Oregon Football: 5 Sleepers Who Will Surprise in 2013
Today we're taking a look at the sleepers on the Oregon Ducks; guys who have the talent to play big roles in the upcoming season but have been otherwise left out of preseason lists and hype machines.
I'm specifically looking at the players who have put in their time and now enter the 2013 season ready to put it all together. They may not necessarily be starters, but having solid depth is a major key to any championship run.
For the purposes of staying true to the definition of "sleeper," I won't include the incoming freshmen, as we've pretty much combed through the list on multiple occasions and looked for guys who will contribute right away.
You may have forgotten about some of these guys, and with the spotlight constantly being placed on guys like De'Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who could blame you?
But when the 2013 season concludes, you'll know every one of these names quite well.
Here are the five sleepers on the Oregon Ducks who will surprise in 2013.
5. WR Eric Dungy
Spring games are interesting because on one hand, you get a firsthand look at who has improved since the end of the previous season, but at the end of the day the competition isn't great and the mood is pretty relaxed.
That didn't stop me from noticing just how much work wide receiver Eric Dungy appeared to have put in between January and April. It showed to the tune of nine catches for 57 yards, and while I'll mention for the second time now that, yes, I realize it was just the spring game, Dungy looked like a different player.
What he looked like was somebody ready to contribute each and every game, something that hasn't happened in the past couple seasons. He looked more confident and his first step was much faster than it has been.
He obviously has the football pedigree with his dad, Tony, being one of the most respected coaches ever to grace the NFL sidelines. But it appears Eric is now ready to utilize every ounce of his talent and become another dangerous weapon in the Ducks passing attack.
4. OL Everett Benyard III
It's not often that a senior offensive lineman with little more than a year of experience ends up making a difference in his final campaign.
But Everett Benyard III will be an exception, and his size alone at 6'7" 305 pounds is enough to want to keep tabs on this talented lineman.
With the rash of injuries at the position during spring practice, Benyard III was one of several players who got a chance to take reps with the first team.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the offensive line is the biggest key to the Ducks' entire offensive machine. Depth is crucial because, at a position where physical contact occurs on every play, injuries are going to happen.
It's a positive sign that Benyard III has continued to put in work, and when his time comes to make big plays in key moments, the senior will be ready.
3. DT Jared Ebert
The defensive line is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, and that's due in large part to the depth that exists behind the starters.
Originally a junior college transfer, Jared Ebert appeared in just one game last season before suffering an injury that would end his year
But the 6'5" 260-pound senior appears ready to contribute in a major way along the defensive line.
Remember how thin the group was against Cal last season? Remember how Chip Kelly was forced to burn Alex Balducci's redshirt? Barring an even worse array of injuries, those issues are unlikely to crop up in 2013.
Ebert was initially seen as a guy who could come in and help out right away, but that hasn't been the case for a variety of reasons. Next season is Ebert's final chance to stake his claim as an impact player on Oregon's defense, and if his desire to return from major injuries is any indication, the depth on the defensive line will be greater than ever.
2. WR Keanon Lowe
Wide receiver Keanon Lowe tends to get lost in all the talk of talented, up-and-coming receivers. He's sometimes forgotten next to the talented Josh Huff.
But despite the promise of young stars like Bralon Addison and Dwayne Stanford, it's Lowe who has proven himself time and time again.
Against Stanford, it was Lowe who reeled in five catches for 51 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown that tied the game in the second quarter.
He is a solid return man with excellent hands, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better blocking wideout in the conference, a trait that cannot be understated.
It's understandable that fans want to get a look at the next best thing, and there are several incoming receivers who may grant those wishes. But the first thing the new guys ought to do is spend some time with Keanon Lowe and study his game.
He's only started one season, and if his work ethic on the field translated into improvement in the offseason, Lowe is yet another important cog in the offensive puzzle that defenses are rarely able to solve.
1. Dior Mathis
2013 is a pivotal year for cornerback Dior Mathis, who could be one of the major surprises in the Oregon secondary.
The junior recorded two interceptions last season, including one at Arizona State that he returned 42 yards.
I don't know what it is about Mathis but his potential to be great is evident. It might be the fact that he was a consensus 4-star recruit, or the fact that his speed has landed him on the Ducks' track and field team.
Whatever it is, Mathis is a hidden gem on Oregon's defense, and with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell both potentially opting for the NFL draft next season, a big year from Mathis could have him in line to start in 2014.
Given the league's pass-first tendencies, Mathis is likely to see himself on the field in many critical moments against four and five receiver sets. But even if the game is out of hand and the Ducks are running the ball up the middle on offense, the defense will still face the opposition's entire playbook.
That means Mathis will get a chance to go up against great wide receivers running complex routes. He has the talent, and I think next season will submit Dior Mathis as one of the breakout players on the team.