2016 season preview: Oregon Ducks
The Ducks have a premier power running back, ludicrous speed at wide receiver, the best tight end group in the country and their only question mark is at the quarterback position. If the Ducks can get solid performances from their new QB and new defense, they can be Pac-12 North contenders. Let’s take a look at the season ahead:
Oregon will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in 2016, just like their main Pac-12 North rival Stanford. The current front-runners heading into fall appear to be Dakota Prukop, a graduate transfer from Montana State, and redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen. Running back Royce Freeman is one of the top backs in the country and his 108.6 elusive rating ranks No. 1 among returning Pac-12 running backs. Running back Taj Griffin forced 30 missed tackles on only 85 touches in 2015. Talented tackle Tyrell Crosby anchors their offensive line. The Ducks have arguably the best tight end group in the country in Evan Baylis, Johnny Mundt and Pharaoh Brown and will look to get more than one of their talented tight ends on the field together by using two-tight end sets.
The Ducks wide receivers have some elite speed. Devon Allen is so fast he is representing the US in the Summer Olympics in the 110m hurdles. Charles Nelson is moving from a two-way player to just wide receiver. Nelson is one of the most dynamic playmakers with the ball in his hands in the Pac-12, so with the increased touches look for a big spike in his production and a lot of highlights. Darren Carrington’s 144.9 WR rating ranks No. 2 among returning Power-5 wide receivers. Freshman wide receiver Dillon Mitchell was the best looking player in the Ducks’ Spring Game and showed he is an instant red-zone threat by adjusting to two passes for touchdowns.
The Ducks’ defense struggled to stop opponents in 2015, so they brought in Brady Hoke as a new defensive coordinator. Under Hoke, the Ducks will be switching from a two-gap defense to a one-gap 4-3 defense and will try to get their athletic defenders attacking more. The defense will also be trying to replace several talented starters including top-10 draft pick DeForest Buckner. The pass rush should come from Torrodney Prevot and Jalen Jenks. Tyree Robinson is the Ducks’ most talented defensive back. The Ducks will need the new scheme and improved performances from their defensive players to improve upon last season’s defensive effort if they are going to have a chance to compete for the Pac-12 North title.
Royce Freeman’s production in 2015 ranks right up there with the elite running backs in the country. Freeman is a power-back who is difficult to tackle and his 1067 rushing yards after contact in 2015 ranks No. 2 among returning FBS running backs after only LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Freeman forced 80 forced missed tackles on rushing plays in 2015 which ranks No. 2 among returning Power-5 running backs and his monstrous1844 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns both rank No. 3 among returning Power-5 running backs.
Tight end Pharaoh Brown is a bit of a forgotten player, as he missed the 2015 season due to injury. In 2014 — Brown’s last healthy season — he ranked No. 4 among all FBS tight ends in slot performance. Brown moves well for his basketball-player size and is a serious red-zone threat with NFL-like ability.
Oregon’s schedule luckily lets them face top Pac-12 North foes Stanford and Washington in Eugene. With a new attacking defense and a talented offense, the Ducks have a chance to win the Pac-12 North, but those hopes will hinge on the quality of their quarterback play.