2014 NFL Draft Prospect Preview: Oregon vs. Washington

Potential top-five draft selection Marcus Mariota will face one of the toughest tests of his redshirt sophomore season Saturday vs. Washington. (Photo: Scott Olmos — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
BBD Staff Writer: Joseph Curtis

One of the biggest games of the season in the Pac-12 Conference will take place Saturday when the Oregon Ducks travel to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies in a 4 p.m. afternoon showcase. The No. 2 Oregon Ducks go into the game undefeated and trying to keep their national championship hopes going strong, while the Huskies will be trying to get a big win on the toughest part of their schedule, one week after losing a hard-fought game to Stanford by only three points.

As a result of both teams having a bevy of potential 2014 NFL draft prospects, this week’s game prospect preview is a double feature. Joe Marino is focusing solely on Oregon’s prospects this week, while he has been joined by fellow staff writer and Washington state resident Joseph Curtis, who is taking a closer look at the Huskies’ top prospects this week.

Oregon’s top five prospects are listed on page 1, while six from Washington can be found on page 2.

Note: All listed heights and weights have been taken from Oregon’s official athletics website and Washington’s official athletics website unless otherwise noted.

Oregon (by Joe Marino)

Josh Huff, WR, Sr. (5’11’’, 202 lbs) 

Huff has contributed to the Ducks in a variety of ways, compiling 2,178 all-purpose yards in his first three seasons at Oregon, but has settled in as a full-time receiver over the past two seasons. He is coming off a 2012 campaign in which he was the team’s leading receiver and scored seven touchdowns. With 21 receptions for 445 receiving yards and an average of 21.2 yards per catch through five games, his senior start is off to a terrific start.

While Huff is not one of the premier names on the top of the receiver rankings for 2014, he is a solid prospect who does many things well. He is a good athlete with reliable hands and a very intelligent route-runner. Oregon’s unique, spread, high-paced offense creates a variety of looks to which Huff adjusts to very well. Whether he is facing off-man or press coverage, Huff adjusts his routes accordingly to create separation.

Another area Huff excels in is blocking. Oregon runs a high amount of screens and quick hitting plays that demand receivers to block defenders. Huff is a physical, high-effort blocker that can break down and effectively make blocks in space.

While Huff is able to get very good body positioning when making catches, he struggles to locate the ball down the field. He has shown some improvement in this area in 2013, but that was my primary concern with him entering the season. I would also like to see him come down with more contested balls.

Huff is absolutely worth a Day 3 selection in the draft. Continued success during his senior season and strong showings at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine would give him opportunities to improve his draft stock.

Taylor Hart, DE, Sr. (6’6’’, 287 lbs) 

After being an all-Pac-12 Honorable Mention player the past two seasons, Hart is aiming to drop the honorable mention and become a first-team player in his senior season. He has not yet demonstrated as much playmaking ability as a senior as he did with 36 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks in his junior season, but he looks like an ideal 3-4 defensive end prospect.

Hart is a strong and very powerful player who projects nicely as a two-gap defender. He controls his blocker at the line of scrimmage and can shed and make plays against the run. While he does have a strange, frog-like stance that he can be slow to get out of, he has long arms and utilizes his hands well to overcome his postural deficiency. With some solid professional coaching, his unorthodox stance could be corrected, which would improve his leverage, power and explosion out of his stance.

Against the pass, Hart is a pure power rusher. He has a strong bull rush and can shed with counter moves. He doesn’t bend well or win with speed while rushing the passer, but he does have deceptive quickness.

Overall, Hart is a disciplined player with above average instincts. He has the perfect measurables to anchor the 5-technique position for a 3-4 defense, while he is also versatile enough to kick inside to tackle in even fronts. He should be an early Day 3 selection.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Jr. (5’10’’, 185lbs) 

Ekpre-Olomu appeared in all 14 of Oregon’s games as a true freshman and then exploded onto the scene as a sophomore in 2012.  He was second in the nation last season with six forced fumbles, and seventh in the nation with 20 pass defenses. Four of those pass defenses were interceptions and he also had 63 tackles. His playmaking ability is obvious and his tape study is equally as impressive.

Ekpre-Olomu is a fluid athlete with a smooth back pedal and great hips. He can turn and run with anyone and mirrors his man very naturally. You can apply the “pure cover corner” label to Ekpre-Olomu. He is a fierce competitor who has tremendous balance and body control.

Ekpre-Olomu has special ball skills to go along with his athleticism and coverage ability. He has an incredible ability to track the football and disrupt completions by deflecting the ball, and he is very sure-handed when he has a chance to intercept the ball. He is additionally explosive driving on the football. Simply put, it is difficult to complete a pass against Ekpre-Olomu in man coverage.

Ekpre-Olomu is solid in run support and a sure tackler. He is very physical flying up and making plays.

He does not have great height or length, but his instincts and athletic ability easily overcome this. Should he declare for the 2014 draft, Ekpre-Olomu ranks as the No. 1 cornerback in the class and is an obvious first-round talent.

Marcus Mariota, QB, RS So. (6’4’’, 211lbs)

Hawaii native Marcus Mariota was the first freshman quarterback to be named first team all-Pac-12 in 23 years when they earned the recognition in 2012. He earned the award by accumulating 2,677 passing yards, completing 68.5 percent of his passing attempts, throwing 32 touchdowns against just six interceptions and averaging 8 yards per passing attempt.

In his redshirt sophomore season, Mariota is winning over many draft evaluators, some of whom have even called him a top-5 prospect.  I like Mariota, but I am cautious to grade him that high at this point.

Mariota has good arm strength and accuracy and he throws a very catchable football. He is excellent throwing on the run and is very good at creating plays with his feet. Whether it is hitting a throw on the run or scrambling to create a throwing lane, Mariota is dangerous on the move.

Even though Oregon’s system is predicated on getting the ball out quickly with many screens and short throws, Mariota flashes the ability to go through his reads and make good decisions with the ball. That said, Mariota is generally throwing to wide open targets, making it difficult to get a true sense of whether he can throw receivers open or throw with anticipation.

One of my concerns with Mariota is the lack of leg drive he gets on his throws. When he misses, he often misses high because he does not step into his throws. He can become very flat-footed in the pocket. He also unnecessarily leaves clean pockets to get outside and create plays with his feet. I would like to see him hang in and deliver the ball in those situations.

Regardless of how high Mariota could potentially go in the 2014 draft, I would advise him to stay in school for at least one more season. He is only 19 years old and would benefit greatly from more experience and time to develop as a leader before an NFL team makes him the face of their franchise.

De’Anthony Thomas, OW, Jr. (5’9’’, 169lbs) 

Thomas is a dynamic playmaker who can contribute to the Oregon offense in a wide variety of ways. Nearing the halfway point of his third season at Oregon, Thomas has 1,634 career rushing yards and 24 rushing touchdowns while averaging 8.65 yards per attempt. He has also caught 94 passes for 1,108 yards and 14 touchdowns, and has averaged 17.1 yards per punt return and 26.1 yards per kickoff return as a returner.

While his statistics are impressive, his size is not as impressive. There is not a long list of players in the NFL playing any position at 5’9’’ and 169 pounds. He could, however, have the athletic measurables to overcome his lack of size.

Thomas has blazing speed and is explosive up the field. He is a threat to score every time he touches the football. Thomas has excellent field vision and makes tremendous cuts to go along with his top-end speed. He is also a very patient, skillful runner who follows his blockers and waits for plays to develop before turning on the jets.

Given that Tavon Austin (5’8’’, 176 lbs according to the St. Louis Rams’ official website) was a top-10 selection in 2013, Thomas could very well have a team fall in love with him as an explosive playmaker and also end up drafted very high. I see Thomas, however, as more of a “luxury” pick for a team later in the first round.

See page 2 for Washington prospects.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Bishop Sankey, Danny Shelton, De'Anthony Thomas, Game Previews, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Josh Huff, Kasen Williams, Keith Price, Marcus Mariota, Oregon, Pac 12, Prospects to Watch, Sean Parker, Taylor Hart, Washington

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