Oregon Spring Ball Position Battles: WR room should be main attraction

For many reasons, the 2022 season felt like a breath of fresh air for Oregon Duck fans, offensively speaking at the very least.

After a few years of gritting through the vanilla offensive scheme that came with Mario Cristobal and his tenure in Eugene, Duck fans were treated to a new system, headed up by Kenny Dillingham. This hurry-up, no-huddle (HUNH) system threw a litany of new elements at the Ducks, including a few things that we hadn’t seen for quite some time in Eugene, like QB snaps from under center, and the reintroduction of the deep ball.

It’s that latter half of the equation that really got fans buzzing inside Autzen Stadium.

With deep passing back in the mix, the Ducks saw a resurgence at the wide receiver position. No longer were wideouts confined to catching short screens or 5-yard curls over the middle, but they could open up and run, trying to get behind the defense and take the top off. This gave us the emergence of Troy Franklin, who quickly became the team’s top receiver, and one of the best receivers in the Pac-12.

While we don’t expect that to change in 2023, what will be interesting to see is who steps up alongside Franklin. Chase Cota was a solid piece last year, but he graduated this off-season. Dont’e Thornton had his moments, but a transfer to Tennessee after the season left his spot on the depth chart vacant. Kris Hutson is still on the team, and he likely has a leg up when it comes to divvying up target shares. However, there is a lot of new competition that he will have to hold off.

The Ducks were active in the transfer portal at the WR position this offseason, adding proven players like Traeshon Holden and Tez Johnson to the mix. They also have a handful of incredibly talented, but unproven players who came to Eugene over the past 2 seasons as recruits. Guys like Kyler Kasper, Justius Lowe, and Ashton Cozart will all vie for targets this spring, while 5-star WR Jurrion Dickey will work to state his case for playing time when he arrives in Eugene this summer.

As we start to dive into Oregon spring football and look at some of the biggest questions to answer, and position battles to watch, we wanted to begin with the wide receiver position. It’s shaping up to be among the most entertaining battles in Eugene, and watching players jockey for position on that depth chart going into the spring game is going to draw a lot of attention.

Here’s our case for each player to earn a portion of the target share, and where I think they end up after spring ball concludes.

Troy Franklin

(AP Photo/Andy Nelson)

To mention Troy Franklin in a position battle feels unfair, and that’s not really what we’re doing here. However, Franklin has a unique opportunity this season because everything is seemingly setting up for him to burst onto the scene nationally. We saw last year as he stated his case as one of the best WRs in the Pac-12, but with another year alongside Bo Nix — an early Heisman Trophy candidate — there’s a real chance that Franklin can get into the Biletnikoff Award discussion and up his NFL Draft stock going into 2024.

Kris Hutson

(AP Photo/Andy Nelson)

Kris Hutson is one of the main players that I am going to be watching this spring, across all positions on Oregon’s roster. He had a solid 2022 season, but it feels like he underperformed in a sense, still tending to drop a few too many deep balls and not reach the ceiling we’ve seen flashes of in Eugene. I think that with someone like Tez Johnson coming in, or a potential transfer from USC’s Gary Bryant Jr., Hutson is in a place where he really needs to fight to keep his starting spot. There’s a lot of talent in Oregon’s WR room, and Hutson’s place on the depth chart is by no means cemented, in my eyes.

Traeshon Holden

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

As someone transferring to Oregon from Alabama after putting up some impressive numbers in 2022 — 25 catches, 331 yards, 6 TD — a lot of Oregon fans and media members alike have almost prematurely given a starting WR spot to Traeshon Holden, seeing him as the new Z receiver in place of Chase Cota and Dont’e Thornton. While I certainly believe that’s possible, I still want to see him on the field first before I put anything down in permanent marker.

Tez Johnson

(AP Photo/Matt Kelley)

While a lot of people have seemingly given a lot of early attention to Traeshon Holden when it comes to the starting lineup, I don’t think enough people are looking at Tez Johnson, the transfer from Troy who has an incredibly close relationship to Bo Nix. Johnson was the second-highest-rated WR in the entire FBS last season, per Pro Football Focus, trailing only Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. He comes to Eugene flying a little bit under the radar, but I think the could find his way into the starting lineup, potentially replacing Hutson in the slot. That is my pre-Spring Ball prediction when looking at the depth chart. 

Kyler Kasper

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Kyler Kasper could end up being a disruptor in the Oregon WR room this spring. He has the build of a dominant player, and though he is young — Kasper was originally part of the 2023 recruiting class, but reclassified to 2022 — he has a year of experience in the Ducks’ system and could carve out a role in the offense this year. I still expect him to serve as a backup, similar to Dont’e Thornton last year, but I can’t wait to see what he can do on the field.

Josh Delgado

The Ducks bringing in more mouths to feed at the wide receiver position this off-season was probably not great for Josh Delgado. He struggled to crack the lineup when there was less talent on the roster, and I am not sure I see a path forward in terms of him, gaining a real portion of the target share this year.

Justius Lowe

We saw a little bit of what Lowe could do last year during spring ball and fall camp, but mainly when it came to special teams. I am interested to see what he can do at the wide receiver position in the spring, and see if that turns into anything notable on offense.

Ashton Cozart

Photo Courtesy of Ashton Cozart

One of two highly-touted true freshmen wide receivers, I think Cozart could make some noise early on in spring. I’m not sure that he carves out a major target share as a true freshmen, but he has the footwork and talent to be utilized in certain areas.

Story originally appeared on Ducks Wire