On Jan. 8, the Oregon Ducks received a verbal commitment from in-state phenom Colt Lyerla. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, with both strength and speed to burn, the 5-star athlete has the physical gifts to play on either side of the ball. And while Colt has expressed an interest in playing offense, many experts project him as a defensive end, or linebacker at the next level.
So here are the 10 reasons why, despite Colt's success on offense in high school, he should be playing defense for the Oregon Ducks come 2011.
Not familiar with Lyerla? THEN WATCH THIS
Moving Lyerla to the tight end position will create a log jam at the position. Not only do the Ducks have seniors David Paulson and Brandon Williams returning in 2011, but they also signed a 5-star TE prospect last season in Curtis White. In addition, incoming recruit Christian French also wants a shot at the position, which leads to a lot of competition for a position that's not even a "starring attraction" in Chip Kelly's offense—but more on that next...
Although the tight end position is an important one for the Duck's offense, did you know that David Paulson (a 13-game starter) only had 24 catches in 2011? That averages out to just 1.8 catches per game.
Not to undermine the importance of the blocking done at the position, but I believe Lyerla is the type of athlete who could significantly affect a game with every play—and I just don't see that happening as a tight end.
At the US Army All-Star Game, Colt worked out (and played) exclusively as a linebacker—and thrived at the position. He has the size to shed an offensive lineman, as well as the speed to chase a speedy running back to the sideline. Oh yeah, and he also has the speed to cover running backs and tight ends on passing routes, as well as the hands to intercept any ball that can't get over a 6'5" player with an amazing 40-inch vertical leap.
Want to see Colt's jumping ability in action? Here's VIDEO of him jumping on top of a 62" box with ease.
Under Nick Aliotti, Oregon runs a 3-4-4 defense, with one "hybrid" Linebacker/Defensive End who mostly lines up as an DE and rushes the quarterback, but can also occasionally drop into coverage. For the past few seasons, this position has been played (brilliantly, I might add) by Kenny Rowe. And even though Rowe was seen as "small" for the defensive end position, he still led the Ducks in sacks the past two seasons, and was even 11th nationally with 11.5 sacks in 2009.
With that said, I don't think anyone would dispute that Lyerla will soon surpass Rowe's size (6'3" and 230 pounds) while still retaining more speed for the occasional covering of running backs coming out of the backfield.
Simply put, Lyerla is the perfect fit for this position. His length makes him a natural for the defensive end position to keep offensive tackles away... while his speed would allow him to simply run past those 300-plus-pound linemen who can't keep up with such a gifted athlete.
When evaluating high school prospects, it's a natural that experts would make a physical comparison to a successful NFL player. One player that analysts have compared Colt to? Chicago's All-Pro Linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Urlacher is a 10-year veteran of the NFL who played as a senior at New Mexico at 6'3" and 240 pounds. That gives Colt two extra inches and just 15 pounds less in a teenage body... with plenty of room to develop over three or four years of college.
Barry Every of Rivals.com says:
"The last athlete that had this much physical size and talent while playing running back in high school was Julius Peppers."
Julius Peppers is the epitome of athleticism wrapped up in a hulking body. While at North Carolina, Peppers was a terror on the football field (recording 30-plus sacks in three seasons), and also played basketball for the Tar Heels?!
Although Colt will most likely never be 6'7" and 283 pounds (Peppers' current playing weight), the comparison is flattering nonetheless. And while Peppers may have dominated in high school as a running back, it defense where he's made his name.
Like any kid who's played football at the level of Lyerla, I'm sure he dreams of one day playing the NFL. So why don't we just take a look at the average salaries for the three positions (Defensive End, Linebacker and Tight End) he's projected to play at the college Level.
Surprisingly, defensive ends rank No. 2—just behind quarterbacks... with the average DE making $1,583,784 per year.
A little down the list you'll find the linebackers at No. 6, with the average sitting at $1,175,788 per year.
But where are the tight ends you ask? How about DEAD LAST. That's right, just behind the kickers and punters at $863,414 per year. Still not a bad living, but not quite as good as any other position on the field.
An while this analysis was done in 2010... Sports Illustrated did the same comparison two years ago and came up with the exact same thing.
So as much as Oregon is known for its offense, it's actually been better (recently) at getting its defensive stand-outs into the NFL. Players like Haloti Ngata (Ravens), Patrick Chung (Patriots), Jarius Byrd (Bills), Walter Thurmond III (Seahawks), Matt Toeaina (Bears), TJ Ward (Browns) and Igor Olshansky (Cowboys) have made their mark in the NFL—and the Ducks look to add even more this season.
Then add in that Oregon has players like Cliff Harris, Boseko Lokombo, Josh Kaddu, John Boyett, Ricky Heimuli and Terrell Turner coming back, and recruits like Dior Mathis, Erick Dargan, Tyson Coleman and Anthony Wallace who haven't even seen the field yet—and it's clear that the Ducks defensive players will be a regular fixture on NFL Draft days to come.
Okay, so as much as we hear about Oregon's Innovative "Blur" Offense, the simple fact is that Oregon has had a statistically strong offense for many years now; however, it's the defense that dictates the truly stand out seasons.
In 1995, the Ducks went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in decades thanks to the now infamous "Gang Green" defense.
In 2001, the Oregon defense gave up just 21.8 points per game, and virtually shut down Colorado's supposedly "overwhelming" advantage in the running game—holding the Buffaloes to just 49 rushing yards.
In 2010, Oregon defense gave up just 18.6 points per game and was one of the best units in the country in red zone defense and takeaways.
So as much as people would like to prop up the Oregon offense, it's the defense that allows the Ducks to have special seasons like these. And after seeing Auburn hold Oregon to just 19 points (after averaging almost 50 per game coming in), it's apparent that the Ducks will need a stout defense to have a shot at winning a National Championship.
Make no mistake about it. Lyerla is a one-of-a-kind athlete with seemingly limitless potential, and one who should be roaming the defensive side of the ball come next season. The SEC has won the last five BCS National Championships due, in no small part, to their impressive defenses.
Teams like Alabama, Florida, LSU and Auburn aren't afraid to put some of their best athletes on defense, where they can wreak havoc on every single snap, and affect the final outcome by limiting opposing offenses. And in light of Auburn's final drive (that set up the winning field goal), the Oregon Ducks should take note of this.
Lyerla is likely to grow into a 6'5", 250-plus-pound player by the time he's ready for the NFL. Hopefully he makes that leap to the next level by terrorizing quarterbacks, instead of begging them to throw the football his way.