Tony James grew up in Gator country, but the 4-star running back recruit has decided to join the Ducks. The Gainesville High School (Fla.) senior announced his commitment to Oregon on Sunday, according to The Oregonian.
He becomes the ninth member of the Ducks' 2014 recruiting class, joining fellow 4-star running back Royce Freeman (Imperial, Calif.) in a crowded future Oregon offensive backfield. James, a 5'10", 170-pound prospect, is listed as the nation's seventh-best all-purpose back in 247Sports composite rankings.
The Floridian chose the Ducks over Auburn, Miami, Florida, Florida State and Ole Miss, among others. He visited Oregon during the final weekend of September and ultimately decided to wrap up his recruitment.
The Oregonian reports he won't entertain visits to any other programs. Now that Oregon landed one of its top targets, what kind of player can head coach Mark Helfrich expect?
Here's a peek at what makes James one of the premier offensive weapons in this recruiting class.
You can learn a lot about James' approach to the sport by reviewing his game film on Hudl.com. There's a decisiveness to his rushing style that immediately makes him an intriguing prospect.
Despite a lack of physical prowess, James takes on tacklers at the line of scrimmage, ready to spring away with an arsenal of excellent lateral maneuvers. His go-to adjustment in the open field is a juke to the right side, which is compact and doesn't expose the football to defenders.
He'll hesitate when he has to, before surging through a rushing lane at the second or third level. Once he finds daylight, the race is on.
James is most effective when taking a route toward his offensive tackle's outside shoulder. He's a one-cut-and-go back, well-suited to succeed in a zone read attack.
Defensive linemen have a tough time reacting when he is implemented on option plays, due to his ability to turn the corner with little wiggle room. Expect the Oregon coaching staff to focus on creating opportunities for James the put the ball in his hands while already settled in space.
Although his size may not suggest it, James is a formidable goal line back. He reads gaps well and isn't afraid to lower his shoulder in anticipation of contact and in pursuit of the end zone.
James' ball security is very impressive. He maintains possession in his sideline hand and often braces the football with both hands when entering traffic in the open field.
For young collegiate ball carriers, there's no quicker way to gain a coaching staff's trust than displaying proper techniques for maintaining possession. It's absolutely paramount.
James is an above-average receiving threat, though his opportunities are limited at the high school level. His shiftiness serves him very well after accepting a pass in the flat.
James still has strides to make in his physical maturation process. He's not yet capable of carrying the load as an every-down back at the next level, but a year or two of regimented weight training will go a long way toward changing that.
Although he does display superb quickness, his straight-line speed in pads isn't quite as fast as you might expect. Top PAC-12 defensive backs will easily be able to track him down.
James doesn't pick up many yards after contact. Defenders are able to wrap him up and this can certainly be attributed to his slender frame, which remains a work in progress.
While he does most of his damage off the edge, it appears James sometimes bypasses opportunities between the tackles before a play has time to develop. You don't want to see hesitancy in any running back, but a little more patience could go a long way in his progression.
Rather than immediately darting to the outside, an elevated awareness of what's occurring in the trenches would make James even more dangerous when its time to dissect and exploit over-stretched defensive fronts via inside gaps.
James will be counted on to do a lot more than just handle carries. In Oregon fashion, expect him to also find a significant role in the passing game.
He could spend substantial time residing in the slot position or creating mismatches with motion. Pre-snap preparedness will be key for James in Eugene, where the coaching staff gave him high praises comparing him to a current Ducks star running back.
He spoke about his potential role with offensive coordinator Scott Frost and running backs coach Gary Campbell, according to Scout.com reporter Robby Boydstun.
"Coach Frost and Coach Campbell told me that I'll be just like another De'Anthony (Thomas)," he told Scout.
In Thomas' first two seasons as a Duck, he rushed for 18 touchdowns and was on the receiving end of 14 other scores. The junior has 94 career receptions as the key cog of Oregon's backfield.
Odds are in favor of Thomas departing for the NFL after this season. ESPN.com grades him as the No. 1 running back prospect on the 2014 draft board. If he does indeed bolt for the big leagues, there'll be a major opening in the Ducks attack.
Expectations on James to approach Thomas' statistical production seem ultra lofty, at least initially. Freeman, his fellow incoming freshman running back, is physically more prepared for the rigors of college football and figures to have a better chance to become a factor early in Eugene.
The Ducks prefer to establish an offensive rotation reliant on a deep stable of options, so there will be opportunities for James to slide into a supplemental role by his sophomore season. He provides the Ducks with yet another dynamic athlete who can line up in several locations on the field, dependent on scheme.
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