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Early Exits: LaMichael James, Oregon’s workhorse

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

LaMichael James declared for the NFL Draft today, which means it's times for the debates to begin: About his size, his durability, his transition from a prolific "college offense" to a pro system that will never consider the schemes that fueled his record-breaking career at Oregon.

All of which will go on until the question is decided one way or the other, years from now. There are more pressing questions to answer in Eugene, too, some of them about just how much James will be missed in a backfield still loaded with returning talent, and some that have nothing to do with the game on the field at all.

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But as of tonight, there will never be any question where he stands in the history of Oregon football: After three consecutive 1,500-yard seasons, three consecutive conference championships and now the first Rose Bowl win in 95 years, he goes at the top of the list of greatest Ducks and may never be supplanted.

James goes out with school records for rushing yards and touchdowns and as the career rushing leader among active players, all in just three years. (He'll also go out with a degree this spring.) He's averaged more than seven yards per touch on more than 22 touches per game for a team that routinely wins by huge margins. He went over 200 yards on the ground seven times. At 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, he's missed a grand total of two games to injury, both on the heels of a ghastly elbow dislocation in October that everyone assumed would end his season, until he showed up as usual at the postgame press conference to shrug it off. He promised to be back in a few weeks, and made good on it.

He's a two-time All-American, a Heisman finalist, a Doak Walker winner and the on-field face of Oregon's emergence as a nationally relevant program under coach Chip Kelly — in general, the quintessential spread running back in the most consistently dynamic spread offense at the height of the spread era. Among the elite college players of the last three years, James' name is second to none.

As far as the NFL scouts are concerned, his name is probably going to come off the board sometime in the third round, because really, what general manager is in the market for elite speed, versatility and productivity? James hopes to improve his stock to the second round in workouts, and very well may, considering his background as a sprinter. But frankly, if they haven't seen enough by now, there's not much more he could possibly do to convince them.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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