Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Why is this man, linebacker Michael Clay, smiling? Because his team just won the Fiesta Bowl and he just won the Defensive MVP award.
Clay is also smiling because he is projected as a top-20 outside linebacker pick in the NFL draft. In fact, according to NFLdraftscout.com, Clay's stock is on the rise, no doubt because of his terrific performance in the Fiesta Bowl.
Clay's buddy, inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, is projected as the No. 4 player at his position. You are likely to hear Alonso's name called sooner rather than later in the early rounds of the NFL draft.
The point is that these are two great defensive talents who will soon walk down the graduation aisle at Oregon, and they will be difficult to replace. Clay and Alonso should get much of the credit for Oregon's defensive domination the past few years.
Yes, there is good talent on the Ducks' roster at the linebacker position, where returning senior Boseko Lokombo will lead the charge. But Clay and Alonso's backups, Derrick Malone and Rahim Cassell respectively, are young, as is Lokombo's backup, Tyson Coleman.
They will be joined by junior college transfer Joe Walker, who has much upside and will be expected to compete for a starting role.
Maybe one or more of these guys will be the next Alonso or Clay. But right now, linebacker looks like a position that will take a step backward in 2013.