Oregon Football: All-Time Best Recruit at Each Position
The Oregon Ducks' recruiting history doesn't include many tales of 5-star quarterbacks or top 10 classes. No, the Ducks have always been a program forced to find those under-the-radar players who end up making a lot of elite programs look stupid for not giving them an offer.
Some of that has changed since the year 2000 and the Ducks are now consistently in the hunt for many of the nation's top prospects. But whether it's location, tradition or simply not being in the SEC Oregon still has to fight hard when going up against the likes of USC, Texas or Ohio State. Heck, half of Alabama's class from this past season alone might made the Ducks' list.
When you see "best recruits ever," a few guys probably jump out right away, and you're likely to see them on this list as well. Many of those guys have played within the last decade, which, not surprisingly, coincides with Oregon's rise as a program.
But the list also contains a few surprises, from guys you haven't heard of to others who, despite enormous hype in recruiting, never really made an impact.
Keep in mind that a list of Oregon's best players at each position would look a lot different; this is simply the best recruits, and how they fared with the Ducks has very little merit here.
Take a trip down memory lane and find out who made the list for Oregon's best recruit ever at each position.
All stats via sports-reference.com
Quarterback: Dennis Dixon
For all the great quarterbacks Oregon has had over the past 25 years, none of them arrived in college with the same hype as dual-threat Dennis Dixon.
Rated as a 4-star prospect by Rivals, the 6'4" 180-pound Dixon would ultimately be the one to put Oregon's spread offense on the map.
Perhaps inspired by the Ducks' incredible run in 2001, Dixon had one goal in mind when committing to Oregon over USC, Washington and a handful of others: "to win a national championship." He would come close.
It's clear that Oregon's coaches saw his dual-threat potential and Dixon began to show it when new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton came on board in 2005. But Dixon was never able to shake his nasty habit of throwing interceptions (16 as a junior) and heading into 2007, some thought Brady Leaf might still win the job.
How wrong they were. The Ducks brought in Chip Kelly who helped Dixon turn things around and throw for over 2,100 yards, 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions before getting hurt.
Dixon eventually made the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster and now finds himself in Philadelphia with a familiar face—Chip Kelly.
Running Back: Kevin Willhite
Running back was the first position I checked off the list. Had to be De'Anthony Thomas right? But then I thought, well, Thomas Tyner has to be up there. Wait, what about Jonathan Stewart?
But digging even further brought me to a name that only the longtime Duck fans will remember—Kevin Willhite.
Some of his current anonymity stems from not living up to the hype (he rushed for just 720 yards in four seasons), but boy was there hype back in 1981 during his recruitment.
In addition to being a champion sprinter, Willhite was named the top player in the nation coming out of high school by five different publications. Oh by the way, this was ahead of both Bo Jackson and Marcus Dupree (of ESPN's 30 for 30 fame).
Willhite talks here about getting "50 to 60 letters a day" and being put on red-eye flights out to schools following his exploits under the Friday night lights.
You've likely read a few pieces on Tyner. If the Willhite saga were to occur today, you might not be able to read a single sports headline without seeing some mention of the nation's top back.
As I mentioned earlier, he never really lived up to the hype after suffering a hamstring injury early on. But there's little doubt that despite the recent high profile commitments of Tyner and DAT, Kevin Willhite remains the most-hyped recruit in Oregon football history.
Wide Receiver: Cameron Colvin
At 6'2" with elite speed and just a bagel over 190 pounds, wide receiver Cameron Colvin had a high enough profile to make his college announcement on ESPN. He chose the Ducks.
Listed as the 16th-best prospect in the entire country by 247Sports, Colvin picked Eugene as his ultimate destination, spurning high-profile schools like USC and Michigan, both of whom were thought to be favorites just a week earlier.
This piece details his recruitment, where the Ducks seemed to gain favor by recruiting two of Colvin's teammates, not to mention the former ones that were already part of the team.
It wouldn't be wrong to label Colvin as a bust although decent freshman and sophomore seasons were followed up with injury-plagued junior and senior years.
It's worth noting, however, that as a senior in 2007, Colvin became one of Dennis Dixon's top targets and the two formed a lethal connection. Colvin's name gathered dark clouds after his fumble through the back of the end zone gave Oregon its first lost of the season. He was injured later that season and his career with the Ducks was over.
If any other receiver had the same career as Colvin, you might label them as a "solid" or "decent" receiver. But given the extraordinary hype that followed him, Colvin never really turned heads like many thought he would. He remains the biggest wide receiver recruit in Oregon's history.
Tight End: Colt Lyerla
Colt Lyerla was recruited as an athlete and ended up as a tight end. You can understand the term "athlete" when you recall that he played linebacker and running back in high school as well.
Then there's the part of his athleticism you can measure—he was listed at 6'5" 225 pounds coming out of high school, ran a sub-4.6 40-time and had a vertical leap of 39 inches.
He was ranked No. 51 in the nation by 247Sports and had a bevy of offers to his name, which included USC as well as Oklahoma and Miami.
While playing for the Ducks may have seemed like an obvious choice for the Hillsboro, OR native, Lyerla took his time in making a decision and wanted to feel comfortable in his ultimate destination.
He picked the Ducks, which added to an already stellar 2011 class, and had a very productive freshman season with five touchdowns on just seven catches. Last year, he improved to 25 catches for 392 yards and many are predicting enormous things for his junior season.
Given his ability and still very raw potential, Lyerla may end up leaving for the NFL a year early. If he does, it probably means that he'll have had a great season, which should make Duck fans very happy.
Offensive Lineman: Andre Yruretagoyena
One of the biggest reasons for Oregon's recent rise to power has been the improved play of the offensive line. That starts with the recruitment of offensive linemen, where nobody has had quite the hype of current guard Andre Yruretagoyena.
He was rated the seventh-best offensive tackle coming out of high school by 247Sports, and the 95th overall prospect. His size may have been his most intriguing asset in recruiting, because at 6'5" he has the ideal height to be a dominant offensive lineman, but at 265 pounds, he seemed small.
But Oregon specifically looks for guys who are athletic enough to make blocks downfield and keep up with its dizzying offense. Yruretagoyena fits that perfectly.
He committed to Ducks in June of 2010 and seemed sure of himself throughout the entire recruiting process, despite offers from many top-tier programs like USC and Michigan. Oh, and normally high school highlights of offensive linemen aren't exactly thrilling, but if you haven't seen this one, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately. One word: mauling.
After redshirting in 2011, Yruretagoyena played sparingly in 2012, but is currently vying for the starting spot at guard. Don't be surprised to see this once-hyped recruit continue to grow and make an impact along the Ducks' offensive line.
Defensive Line: Haloti Ngata
If you've been following the Ducks for at least 10 years, this selection should come as little to no surprise.
Arik Armstead may have garnered quite a bit of hype in February of 2012, but Haloti Ngata was rated as the second-best prospect in the nation by Rivals. That's what happens when you're 6'5" 310 pounds and run a sub-4.8 40. Whew!
Ngata's recruitment could probably fill the entirety of a 100-page book, but the long and short is that he was back and forth between Oregon and BYU before ultimately picking the Ducks, much to the chagrin of the Cougars, who had hoped to keep the defensive beast in-state.
This piece profiled the strange ride of Ngata's recruitment, which, upon its conclusion, had coach Mike Belotti hailing the would-be star as the "biggest recruit in our history."
Ngata lived up to his ranking, too, as he gradually became more and more dominant before deciding to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. He was selected in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens where he still plays to this day and is well on his way to potentially a Hall of Fame career.
Many of these highly rated interior linemen are swing-and-miss types, but Ngata proved to be a grand slam.
Linebacker: Anthony Wallace
It may pain Duck fans to see such a high-profile talent on this list who never really made an impact at Oregon.
But for all the great linebackers Oregon has boasted, from Casey Matthews to Kiko Alonso to Kevin Mitchell, Anthony Wallace had the most hype coming out of high school.
On 247Sports' composite ranking, Wallace was rated the sixth-best inside linebacker of his class and the 112th overall prospect.
Wallace had offers from many different schools like Ohio State, Penn State and even Florida. He was seen as the perfect replacement to Casey Matthews given his hard-hitting ability and enormous potential as a middle linebacker (despite being listed as an ILB).
A Scout profile showcased Wallace's various skills and looked at how he could've helped the Ducks.
I say could have, of course, because after playing quite a bit as a freshman, Wallace rarely saw the field this past season and decided to transfer. His decision to leave especially hurts the linebacker spot where the Ducks are talented but young and inexperienced.
Wallace may be a surprise name on this list and his career may be off to a sluggish start, but he was nonetheless an extremely-hyped high school prospect.
Defensive Back: Cliff Harris
Cliff Harris may be the ultimate case of "what could have been" for Oregon.
It started in high school where Harris built up an impressive profile of cover skills and playmaking ability. This led to him being rated as the eighth-best corner in the country by 247Sports, but other services called him the "best cover corner in the country," knocking only his size.
On paper, Harris didn't have much to his name that stood out. He stood at 6'0", which is decent for a corner, but weighed just 165 pounds and ran a 4.6 40. He was, however, the very definition of a football player, and his knack for making big plays at critical moments gave him an impressive reputation.
A number of other schools, including USC, were after his services, but he ultimately chose to attend Oregon, where as a freshman he made an immediate impact. His sophomore season may be one of the best in Duck history as he made play after play in the return game as well as on defense. A pick in the title game capped off an enormous season.
Unfortunately, Harris' off-field struggles got the best of him and after being suspended part of the way through his junior season, he was kicked off the team for an additional violation.
Some might use the phrase "more trouble than he's worth," but for two seasons, Cliff Harris had things utterly locked down in the secondary, and he'll go down as one of the Ducks' most hyped (and talented) recruits of all time.