Oregon Football: 5 Most Valuable Players for 2013
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The rise to greatness has been a total team effort for the Oregon Ducks.
Over the past few years, guys like John Boyett, Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, Casey Matthews, Brandon Bair and so many others have played pivotal roles in taking this program to the top.
But not all players are created equal, and while everyone must contribute if the 2013 Ducks are to match or exceed their predecessors, there are certain guys who must step up and be the very best.
Also factored into this list is the current depth at each position. While it's fair to argue that Colt Lyerla is one of the top five players on the team, the tight end depth chart is deeper than the Mariana Trench, and thus Lyerla was excluded.
In other words, which guys would hurt the team the most with their absence, be it from injury or something else?
Taking into account talent and the value each player has to the team, here are the five most important Ducks heading into the 2013.
5. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
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One school of thought in football says that a good defense relies on two key positions—cornerback and defensive end.
While it's unknown who might turn out to be the next dominating defensive linemen, it's safe to say that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the perfect candidate to become the next great lockdown corner at Oregon, and perhaps, one of the best in the country.
The reason Ekpre-Olomu makes this list is because he changes an offense's entire game plan due to his coverage skills. There are very few wide receivers that can win a matchup with him, and the rest of the defense can continue to be aggressive knowing that one of the offense's key playmakers will be shadowed throughout the play.
Opposite Ekpre-Olomu is Terrance Mitchell, an outstanding corner in his own right. But it was No. 14 that truly stepped up last season and became the ball-hawking corner Oregon's secondary was so desperately looking for.
He'll be the key player in what should be an outstanding secondary in 2013.
4. Boseko Lokombo
LB Boseko Lokombo
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As the lone returning starter in Oregon's linebacker group, Boseko Lokombo has an enormous responsibility next season, for several reasons.
First, the defensive line and secondary are both stout, perhaps better than they've been in years. The linebacker position remains the only real question on defense.
Next, both Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso have graduated, leaving Lokombo as the sole veteran presence in an otherwise youthful area of the defense.
The Ducks have a chance to post a Top 10 defense next season, but much of that depends upon what it can get out of its linebackers, namely Lokombo.
We know about his athleticism and speed, and his ability to beat running backs to the edge or nab quarterbacks in the backfield is a major asset for Nick Aliotti to have.
But Lokombo must not only play like he deserves a spot in the NFL, he must inspire the younger guys and help them prepare for the upcoming season.
I can't say that I'd have Lokombo in my Top 5 overall players, but his value to the team next season cannot be understated in the least, and I look for him to be one of the determining factors in the Ducks' ultimate success.
3. De'Anthony Thomas
The Black Mamba strikes against Colorado
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I debated for awhile between Josh Huff and De'Anthony Thomas, but given his ability in the return game, running game and receiving game (all of which Huff can do, but he's more of a pure WR), DAT gets the nod at the three spot.
There's no denying that the Ducks are thin at running back. That can happen when three highly touted running backs (Dontae Williams, Tra Carson, Lache Seastrunk) transfer away from the program.
So it goes without saying that despite Byron Marshall showing promise as a freshman, the Black Mamba has to contribute from the backfield.
Then there's the issue at wide receiver, where aside from Huff, the Ducks boast a whole bunch of potential with very little proven talent. It's reasonable to assume that Bralon Addison, B.J. Kelley and Dwayne Stanford will improve, but the group isn't exactly "stacked" just yet.
But if Huff can stay healthy and Thomas is able to repeat some of his past performances in the receiving game, the Ducks will be very confident in the group heading forward.
Due to his versatility and unique ability to be a threat anywhere on the field, De'Anthony Thomas couldn't be left off this list.
2. Hroniss Grasu
C Hroniss Grasu
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An under-the-radar guy like most offensive linemen, Hroniss Grasu is nevertheless one of the most valuable players on the Ducks heading into next season.
As the captain of the offensive line, it's his job to understand the plays as well if not better than Mariota. His pre-snap reads are equally important, as are his signals to the other linemen when a change needs to be made.
Of course, he's a darn good lineman as well, and with a couple years of experience, Duck fans should expect an All-Conference type of season in 2013.
His rhythm with Marcus Mariota is crucial to everything Oregon does on offense, and replacing him would be like showing up to school and finding a substitute teacher. Sure, they know most of the material but they don't know the kids and can't understand many of the subtle aspects of the job.
Grasu has the kind of talent to be a starter in the NFL, and his presence on the offensive line makes him extremely valuable to any kind of success in the future.
1. Marcus Mariota
QB Marcus Mariota
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Was there ever any doubt about the No. 1 spot on the list?
Marcus Mariota heads into 2013 as one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy and his success in year one has many fans drooling at what he might become in year two and beyond.
The quarterback is typically the most important guy on offense, but that rings true even more in the Ducks complex, zone-read scheme which relies on Mariota making multiple decisions before and after the snap.
His accuracy wavered slightly at the end of the season and yet, he finished the year completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. He threw just one pick in the second half of the season and his running ability seemed to improve each week.
There aren't many guys on the team who would devastate any title hopes with their absence, but Marcus Mariota is one of them.
He returns next season as Oregon's most valuable player, and if he backs that title up on the field, Oregon has a chance to return to the BCS championship game once again.