The NFL Draft was Oregon HC Dan Lanning’s best endorsement yet
Five Georgia defensive players were selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, breaking the record held by the 2004 Miami team and the 2006 Florida State squad (four defenders each) for the most in the draft’s modern era. When tight end John FitzPatrick was taken in the sixth round on Saturday, it marked the Bulldogs’ 15th player selected overall, setting another record for a seven-round NFL Draft.
Oregon shouldn’t be making any Texas-like material to promote how well first-year head coach Dan Lanning’s former team did, but make no mistake, this draft was as helpful a recruiting tool as Lanning and his new staff will ever find.
College football is a what have you done for me lately kind of enterprise, and Lanning can say he’s been part of an operation that outpaced even the remarkably efficient Alabama talent factory.
Start in the first round.
Four of the five first-round defenders were signed by Georgia out of high school. The fifth, Devonte Wyatt (No. 28) came from the junior college ranks. Lanning had 5-star talent to work with, of course, and that matters a great deal when it comes to the tip-top of the NFL Draft, but these are 2018 and 2019 signees we’re talking about; they stayed, developed, played, won, then capitalized.
Think about the pitch Lanning can make now with the No. 1 overall pick, defensive lineman Travon Walker, as his starting point.
Whenever the Jaguars decided they needed to go with an edge rusher at No. 1, they had three options—Aidan Hutchinson out of Michigan, Kayvon Thibodeaux out of Oregon, and Walker from Georgia.
Walker had a significantly lighter resume compared to the other two and it didn’t matter. Hutchinson was a Heisman finalist in 2021. Thibodeaux had nearly as many sacks as a freshman (nine) as Walker had in his three-year career (9.5).
The Jaguars decided Walker’s profile was too good to pass on.
In doing so, they made him the first No. 1 overall selection in the modern draft era (1967) without an all-conference or All-American selection in college.
“Preseason we had one guy who was named All-Conference,” Lanning told ESPN’s Paul Finebaum the day of the first round. “So that shows you what everyone knows. We had great players and talent, but they never made that their focus. They made playing well together their focus.”
At the rate things are going in college football, managing the transfer portal is going to be a coach’s most important responsibility from December through the end of August every year. Can you keep your players on board? Can you keep others from poaching them? Can you keep everyone happy and focused on a common goal.
This writes itself.
Hutchinson played over 1,600 snaps during his final three seasons in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During that same time, Walker played 990. That’s about 30 a game. For his career. Last season, Walker was on the field for a little less than 40 snaps a game. In his first two years, he didn’t have a single game with more than 30 snaps. For his career, he only played more than 50 in a game three times. And that was your No. 1 pick.
Lanning will use that for every second-year player who walks into his office concerned about their playing time. And it’ll work more often than not. Some cases it won’t matter. Some it will.
Recruiting is about stacking advantages, about finding as many cards as you can because one is eventually going to be the trump card for someone.
And Oregon isn’t hurting for advantageous selling points as is.
It has a rich and sprawling alumni base. It has the best facilities in football to offer to recruits. It has a brand as entrenched with this generation of player as any school in the country. It has coaches on staff who played forward-facing roles in multiple national championships over the last decade.
Now it has another feather in the cap.
With this coaching staff, at this place, the NFL will always be watching.
Play well, stay the course, test well, and good things will follow.
As if Lanning needed more help in the recruiting department.
Josh Conerly Jr., who the Ducks saw commit to the 2022 class last month, is the eighth highest-rated prospect to ever commit to Oregon. He’s the first 5-star offensive lineman to sign with Oregon in the 247 Composite era, and he did it after leaving the Ducks out of a final five in December when Mario Cristobal left and the job changed over.
His addition confirmed the Ducks would have the top-ranked high school class in the Pac-12 for the fourth straight year. That was a class Lanning and Co. rebuilt with an extremely abbreviated timeline to work in.
Thibodeaux’s selection at No. 5 overall in last Thursday’s first round gave the Ducks their eighth first-round pick in the last 10 years and their third straight draft with a top-10 selection.
Noah Sewell, arguably college football’s best returning off-ball linebacker, could make a legitimate run at four straight.
Surely he and the other Duck defenders were watching the first round of this most recent NFL Draft, hearing Georgia players come off the board one after the other, and thinking about what’s possible in Lanning’s defense next season.
The answer is anything.
Anything is possible.
We might not see the same kind of draft run the Georgia Bulldogs just had again for a while, but that’s fine. Lanning played a part in helping to set the table for it. And however he chooses to use that bit of information will serve him and his Oregon Ducks quite well moving forward as it recruits both inside and outside the progrum’s walls.