Oregon Ducks 2014 National Signing Day Wish List

Brandon Oliver@@BOatBRContributor IJanuary 16, 2014

Oregon Ducks 2014 National Signing Day Wish List

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    The Oregon Ducks currently have 17 players in their 2014 recruiting class, including three junior college transfers and an early enrollee from high school who are already on campus.

    With attrition due to graduation and early entries for the NFL draft, the Ducks are likely to raise that number to 21 or 22 by national signing day.

    Mark Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly as head coach at Oregon just weeks before national signing day in 2013 and finished the class off nicely by losing just one commit after Kelly's departure.

    The 2014 class will be the first full recruiting class for Helfrich, who has had some coaching turnover to deal with in his first offseason. Despite the changes to his staff, Helfrich has helped the program continue to recruit to the standards that Kelly set during his tenure.

    The Ducks have their usual mix of talented skill-position players, mobile offensive linemen and versatile athletes capable of playing on both sides of the ball. However, like Kelly, Helfrich has not been able to sign a prototypical, run-stopping defensive tackle to clog up the middle.

    The Ducks do have a commitment from Jalen Jelks, but at 6'7" and 255 pounds, the 3-star defensive tackle, per 247Sports, is more of a hybrid who can play on the outside.

    It is unclear why the Ducks seemingly wait until the final few weeks of the recruiting cycle each year to offer the type of tackles who could help them overcome their struggles against powerful offensive lines like Stanford's.

    Whatever the reason, the Ducks are at it again, having offered four defensive tackles scholarships since mid-December. Defensive tackle remains the biggest need, but adding an elite athlete who is capable of being a star on offense or defense would be a huge boost to the Ducks' class, which is already ranked No. 15 in the 247Sports Recruiting Team Rankings.

John "Juju" Smith

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    The Ducks are still in the running for John "Juju" Smith, the 5-star athlete out of Long Beach (Calif.) Poly. Smith, who visited Oregon in October, is among the top players in the country and recently participated in the Under Armour All-American Game.

    Smith has been fairly quiet in terms of his recruitment, but he has the best programs in the country hot on his tail. According to 247Sports, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, UCLA and USC are listed alongside Oregon as the programs with a shot at signing the No. 2-ranked athlete in the country. 

    Smith is similar to former USC wide receiver Marqise Lee in that he could be an elite safety if he were to play defense. 

    On offense, Smith has the size, speed and skill to perform at a level similar to what Lee did throughout his career with the Trojans. "Juju" reminds many of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, with the ability to separate and make tough catches down the field.

    His versatility would help any program, but Oregon might provide the best opportunity for Smith to start as a freshman. He is talented enough to compete for a starting spot at either safety or wide receiver the moment he steps on campus.

    Will the Ducks be able to out-recruit traditional powers like the Crimson Tide, Buckeyes, Fighting Irish and, locally,  the Trojans and Bruins? It remains to be seen, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Smith is most likely Oregon's No. 1 target.

Trey Lealaimatafao

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    After Trey Lealaimatafao decommitted from Texas, the U.S. Army All-American received offers from Notre Dame, Oregon and LSU. The 6'0," 300-pound defensive tackle has become a prized recruit as national signing day fast approaches.

    Finding elite defensive tackles is rare, and even though Lealaimatafao is listed as a 3-star defensive tackle, one look at his film and his talent makes his potential evident. He is exactly the type of penetrating tackle the Ducks need in the middle to disrupt opponents' backfields.

    Lealaimatafao has already visited Arizona State, Ole Miss, Texas and UCLA and is set to spend his final official visit at Oregon on the weekend of Jan. 24

    He is trying to set up an unofficial visit to LSU before national signing day, but Oregon is in prime position to land the talented big man, as it will likely have the last shot at making a big impression.

    LSU is closer to home, but Lealaimatafao knows fellow San Antonio native and Oregon commit Arrion Springs well.

    Lealaimatafao recently told Justin Hopkins of 247Sports that despite the distance from home, being at Oregon would still allow his friends and family at home to watch him due to the Ducks being a regular on national television:

    I really like the coaches at Oregon and they are only returning one defensive tackle. Oregon isn't close to my home, but they are on TV all the time so I know they will be able to see me. Oregon is my top school right now and they said they will wait it out until the end for me.

    There are a lot of elite programs chasing Lealaimatafao in the late stages of recruiting, but his stated preference for Oregon could be a good sign of things to come for the Ducks.

Nick Gates

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    Offensive tackle Nick Gates is a Semper Fidelis All-American from Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas) who has become a prime target for the Ducks down the stretch.

    Oregon hasn't had a lot of luck recruiting players from Nevada's best football program, but a commitment from Gates could change that in a hurry. 

    According to 247Sports, Gates will visit Arizona on Jan. 17 and UCLA on Jan. 24 before sitting down to make his choice. 

    247Sports "Crystal ball" predictions have Texas A&M as the overwhelming favorite to land the nation's No. 21 offensive tackle. Nebraska and Oregon trail the Aggies right now, but they are the other schools he is focused on as he prepares to evaluate his options.

    Of course, that could all change after his late visits to the pair of rapidly improving Pac-12 programs in Tucson, Ariz., and Westwood, Calif.

    247Sports recruiting analyst Justin Hopkins wrote that Gates wants the opportunity to play baseball in college and Oregon is willing to let him play both sports.

    The Aggies might be the favorite, but keep an eye on the Ducks and the Bruins, who look as if they will be getting his final visits.

Tony James

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    Tony James, 3-star running back, has been committed to Oregon since his official visit to Eugene during the last weekend of September. However, the hometown Gators continue to make a push for the speedster, according to 247Sports' Florida site, GatorBait.net.

    With a bruising back like Royce Freeman also verbally committed to sign with the Ducks, securing a smaller, shiftier back is important for the Ducks' high-powered offensive style.

    The 5'10," 170-pound James is considered an all-purpose back due to his ability to slide into the slot and his ability in the return game. He is ranked as the No. 12 player at the position, according to 247Sports, but his big-play potential makes him more valuable than other 3-star recruits.

    Despite being pursued by schools much closer to home, the Semper Fidelis All-American told Luke Stampini of GatorBait.net that he was locked into Oregon despite being recruited by other programs:

    It’s 100 percent. I talk to Oregon pretty much every week, me and coach [Gary Campbell]. It’s pretty much every week about the same thing — life.

    James also broke down some of his interactions with the hometown Gators when speaking to Stampini about Florida coach Will Muschamp:

    He calls me sometimes during the week. When he called me Sunday, he just let me know he’s looking to change the offense and make it uptempo and spread the offense more and gave me an update on what’s going on on campus with the coaching staff.

    It was really surprising actually, because I knew Brent Pease on a personal level, and I didn’t think he should be the one to go.

    Recruits have a tendency to tell reporters from individual team sites what they or their fanbase want to hear. James clearly seems uninterested in following that trend and seems completely sold on the Ducks.

    With 3,000 miles between him and his future college home, it is impossible to count out a potential flip by James before national signing day. As it draws near, the gravity of the situation and a potential move to the opposite corner of the country can become daunting to a teenager. 

    Losing James wouldn't be the end of the world for the Ducks, who have plenty of star power in their backfield. But if he sticks with his commitment, James could turn out to be one of the stars of this class.