The top 10 Oregon football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. RB Royce Freeman
Freeman may have been overshadowed by other sophomore backs, such as Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette, but he’s coming off a memorable second year in Eugene. Freeman broke LaMichael James’ single-season school record by rushing for 1,836 yards and 17 scores on 283 carries. He’s a rugged between-the-tackles star, using his 5-11, 230-pound frame to trample defenders. Plus, Freeman is patient and efficient, wasting little movement as he searches for which hole in the line to exploit.
2. WR Darren Carrington
Carrington’s 2015 numbers were modest, 32 receptions for 609 yards and six touchdowns. Then again, he built those numbers over the course of just seven games. Carrington made up for lost time, the result of a suspension, by routinely taking the top off defenses. The 6-2, 195-pound big-play threat has averaged 19 yards a catch in each of his first two seasons, using the ball skills and open-field quickness to gobble up yards after the catch.
3. OT Tyrell Crosby
Oregon destroyed opponents at the point of attack during last year’s hot finish. Crosby was one of the key members of that blocking unit. He’s a nimble athlete at tackle, particularly for a 6-5, 310-pounder. Crosby is especially adept at maintaining his blocks on running downs, allowing the Oregon backs to locate the hole. If he’s not a member of the 2016 All-Pac-12 Team, go ahead and label it an upset.
4. ATH Charles Nelson
Nelson’s position on the Ducks is wherever the staff feels he can make a difference, wide receiver this season. He’s the program’s most versatile all-around athlete, with the smarts and explosiveness to contribute on offense, defense and special teams. In 2015, the 5-8, 170-pound rocket made 47 tackles, two picks and four pass breakups. But he also ran for a score, caught three touchdown passes and took a kickoff back for six. Nelson is instant offense when given the chance to touch the ball.
5. QB Dakota Prukop
For the second straight year, Mark Helfrich has found a quarterback answer in the Big Sky Conference, Last season, it was Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams. In 2016, it’ll be Prukop who was signed to keep the multi-dimensional pop in the Duck offense. In his Bobcat finale, Prukop, who chose Oregon over Alabama, rushed for 797 yards and 11 scores and completed 216-of-344 passes for 3,025 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 picks. A late bloomer, the 6-2, 200-pound Prukop is a vintage Duck in that he’s more dangerous with his feet than his arm.
6. RB Taj Griffin
Just because Griffin will serve as Royce Freeman’s caddy for another year doesn’t mean he won’t play a central role in the offense. In his debut, he proved to be the most incendiary of the Oregon running backs, needing just 77 carries to amass 570 yards and three touchdowns. The 5-10, 175-pound bolt of lightning is also a capable receiver, encouraging the Duck coaching staff to invent new ways to get the ball into his hands.
7. SS Tyree Robinson
Robinson plans to once again be the enforcer of the Oregon secondary from strong safety. In his first season in the lineup, he contributed in numerous phases with 64 tackles, a team-high three interceptions and eight passes defended. Robinson is an imposing 6-4, 205-pound hybrid who can thrive on 50/50 balls and punish like a linebacker once he adds a little more muscle.
8. CB Arrion Springs
Springs spent last season establishing himself as one of the up-and-coming cornerbacks in the Pac-12. No, he didn’t rise to an all-league level. And yes, he’ll need to continue evolving as a pass defender. But the physical 5-11, 205-pound Springs rolled out a solid ground floor for the future by registering 53 tackles, a pick, two forced fumbles and a team-best dozen pass breakups.
9. FS Reggie Daniels
Daniels will serve as one of the seasoned leaders of a defense that’s going to need his leadership this fall. He brings two years of starting experience into his finale, as well as a good feel for his role within the D. More steady than spectacular, the 6-1, 205-pounder from Arizona experienced a production dip to 56 tackles and 10 passes defended in 2015.
10. PK Aidan Schneider
It’s not common for a Duck placekicker to occupy this space, but Schneider is a rare performer at his position in Eugene. He’s a hard-striking 6-4, 235-pounder who arrived from Portland as a walk-on, but earned All-Pac-12 First Team as a sophomore. Schneider is also incredibly accurate, connecting on 31-of-34 career three-pointers, including 20-of-22 a season ago.