Oregon has produced some highly-touted quarterback prospects over the years, but many of them have failed to achieve success at the next level. Players like Chris Miller, Bill Musgrave, Tony Graziani, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and A.J. Feeley have all failed to become effective NFL starters and have either been reduced to being a backup or played their way out of the league.
The jury is still out on Oregon's most recent QB draftee Kellen Clemens. Clemens was selected by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and he just assumed the starting role from Chad Pennington in New York. Clemens may become the most productive quarterback of the aforementioned Oregon signal-callers, but to assess the situation fairly will take a few years.
The 2008 Draft will feature another highly-touted Oregon quarterback, a Vince Young clone, Dennis Dixon. Dixon possesses the athleticism, poise, and playmaking ability that has become vogue amongst NFL circles. However, Dixon's draft stock took a major hit last week as he suffered a severe knee injury that will likely keep him out of action over a year. Another prominent prospect from Oregon is running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart is an underclassman and if he decides to enter the draft, he will be a first-day selection for the Ducks.
The Ducks have a young team, and many of their prospects are underclassmen. Here's a look at Oregon's potential draft class and where I project them to land if they were to declare:
RB, Jonathan Stewart (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 1st Round
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 230
Stewart is a physical, but shifty runner who has great vision and speed. He runs with tremendous balance and usually eludes the initial defender. He's a patient runner who finds a hole, flashes his quickness, and attacks the opposition with an explosive style of running. He has excellent hands and is a good receiver out of the backfield, and is a dynamic return man on special teams as well. Stewart is a junior and it's still uncertain if he'll enter the draft. He's receiving a lot of attention, and he may be a player that will benefit by entering the draft early rather than returning to school for his senior season. If Stewart decides to forego his final season at Oregon, he's a lock to be a first-round pick next April.
WR, Jaison Williams (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 2nd Round
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 240
Williams is a huge receiver with tight-end looks who presents a big target to a quarterback. He uses his stature to his advantage and is able to muscle up most defenders. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's quick off the line, gets vertical and uses his long frame to make acrobatic receptions. He moves well laterally and finds openings within a defense. He's a physical route-runner who adjusts well to misdirected throws. He has good hand/eye coordination and catches the ball with his strong hands. Williams is another Oregon underclassman whose professional future is up in the air. He's still developing his game, but he's an imposing physical specimen who will draw a lot of interest from NFL teams. He's a player who will benefit from staying in school for his senior season and developing his overall game. He's a mid-to-late second-round pick.
SS, Patrick Chung (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd Round
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 210
Chung is a hard worker who plays the game with a lot of intensity. He diagnoses the action well, moves well laterally, and quickly locates the ball and attacks. He positions himself well and wraps up the opposition consistently. He's a strong defender in the box, explodes through a gap, and makes plays in the backfield. He plays sideline-to-sideline and is able to track down opposing playmakers with his closing speed. He takes good angles in coverage and has great ball skills in defense. Chung will likely remain at Oregon for his senior season to continue to improve his defensive skills. He's a tremendous talent who has a bright future at the next level, and at this time, he's an early Day Two selection.
QB, Dennis Dixon (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd–4th Round
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 205
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Dixon is a tremendously athletic quarterback who has a lot of potential. He has a quick release and makes great decisions on intermediate and vertical routes. He's an accurate passer who displays great touch on the ball. He's able to elude defenders and make plays on the run. He has great vision, speed, and strength and can gain positive yards with his feet. He's the ultimate improviser and possesses excellent awareness in the pocket. Prior to this season, Dixon was primarily an unknown and wasn't considered to be a top prospect. He's elevated his draft stock lucratively, and not only is he in the chase for the Heisman, but he's making a run at being a late first-round selection.
Update: Dixon injured his left knee, which was braced, against Arizona on Thursday evening. The injury occurred when he was forced outside the pocket and was trying to make a cut back to the middle. His foot got caught in the turf while his body was cutting right, and his left knee buckled. He immediately fell to the ground in pain. Dixon tore his ACL on the play and will undergo season-ending surgery. This is a devastating blow to Dixon, not only for his chances to win the Heisman, but his professional future and draft status.
OT, Max Unger (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd–4th Round
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 300
Unger is an athletic, versatile lineman who has a great work ethic. He's an intelligent blocker who understands both his and his linemates' assignments. He's quick off the snap, stays square, and keeps defenders in front of him with his long arms and strong hands. He has quick feet and moves well in a small area. He plays with a mean streak and is an effective pass and run blocker. Unger was moved to center prior to this season, but his playing future is as an offensive tackle. He has the size and athleticism to be a quality starter at the next level. He's only a junior and it appears he'll likely stay at Oregon for his senior season, but if he were to enter the draft, he's a third–fourth round pick.
DE, Nick Reed (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd - 4th Round
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 255
Reed is an undersized rush end who plays with a high motor and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He's a relentless defender who uses his strength to get around the end. He plays with leverage, keeps his pads low to the ground, and attacks underneath the opposition. He moves well laterally and is able to change direction while altering his angle of attack. He pursues well from the backside and comes off the edge quickly. Reed, another underclassmen for the Ducks, currently leads the PAC-10 in sacks with 11. He will definitely stay at Oregon for his senior season and get stronger before he enters the NFL.
FS, Matthew Harper (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 5th Round
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 181
Harper is an instinctive defender who makes a lot of plays in the secondary. He's an outstanding athlete who plays well in coverage and is excellent against the run. He backpedals fluidly and takes good angles in pursuit. He has good sideline-to-sideline speed, flashes on the scene, and wraps up the opposition effectively. Harper is a former JUCO transfer who has really come into his own this season. He's been a steady defender for the Ducks this season and his stock is on the rise. With a good showing at the Scouting Combine and through the offseason, he has a chance to improve upon his mid-round draft status.
OLB, Jerome Boyd (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 6th Round
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 220
Boyd is an intriguing prospect who's an explosive athlete. He has good size and athleticism and makes plays all over the field. He moves well laterally and has outstanding range. He's an instinctive player who defends the run, fills a gap, and makes plays in the backfield. He plays well in coverage and displays playmaking ability. He plays a key role on special teams with his sure-tackling ability. Boyd has great upside and is still learning the position. He's really come into his own this season and will continue to progress as a player. He will stay at Oregon for his senior season and be mentioned among the elite outside linebackers in the nation next year.
Projected as Undrafted Free Agents:
OT, Geoff Schwartz (Sr.)
Height: 6-7 | Weight: 337
OG, Josh Tschirgi (Sr.)
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 310
WR, Brian Paysinger (Sr.)
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 208
WR, Cameron Colvin (Sr.)
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 210
QB, Brady Leaf (Sr.)
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 225
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.