Casualties of a System: Why Don’t Skill Position Guys from Oregon succeed in the NFL?

mariota_titansI was checking out an episode of Bill Simmons’ BS Report podcast yesterday. He had Chuck Klosterman as a guest and while discussing the 2015 NFL Draft, predictions of Marcus Mariota’s success came up. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback from the University of Oregon was drafted 2nd overall by the Tennessee Titans. He’s tasked with turning around one of the league’s worst teams and answering questions about running an NFL style offense and if his college production can translate to Sundays. Oregon is known for their high octane spread offense, a myriad of offensive weapons, and success on a national level since the early 2000’s.

The SImmons/Klosterman conversation switched gears, and Klosterman posed a question that made me say “hmm.” Who is Oregon’s most productive NFL player on offense since the early 2000s? After a brief thought, Klosterman settled on Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of anybody so I did some research.

I started by using Pro Football Reference’s database of Oregon players who’ve played in the NFL and honed in on guys who entered the league between the draft years of 2000-13. A total of 57 players fit this criteria, but only 26 of those guys were skill position players on offense. QB Joey Harrington was the highest draft pick (#3 overall in 2002), but never lived up to the draft status. An argument can be made, that Harrington’s senior year backup, AJ Feeley had a better career.

oregonoffnsvplyrsCheck out the names on the list, there are a few you may recognize, but for the most part the majority of these players were backups or part of position by committees. I’ve concluded Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart is the most productive Oregon skill guy since 2000 followed by LeGarrette Blount. Interestingly, they are power backs who still produced in the spread option system and were able to translate their success into the NFL.

Are the Oregon guys merely products of a good system and not suited for Sundays? Possibly, yes. There are a few outliers and guys who weren’t a part of my research, in addition there might players who might catch on with former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles.

With the Titans’ pick of Mariota we’ll see if the status quo can be changed.


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