The Pac-12 favorites have more than one senior prospect that should push for first round consideration. Their underclassmen group has tons of talent too. Prospects are listed in alphabetical order.
Erick Dargan, S
Dargan will be an important player for Oregon in 2014 as their defense has to replace three outgoing starters in the secondary. A two game suspension for a violation of team rules and inability to displace safeties Brian Jackson or Avery Patterson from the lineup meant Dargan saw little of the field last season.
At 5’11” 212, Dargan is on the short and stout side of safety prospects. He isn’t the most explosive athlete in pursuit, so positioning is paramount. He is penciled in at the free safety position for 2014. He played spot duty as a single-high safety last season, so it’s not new to him.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB
This is Oregon’s featured prospect in 2014. Ekpre-Olomu could have found his way into the first round had he declared for the 2013 draft, so his return was surprising. This year will be his third as a full-time starter for the Ducks. He was a first team All-Pac-12 performer in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
Man coverage is Ekpre-Olomu’s specialty and what he uses to shut down opposing receivers. Strong hands and aggressive physicality are big assets for him. He likes to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage, wedge them off their routes early, and then close space while trailing. He has the long speed and mirroring quickness to be effective doing it. Ekpre-Olomu then does a fine job locating the ball and playing it in the air. He has the traits to be a cornerback who intercepts passes regularly. In zone coverage, he shows baseline awareness levels to quickly react to what’s thrown at him.
Versatility is a big positive on Ekpre-Olomu’s report. He has experience on both right and left sides as well as from the slot. He is also an effective cornerback in run support. Blockers can handle him at times, but he does a smart job keeping ball carriers leveraged and then getting them to the ground. Ekpre-Olomu also has shown a knack for ripping the ball out as ball carriers go to the ground. His opportunistic playing style creates turnovers often.
The next step for Ekpre-Olomu is to become more effective in off coverage. He still hasn’t shown much of a back pedal in terms of consistency or precision. He has trouble breaking forward from off coverage as a result, giving up completions underneath. His lack of size (5’10” 195) can also give him issues competing with tall, physical receivers. Look for Ekpre-Olomu to grow into a more well-rounded cornerback in 2014.
Jake Fisher, OT
With respect to Hroniss Grasu, Jake Fisher may end up the Ducks’ most sought-after offensive linemen if his 2013 tape is anything to go on. 2014 will be his third season as the starting right tackle for Oregon after transitioning from his tight end position out of high school. Fisher is listed as 6’6” 299 by Oregon’s official athletics site, so he’s done a fine job adding the necessary weight.
Fisher is an athletic tackle, to no surprise. Run blocking is where he does his most impressive work. He’s a perfect fit for the Ducks’ zone rushing attack. He is mobile to the second level and combo blocks with precise timing, footwork, and vision. Fisher also makes the most out of his blocks by attacking linebackers with his hands while remaining balanced. Overall, he shows off a commendable drive and commitment to his blocks, often driving opponents into the ground or backwards until the whistle.
Effective hand usage is a feature for Fisher in all aspects. He consistently places his hands well inside, negating the potential for holding penalties. His hands are also very strong, which keeps defenders from knocking them away. All of this plays into how difficult he is to shed. He’s sticky.
From somewhat limited sample sizes, his pass blocking prospects still get an incomplete mark. Opposing defenses don’t send blitzes and often utilize contain rushes to keep Mariota in the pocket. A few lapses have shown though. Fisher needs to keep his feet moving while engaged as he struggled with some combination moves when the rusher used power first. All in all, Fisher is a talented tackle prospect who is probably still gaining valuable experience, so the arrow is pointed in a promising direction.
Hroniss Grasu, C
Grasu is the point man on an unheralded but effective offensive line. He’ll become a four-year starter at center when Oregon takes the field in the fall. At 6’3” 297 he falls on the lighter end of the center spectrum, but that fits what the Ducks do up front.
Grasu’s work in the zone running game stands out immediately. He moves laterally with balance and agility for outside zone calls, scooping defensive tackles with ease and keeping defensive linemen engaged with his hands. On inside zone calls, he climbs to the second level with sharp angles and seeks out linebackers with short, choppy steps that allow him to square them up and stay balanced. For zone rushing attacks, it won’t be easy to find a more effective center than Grasu.
Intelligence also lands on the plus side of a Grasu report. He shows quick reactions to what defenses throw at him. Few center prospects can pick up a blitz as seamlessly as Grasu can. He places his hands and slides laterally well enough to be plenty effective as an interior pass blocker.
One big question mark that still hangs around relates to how Grasu handles a sturdy nose tackle. He isn’t a man-mover on the inside but more of a finesse center. When Oregon State played Scott Crichton on the nose, Grasu had issues combatting Crichton’s initial power and gave too much ground. Power may also be his kryptonite as a pass blocker. Growth to his frame will be something to keep an eye on in 2014.
One final nugget of info to consider about Grasu: he was born in 1991, so he will turn 24 years old before he plays a regular season snap in the NFL. He has a slight age advantage against his collegiate opponents and could be closer to fully developed than other prospects.
Derrick Malone, OLB
An outside linebacker is what Malone will have to be in the NFL, and it’s what he’s technically listed at (weak-side linebacker) for Oregon. He is really more of a weak inside linebacker in a 3-4. That leads to problems considering he’s only 6’2”, 220 pounds.
Predictably, Malone is often battered around the box by bigger blockers. He exacerbates the problem with indecisiveness in his run fits. That only slows him down. When he is sharper in his read and react, he can accelerate downhill in a flash to close. His tackling tendencies don’t help his cause either though. Malone is a bit of an ankle-biter, not utilizing much force to get ball carriers down. He’s going to play on the inside just as much in 2014, but he has to put up more of a fight.
Coverage is a bit of a mixed bag as well. More indecisiveness is a problem in his zones. Malone can also be too sloppy with his footwork, angles, and spatial awareness. He can make the big play though. Malone returned an interception for a touchdown in Oregon’s bowl game against Texas. He also tallied 1.5 sacks in 2013, with numerous hurries as well.
In order for Malone to take a step forward in 2014, he needs to become a more assertive, decisive linebacker who utilizes his natural athleticism.
Hamani Stevens, OG
Stevens is the undercard in terms of Oregon offensive line prospects. He’s a 6’3” 307-pound guard who’s tipped to start at left guard as a senior after playing both left and right guard in 2013, his first as a starter. Steven’s collegiate career was interrupted for two seasons for a religious mission, so he will enter the NFL as an over-age prospect.
He may not even play up to his size, which is already listed smaller than most guards. Stevens doesn’t pack much of a punch as a blocker and his mentality as a blocker is on the soft side. A bigger problem is that for an undersized guard, he’s not a great athlete. His lateral movements leave a lot to be desired in Oregon’s zone scheme and he’s slow to the second level. Against high level interior rushers, big problems ensue. Maybe he takes a step forward in his second season as a starter. He needs to.
Tony Washington, OLB
Washington is an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on because he could be in for a much bigger 2014 season than his 2013 season. Last year he actually posted an impressive stat line as a rusher with 60 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss. Too many of those big plays were in clean up duty. His season wasn’t actually that impressive.
The problem is that Washington seemed to be pulled in too many directions with his role in his first season as a starter. He wasn’t always playing with his hand down. He wasn’t always on his feet. He wasn’t always rushing. He wasn’t always in coverage. The inconsistency of it all had him playing hesitant and unsure of himself.
When Washington goes, he is an athletic rusher who can win around the corner but also back pedal to drop into coverage with uncommon fluidity. His versatility is a plus, he just needs to grow into his position and harness his athletic potential.
Juniors to watch: Marcus Mariota, QB; Byron Marshall, RB; Bralon Addison, WR; Pharaoh Brown, TE; Tyler Johnstone, OT; Arik Armstead, DE; DeForest Buckner, DE; Alex Balducci, DT; Rodney Hardrick, ILB