When Oregon takes the field against Bowling Green to begin the season, youth will be aplenty when it comes to the wide receivers and tight ends. Of all players expected to take meaningful snaps, only two, transfers Tabari Hines and Kano Dillon, are seniors while Dillon Mitchell is the most proven of the bunch.
“I feel like leading by example is the way to show the young guys,” Mitchell said. “I know we get the unproven tag, but with my skill set, Johnny (Johnson) skill set, Schooler skill set and the rest of the receivers’ skill set, we are going to prove people wrong.”
As far as who’s returning for Oregon, the Ducks appear loaded. Over 70-percent of last year’s production will be in an Oregon uniform this year, including rising junior Dillon Mitchell.
Mitchell, who put on 10 pounds in the offseason, looks to build on his strong finish last year when he caught 15 passes for 263 yards and two scores in the final two games. He and quarterback Justin Herbert showed good chemistry, combining for 40 receptions, 507 yards and four scores in the eight games Herbert played.
Herbert’s other favorite target, junior tight end Jacob Breeland is also back. Breeland — who led the Ducks in touchdowns last year with five — is an athletic tight end who did most of his damage in the middle of the field, providing Herbert with a big body and solid hands.
Junior tight end Cam McCormick is a player who saw a decent amount of playing time but has made great strides in the offseason, according to coaches. Slightly bigger than Breeland, McCormick is physical at the line of scrimmage but has improved his route running, proving himself a reliable target.
The receivers are much more than just Mitchell. Sophomore Johnny Johnson III and junior Brenden Schooler are two returners who have the trust of Herbert, each catching over 20 passes last year.
Johnson is an athletic speedster who can stretch defenses, averaging 14.2 yards per catch while make several acrobatic and highlight-worthy snags. Schooler is a nice compliment to Johnson, a former safety who spent last year learning the wide receiver position on the fly. After a full spring and summer learning the intricacies of the position, Schooler is primed to make a big impact.
“Brenden Schooler is going to be a great receiver this year,” Herbert said.
Redshirt freshmen Jaylon Redd, Demetri Burch and Daewood Davis are three players who could make a difference, particularly Redd. He is expected to fill the void left by Charles Nelson, an athletic slot receiver who’s fearless over the middle with good lateral quickness and strong hands.
Senior transfers Tabari Hines (Wake Forest) and Kano Dillon (USF) are players who bring a wealth of experience. Last year while in the ACC, Hines ranked in the top-15 of nearly every receiving category, totaling 53 receptions for 683 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which would’ve been team-highs for the Ducks. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Hines will challenge Redd for the spot left by Nelson.
Two freshmen to watch out for are wide receiver Bryan Addison and tight end Spencer Webb. Both players bring instant athleticism to their units, with Addison as the player expected to contribute right away.
Addison arrived at Oregon just in time for fall camp after previously committing to UCLA, but enrollment issues left him searching for another school. Coaches admit he could also see time at safety, but Addison began camp as a receiver. If he stays there for the season, expect him to emerge as a legitimate threat opposite Mitchell.
Webb is the wildcard, looking like a big receiver more than a small tight end. Since head coach Mario Cristobal is known for wanting his tight ends to be strong and physical off the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to imagine Webb getting significant playing time. But if the Ducks spread the ball and sling it, he could find himself a home until he puts on the necessary weight to play every down.
Mitchell is a lock to start, but any group of Addison, Johnson, Schooler, Redd and Hines could play alongside him. With so much talent across the board, I expect the Ducks to rotate freely based on field location and packages, such as using the big Addison primarily in the red zone and the speedy Johnson on third-and-longs.
Hines is currently not practicing because of a knee injury so Redd is expected to start until he returns. It’s a tough break for Hines who decided late this summer to join the Ducks and therefore, won’t have the same chemistry with Herbert as Redd does.
Since Cristobal wants to implement a power-running game, I expect McCormick to start because he’s better at the point of attack. But Breeland will play a lot when the Ducks speed up the tempo or go with a two tight end formation.
Projected WR Starters: Junior, Dillon Mitchell — Sophomore, Johnny Johnson III — Sophomore, Jaylon Redd
Projected WR Backups: Senior, Tabari Hines — Freshman Bryan Addison — Junior, Brenden Schooler — Redshirt Freshman, Demetri Burch — Redshirt Freshman, Daewood Davis
Projected TE Starter: Sophomore, Cam McCormick
Projected TE Backups: Junior, Jacob Breeland — Senior, Kano Dillon — Freshman, Spencer Webb