rogers led this group in snaps last year starting 13 games but had an average PFF grade. Keyon Ware-Hudson and former Washington transfer Taki Taimani were fairly close behind him with slightly better PFF grades but none of the 3 had a truly standout season.

The rest of the rotation will likely be bolstered by a quartet of 4-star true freshman (plus another two high 3-stars). The Ducks are loading up for the future at this spot and that might mean they fall short of the #2 spot at this position group when we look back at season’s end.

Edge Rushers- 245.8 (1st)

Starters- Jordan Burch (91.0), Mase Funa (86.7)

Reserves- Brandon Dorlus (81.4), Matayo Uiagalelei (54.7), Blake Purchase (50.0), Teitum Tuioti (45.4), Jaeden Moore (41.9)

There’s no question that Oregon has the best edge trio in the Pac-12 this year as all of them rank within my system’s top-7 overall. Dorlus and Funa return and each have started 27 games and played 1,600+ defensive snaps from the class of 2019. Funa was the higher rated prospect out of high school while Dorlus has been more effective on the field and was 2nd team all-conference last year. Funa had one more sack last year but Dorlus had twice as many QB pressures and overall is the more effective pass rusher.

That duo is joined by South Carolina transfer Jordan Burch who was a 5-star in the class of 2020. He, similar to Dorlus, struggled a little to actually bring the QB down with just 2 sacks but had 40 QB pressures which was 5th in the SEC.

All three should see extensive snaps and playing behind them will likely be the true freshmen. Matayo Uiagalelei was an elite recruit while Blake Purchase was also a 4-star.

Linebackers- 190.3 (3rd)

Starters- Jamal Hill (71.7), Jeffrey Bassa (64.0)

Reserves- Jestin Jacobs (61.8), Devon Jackson (47.5), Jerry Mixon (42.0), Connor Soelle (39.2)

This will be a bit of a new look linebacker corps for Oregon with former 5-stars Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe both gone (Sewell to the draft, Flowe Arizona by way of the transfer portal). Jeffrey Bassa is the returning starter after he was 2nd on the team with 67 tackles last year. He received pretty uniformly terrible PFF grades despite also having both a pair of sacks and interceptions and will need to step up his play this season to keep his job.

Jamal Hill was a starting safety for Oregon last year but is going through a position change to linebacker. Steele currently doesn’t project him to start but at the very least he’ll get in the game as a 3rd down linebacker where his coverage experience will be helpful. Iowa transfer Jestin Jacobs will battle him for the other starting spot who has 9 career starts but suffered an injury last September that required surgery and knocked him out for the rest of the 2022 season.

The depth is a little questionable behind those three. Devon Jackson was a 4-star recruit in the class of 2022 but only played 9 snaps last year so is a question mark. Arizona State transfer Connor Soelle only started 1 game in 4 seasons in Tempe but provides a little bit of experience.

Cornerbacks- 310.9 (3rd)

Starters- Trikweze Bridges (81.7), Jahlil Florence (78.2), Dontae Manning (65.0)

Reserves- Khyree Jackson (64.5), Rodrick Pleasant (53.8), Daylen Austin (53.4), Nikko Reed (51.0), Khamari Terell (47.6)

This is a spot where Oregon isn’t quite as experienced as they maybe hoped they were after losing Christian Gonzalez in the 1st round of the draft. Their attempts to replace him in the portal were mixed. Fellow Colorado transfer Nikko Reed is nowhere close to the prospect that Gonzalez was but should fortify depth. Alabama transfer Khyree Jackson only started a pair of games with the Tide but will challenge for a starting role.

Phil Steele has Jackson beating out Trikweze Bridges who was 3rd on the team in defensive snaps playing opposite Gonzalez and also finished only behind Gonzalez in interceptions. That seems unlikely to me but who knows. Dontae Manning will try to elevate to a starting role after serving as the primary backup at that spot last year and has 500 career defensive snaps. Meanwhile, Jahlil Florence is the favorite to take up Oregon’s STAR nickel position.

As always, there are a couple of 4-star true freshmen looking to also crack the rotation. This time it’s Rodrick Pleasant and Daylen Austin.

Safeties- 224.6 (2nd)

Starters- Tysheem Johnson (84.9), Steve Stephens IV (70.9)

Reserves- Evan Williams (70.1), Bryan Addison (67.2), Jared Greenfield (57.7), Tyler Turner (48.4), Kodi Decambra (47.8), Daymon David (41.6)

Oregon is hoping to revamp their safety spot and they did a pretty good job through the portal. I mentioned that safety Jamal Hill moved to linebacker while Steve Stephens IV and his 18 career starts for the Ducks return. His career PFF grade though is below average and it makes sense that Lanning thought they could upgrade at that spot.

The expected starting pair begins with Ole Miss transfer Tysheem Johnson who has 19 career starts and last year had 81 tackles in the SEC playing mostly a box safety role. He is joined by Evan Williams who last year was 2nd team all-Mountain West playing for Fresno State. His older brother Bennett just graduated from Oregon but Evan has been his equal on the field despite being unranked out of high school. Injuries caused him to miss a few games midseason last year but in 2021 under Kalen DeBoer he had 98 tackles and 3 interceptions.

OVERALL TEAM- 2,429.2 (1st)

In the end, Oregon and USC were separated by fewer than 2 points. That’s a 0.08% difference. It’s essentially a tie but putting them in the same article and subjecting you to 5,000+ words at once seemed a little much.

There’s no question that Oregon is as loaded as any team in the conference when it comes to on-field talent. There is very much still a question as to whether Dan Lanning is capable of taking that talent and making them a singularly great football team. Last year the offense was the star for Oregon despite Lanning’s defensive pedigree and now they’re having to replace the OC who designed the scheme and pretty much the entire OL that built the foundation of their success.

Oregon did about as good a job as you can do in fixing those losses. They portalled in 3 former OL starters and added in the OC from what has been a dynamic UTSA offense. But every little bit of change introduces the potential for a drop. We’ll also see if the Ducks are willing to have Bo Nix run as frequently as he did last year given the depth, or lack thereof, behind him and what happened last year once he was hampered.

At just about every other spot though there should be enough depth to withstand one or even two injuries. Oregon lost a ton of their mid-level players through the portal and that means that the 3rd level on the depth chart is made up almost entirely of true freshmen. They’re almost all 4 or 5-star players but we’ll see how many of them are ready to make an impact from day one on a team that fashions itself as a contender for the College Football Playoff.

A road game at Lubbock against Texas Tech is the only thing standing between the Ducks and an easy 5-0 start to their season. Then comes a bye week and a trip to Seattle to play Washington. That game likely decides Oregon’s season as a win gives them cushion before hosting USC and Oregon State and traveling to Salt Lake City. A loss makes an appearance in the last Pac-12 title game seem very unlikely.


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

  1. QB Bo Nix, 97.1 (2nd, 2nd)
  2. WR Troy Franklin, 92.2 (2nd, 11th)
  3. OL Junior Angilau*, 91.4 (4th, 14th)
  4. ED Jordan Burch*, 91.0 (1st, 15th)
  5. OL Jackson Powers-Johnson, 91.0 (5th, 16th)
  6. RB Bucky Irving, 89.0 (3rd, 23rd)
  7. ED Mase Funa, 86.7 (5th, 33rd)
  8. S Tysheem Johnson*, 84.9 (2nd, 41st)
  9. DL Taki Taimani, 82.2 (3rd, 54th)
  10. CB Trikweze Bridges, 81.4 (7th, 57th)

*Incoming transfer