Major takeaways from Oregon Ducks strong close to the 2023 recruiting class
The 2023 recruiting cycle has officially come to a close for the Oregon Ducks, and Dan Lanning made sure that his squad finished on a high note with the addition of 4-star cornerback Rodrick Pleasant.
While the day started with an unfortunate and unexpected loss for Oregon — 5-star ATH Nyckoles Harbor committed to South Carolina when many expected him to end up with the Ducks — Oregon was quickly able to recover and land a top-100 prospect in Pleasant, stealing him away from the USC Trojans’ backyard to make it even sweeter.
So with the 2023 class behind us, and eyes now set on 2024 and beyond, we wanted to take one last look at things on Wednesday. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s National Signing Day for the Ducks:
Recruiting is Not for the Faint of Heart
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
If you’re not ready to get your heart broken and be let down every once in a while, then following recruiting is not the hobby for you.
Of course, Oregon Duck fans know that all too well after the Peyton Bowen saga took place in December, with the 5-star safety announcing a surprise commitment to the Ducks, only to flip to the Oklahoma Sooners 24 hours later.
A similar sort of letdown came on Wednesday with the commitment of 5-star ATH Nyckoles Harbor. After his official visit to Eugene last weekend, buzz was strong for him to become a Duck. The tides turned a bit on Tuesday with several predictions for him to land with South Carolina, but a late-night report from 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong showed that Oregon had made a late push and was likely in the drivers’ seat to land the top-ranked uncommitted prospect. That momentum for Lanning and the Ducks held through the night until morning, and all seemed solid on the Oregon front.
Then Wiltfong dropped a ‘Fong Bomb,’ and 20 minutes before Harbor’s announcement, predicted that the 5-star was going to commit to South Carolina. That’s what ended up happening, and Oregon ended up the bridesmaid once again (more on that later…)
It was a wild ride of conflicting reports and crushed hopes. If you follow recruiting closely, it was not an unfamiliar sequence of events, but if you’re just dipping your toes into the game for the first time, you got a good sense of what you’re in store for going forward.
Dan Lanning > Lincoln Riley... So Far...
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it was an incredibly positive day for Dan Lanning and the Ducks. They bolstered their roster with another top-100 player in 4-star CB Rodrick Pleasant, the No. 9 CB and No. 91 overall player in the 2023 class.
Better than just getting his commitment on Wednesday, they were able to steal him away from the USC Trojans right in their backyard. Pleasant chose Oregon over schools like USC, UCLA, California, and Boston College, but it was really viewed as a Trojans vs. Ducks battle down to the very end. Pleasant, a player who is from Los Angeles and went to high school not far away from the USC campus, chose to leave the state of California and come up to Eugene to advance his career.
This is another example of Lanning going into a recruiting hotbed and stealing talent away from the prominent school in the area. It’s not the first major recruiting win over USC for the Ducks under Lanning’s watch, either. A year ago, Oregon landed 5-star OT Josh Conerly over the Trojans, as well as 4-star CB Jahlil Florence, and earlier in this cycle, they took 4-star EDGE Matayo Uiagalelei out of the LA area as well, when many people expected him to stick with USC.
This recruiting rivalry will have many, many chapters before all is said and done, but Lanning is doing a great job early on when it comes to getting a leg up on USC and taking talent from their state.
Atop the Pac-12 Mountaintop
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
For the fifth-straight year, the Ducks will close out a recruiting cycle with the No. 1 ranked class in the Pac-12 conference. While they often flirt with top 5 or top-10 classes in the nation, it’s become a regular occurrence that they are pulling in the best talent out west, and there are few other teams who can compete with them.
What’s more impressive is the fact that this stay at the top of the rankings has persisted through coaching changes, with Lanning picking up right where Mario Cristobal left off last year. As it continues forward, we can expect the Ducks to start cracking top 5 national rankings as well.
Always the Bridesmaid...
The 2023 recruiting cycle may be remembered as the year where Oregon “almost” landed some of the best players in the nation. Throughout the year, the Ducks were major players when it came to a handful of 5-star prospects, all of whom ended up picking a school over the Ducks. Take a look at this list of 5-star who you could argue had Oregon among their top 2 or top 3 final schools:
QB Dante Moore
QB Nico Iamaleava
RB Richard Young
WR Johntay Cook
OT Kadyn Proctor
ATH Nyckoles Harbor
DL David Hicks
S Peyton Bowen
While it’s frustrating to routinely end up with the silver medal or the “also ran” tag after a commitment, in today’s day and age, I would argue that there is a silver lining to being the bridesmaid, not the bride.
Of course, I am not arguing that I would rather finish second. If you can, you take a commitment every day of the week and run to the bank. However, in the transfer portal era, it’s not hard to imagine a world where a handful of those aforementioned players end up looking for a new school somewhere down the road. If that were to happen, we know that the Ducks are in a good position to recruit them once again, with prior relations carrying a lot of weight.
A good example of this is the Jordan Burch transfer for Oregon this off-season. Lanning recruited Burch at Georgia, but the 5-star EDGE chose South Carolina instead. However, after two season led to Burch entering the transfer portal, Lanning was able to convince him to come play for the Ducks in Eugene.
“I think that it just shows that you never know when a relationship might go full circle,” Lanning said of Burch on Wednesday. “You know, four years ago, you never realize it’s gonna pay off down the road and come full circle as I said, but then it gives us a chance to be better. I’m really excited about him being here.”
The Ducks may have missed out on these guys this time around, but a betting man would say they get another crack at a couple of them down the road.
Adrian Klemm may be Biggest Win of the Day
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest recruiting win of the day may not have come with a high school prospect choosing Oregon, but rather with a coach potentially staying in Eugene.
The past couple of weeks has been filled with reports of OL coach Adrian Klemm interviewing for multiple positions on the New England Patriots coaching staff. Lanning was asked about the potential of Klemm leaving on Wednesday, and this is what he had to say:
“I don’t anticipate any changes as of right now. That just speaks to the quality of staff that we have here and what people think of our staff obviously, Adrian is a phenomenal coach, but not currently anticipating any changes there.”
While it’s not a definitive statement of “No, Adrian Klemm is staying at Oregon,” it is a good indication that one of the top coaches on Lanning’s staff will be in Eugene for at least another year, which is a major win for the Ducks.
Distance is a Hurdle Oregon Will Need to Overcome
Dan Lanning has shown during his time at Oregon that he is able to recruit some of the biggest names in the nation, and get close to landing the top players in the country. Unfortunately for Oregon, it appears that distance from home may be one obstacle that the Ducks are yet to overcome when closing some of these recruitments.
Nyckoles Harbor, a Washington D.C. native, chose South Carolina over Oregon. Peyton Bowen, a Texas native, chose Oklahoma over Oregon. Richard Young, a Florida native, chose Alabama over Oregon. I could go on and on with examples of elite players flirting with a commitment to the Ducks, but in the end, deciding to stick a little bit closer to home.
This isn’t an obstacle that the Ducks can’t overcome down the road, but it may be something that hurts them a bit in the near future. If they continue to win, though, and compete for College Football Playoff spots, one can believe that the distance will be viewed as less of an issue going forward.
Lanning Just Missed Out on History
(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
When everything was looking positive for the Ducks on the Nyckoles Harbor front, I readied an article about Oregon’s 2023 recruiting class, and how it had just made history as the No. 1 ranked class in school history. With the addition of Harbor, and the signing of Pleasant, Dan Lanning had dethroned Mario Cristobal atop the Oregon rankings in his first full recruiting cycle.
That article, unfortunately, ended up in the trash.
When all was said and done on Wednesday, the Ducks’ 2023 class ranked No. 2 in Oregon history, just a few points behind Cristobal’s 2021 class that featured Ty Thompson, Troy Franklin, and Kingsley Suamataia. While it would have been a cool feather in Lanning’s cap to proclaim that he signed a class more coveted than any other coach to come through Eugene, this is another case where getting a silver medal should not be frowned upon.
I have a feeling that Lanning will be standing on top of that podium one day soon.