Setting the Stage
Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a pattern. Yes, Mario Cristobal and the Oregon Ducks are once again in the running for the top defensive prospect in the state of California, according to the 247 composite. They did it with Kayvon Thibodeaux in 2019. They did it again with Justin Flowe in 2020. This time all eyes are on Korey Foreman. The 6’4” 265-pound strong-side defensive end out of Centennial High School in Corona, California also currently sits atop the national 247 composite player rankings for the 2021 class. For those who don’t know, as stated on the 247 website, “The 247Sports Composite Rating is a proprietary algorithm that compiles prospect ‘rankings’ and ‘ratings’ listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services.” It is the most commonly referenced ranking in the recruiting industry and what I will be using as the basis for any recruiting rankings I site in this article unless otherwise noted.
For Oregon, Foreman would be the highest-rated recruit ever to commit to the program. In fact, Korey Foreman is tied for the 12th highest-rated recruit ever, since the advent of recruiting rankings in 2000. His top 7 schools were released on July 8th, the list included: Howard, USC, Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, Clemson, and LSU. Currently, Foreman’s recruitment is expected to take a while before an announcement is made publicly. He has already announced his plans to enroll early (in the spring of 2021) at whichever school he chooses. Many expect a public commitment and signature to take place during the early signing period in mid-December. But this won’t be Foreman’s first commitment. He was part of the Clemson Tigers’ 2021 class from January 26th through April 21st and even got a giant tiger tattooed on his forearm. However, Foreman has since cooled on Clemson and the race for the nation’s top high school prospect has shifted course.
Meanwhile, Oregon has been on a recruiting tear of its own. The Ducks currently have the 3rd ranked class nationally for 2021. They have 18 commits and are expected to add between 3 and 7 more players this cycle. Foreman is the potential class headliner, and arguably the most important target left on the board amongst a group of “big fish” which Cristobal and staff are hoping will result in the big finish necessary to land Oregon their first top 5 class in program history! In many ways, a signature from Korey Foreman, and a successful finish to the 2021 recruiting class, would confirm that Oregon has arrived amongst the “big boys” of the recruiting world. Each year under Cristobal, Oregon has crossed another hurdle, despite some skepticism from the national media. In 2019, Oregon landed it’s first-ever top 10 class, and also secured a commitment from the number 2 player in the class overall, Kayvon Thibodeaux, fending off Alabama in a head to head battle. In 2020, Cristobal landed a trio of 5-star prospects, in Dontae Manning, Noah Sewell, and Justin Flowe – that was the first time a group of multiple 5-stars would flock to Eugene as part of the same class. Indeed it appears things are just getting fun in Eugene.
Disclaimer: This is recruiting, things can and probably will change at a moment’s notice. I’m not an insider or someone with a litany of sources within the Oregon program. However, I am a big Ducks fan and someone who keeps my ears open and eyes peeled for any nugget of Ducks recruiting info. I believe I’ve got a pretty good handle on this recruitment and really any that involves the Ducks. I hope this serves as a useful update for others who love the Ducks and may not have the time to dedicate to following the twists and turns of recruiting year long.
The current situation on Foreman is it’s a 4 team race: USC, Georgia, LSU, and Oregon. USC has definitely fallen off since the initial days after Foreman first decommitted from Clemson late this spring. Shortly following his decommitment, many felt the Trojans were the team to beat, some even venturing to speculate that a commitment may be imminent. 9 Crystal Balls were logged for Korey Foreman to USC from late April through mid-May, including picks from Greg Biggins, Steve Wiltfong, and Brandon Huffman, three of the most knowledgeable and respected voices on 247. (If you don’t know what a Crystal Ball is, its the prediction feature on 247sports, in which recruiting log their pick for where they believe top high school prospects will ultimately sign). The justification was obvious, USC was and is the hometown program, and many believed they would leverage their proximity to land the 5-star, as they have done so many times before under previous staffs. Additionally, working in their favor was Foreman’s connection with current USC defensive lineman and 2019 freshman standout Drake Jackson, whom Foreman played with in high school at Corona. However, as the weeks and months have ticked past, and Foreman has continued to stress his intentions to evaluate his options, the buzz for USC has died down quite a bit. Additionally, the landscape of college football, and particularly the power dynamics of the west coast, are a bit different from the Pete Carroll days back when USC was a perennial title contender and could land any local prospect they wanted. At this point, it seems like Foreman would need to see some real improvement from USC on the field, and renewed faith that Clay Helton will be a successful long term coach there in order to pick the Trojans. Rumors were swirling that Helton was on the verge of being fired after relatively unsuccessful campaigns in both 2018 and 2019, going 5-7 then 8-5 respectively. With how up in the air things are for this season, I frankly just don’t see Korey Foreman landing at USC unless some big new information emerges (which obviously can happen in recruiting). Foreman has cooled some on making it a priority to play with friends like Drake Jackson. I also think something that really hurts USC is that they are almost entirely dependent on distance being the deciding factor in this recruitment. Simply put, USC is not close to putting out the quality of product on the field that we saw from LSU, Georgia, and Oregon last season – which finished 1st, 4th, and 5th respectively in the final AP poll. USC needs Korey Foreman to want to be a west coast guy, and even if it does turn into a head to head battle with Oregon, I don’t like the Trojans’ chances. Helton doesn’t have a great track record beating out Cristobal for guys who are high on both programs boards – although the Donte Williams’ move from Oregon’s to USC’s staff could make this a bit more of a battle. Still, you can’t completely discount USC in this recruitment due to their immense geographical advantage. Ultimately, if Korey Foreman does decide that he is a “hometown hero” type of guy and buys into the whole tradition of USC, and staying home to rep So Cal, and all that BS there’s not much any other school will be able to do. To be clear though, Foreman really hasn’t given any indication that he’s that type of guy. I don’t think it’s very likely. ODDS: 10%
Georgia had some momentum here before, if you had asked me a month ago I would have probably told you that Georgia was the most likely destination if Foreman did choose to leave the west coast. Foreman even said he was close to committing to Georgia during his first visit there. (Side note: it sounds like Foreman is a little prone to impulsive decisions / reactions when you pair this with the co
mmitment to Clemson, tiger tattoo, and then decommitment. I’m not passing judgment, but this could be something to keep an eye on. Foreman may be a swayed significantly by an impactful official visit down the stretch). Furthermore, on Georgia, their fans over on The Junkyard (Georgia’s 247 board) have seemed most threatened by the Ducks in this recruitment. To the point that one of their threads supposedly dedicated to Foreman, quickly evolved into them collectively praising Cristobal and speculating about whether he could end up at Georgia if they need a replacement for Kirby Smart down the road. Their fans are very plugged in, so the fact that they have lost a bit of optimism for this recruitment isn’t a great sign for the Dawgs. The Georgia program also just sits at an interesting stage right now. It feels like they’ve been on the door-step for a decade now, but have never been able to go the full distance. That’s not a great place to be in terms of momentum. USC is selling that they are going to “take back the west” – I have my doubts, but hey it’s not a bad pitch. Oregon is fresh off a Rose Bowl and is on a clear upward trajectory as they amass talent at a clip never before seen in program history. LSU just won a national title! Meanwhile, Georgia is stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of “almost, not quite.” Maybe they can put it all together and this is the year. Who knows, but I’m just struggling to shake the feeling that they might be running out of energy down in Athens. Overall, Georgia just seems to have lost a bit in this recruitment, and that’s partially connected to momentum picking up for LSU. They would have to convince Foreman to leave the west coast and then still beat out a formidable foe in LSU. It’s a difficult task, but Kirby Smart knows how to recruit and Foreman has clearly expressed interest in the program before. Another thing to consider, Georgia is positioned well regionally and recruits at a very high level, meaning that they have a lot more commensurate backup options. Oregon can be the pest that works so tirelessly and relentlessly on this recruitment that it forces Georgia to decide their time is best spent elsewhere. That was a large part of what happened between Justin Flowe and Clemson in the last cycle. Oregon just kept pushing and pushing, and Clemson eventually decided the battle wasn’t worth it. Clemson audibled to their plan B (another 5 star LB) and Oregon stuck it out to land their man. I could see a similar dynamic playing out here with Georgia, we’ll see. ODDS: 15%
More recently, LSU has emerged as the school to beat if Korey Foreman does decide to play in the SEC. The Tigers are on the verge of landing a commitment from Maason Smith (they hold all 9 Crystal Balls), a 5 star DT who Foreman is good friends with and has talked about wanting to team up with at the next level. LSU is obviously riding high off of the momentum from their national championship last year and they have definite energy around the program right now. The other piece of new information that has made LSU a team to look out for is that Steve Wiltfong, National Director of Recruiting for 247 and one of the most in touch guys in the recruiting business, recently said in an interview that he was very close to putting in a Crystal Ball for Korey Foreman to LSU. Now, he did say this would be a “lower confidence” pick, but this certainly gives me a little pause as an Oregon fan and is major news coming from a guy who rarely misses on his crystal balls (more to come on that later). But really what this development says to me is that Wiltfong believes if the decision was made today, LSU would likely be the pick. That’s a very different proposition from what will happen when Foreman has to make the decision officially come December. Remember, Oregon didn’t lead for Kayvon Thibodeaux or Justin Flowe at this point in either of the past 2 cycles. I believe that this recruitment is likely to play out for a while. Also, if there’s one area in which Wiltfong is prone to make mistakes, that would be in overestimating the pull of the SEC, particularly for west coast kids (again more on this later). Aside from Wiltfong, no one on 247 has really ventured to say they are close to changing their Crystal Ball. Currently, all Crystal Balls for Foreman either sit on USC or Clemson. However, these picks are pretty clearly placeholders, rather than being indicative of where things stand now. If you look at when they were logged, you will see that these picks are simply snapshots of a prior time in this recruitment a few months back. Because no new clear leader has emerged, the insiders haven’t bothered to update their picks. My take is that Foreman is just in a minor flirting cycle with LSU. He’s intrigued by the fact they just won a national championship and excited by the possibility of playing with his friend. But, as we move further away from LSU’s championship win, and particularly if we see some version of a season played this fall, the magic from their historic 2019-20 season will wear off a bit. Additionally, if distance does become more of a factor for Foreman as his decision nears, as often happens in recruiting, that will obviously hurt LSU’s chances and boost Oregon’s and USC’s. ODDS: 25%
If I had to list the primary factors that will shape Korey Foreman’s decision, I believe they will be: development for the NFL, ability to play with other star defensive players, ability to contend for a national title, availability of early playing time, and distance. Even if he doesn’t list it publicly right now, distance is something that regularly plays a key role in the decision-making process as a commitment date approaches. Families start to talk about how important it is that they are able to travel to games in person and players start to consider the implications of moving across the country. It doesn’t happen in every recruitment, but it certainly happens often enough to be worth mention. The other x-factors that play into many high profile recruitments, especially those involving a player like Foreman who projects to be a top NFL Draft pick, are trust and relationship with the staff, as well as the strength of the program brand. As Korey Foreman develops his own personal brand and begins to set himself up for endorsement opportunities at the next level, he probably wants to be some place cool. He probably wants to play for a school with an exciting, recognizable, national brand – he probably doesn’t want to play at Washington… USC, Georgia, and LSU are all well-established, long time college football brands. Nobody is surprised to see a top defensive player sign to any of these programs and nobody is surprised to see an NFL pro-bowl selection who played at one of these schools. Oregon is a bit different. We are “new money” in the context college football. The NFL 100 isn’t *yet* littered with Ducks. But we do have one of the strongest brands in the sport, and a very valuable relationship with Nike. Oregon, for 18 year-old recruits today, is unquestionably cool. 3 years ago, the possibility of Oregon landing a national recruit on the defensive side of the ball, meaning for example a top 5 player who is a must take for any program in the country, would have been scoffed at. In fact, really before October 13th, 2018 it would have been scoffed at.
Forgive me while I take a quick detour down memory lane…
Yes indeed that was the date when the number 17 Ducks upset the number 7 Huskies 30-27 in OT, for the first signature win of the Cristobal Era. Justin Herbert threw a laser to a toe-tapping Jaylon Redd, Dillon Mitchell threw the dubs down, Peyton Henry missed wide right,
CJ Verdell went up the middle, and Autzen went CRAZY. After a few down years, for a day, it felt like Oregon was back. One Mr. Kayvon Thibodeaux was in attendance that day for his official visit. When he had stepped on campus earlier that weekend, all reports had the Ducks running a distant 4th or 5th… As he stepped off the field that day, amidst a chaotic scrum of green and yellow, there was a new leader in his recruitment. The Crystal Balls started flooding in for Thibodeaux to Oregon in the weeks following that game. As a long time Oregon fan, it felt like a dream, but no one who had been around very long was ready to count our proverbial chicken before it had hatched. Thibodeaux was an LA kid, so in the back of our minds was the draw to the home town Trojans. In the front of our mind was Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide – the evil empire of college football that had seemingly dominated the sport for the past decade. For the much of that decade, Oregon fans had had one message consistently drilled into their heads by national media, it can be summed up by this: the Kayvon Thibodeaux’s of the world go to Alabama, they don’t come to Oregon, and that’s why the Ducks will never be able to get it done on the sports biggest stage. By no means did I buy into this line of thinking, but it was clearly the national message. And, as much as it pains me to say, our inability to recruit the trenches at an elite level, was evident in the 3 most painful losses of my Ducks fandom, all of which cost Oregon a national championship. You probably know them, if you don’t here they are: Auburn 2011, Stanford 2012, and Ohio State 2015. Ugh. Moving on… So anyway, there were a lot of factors that had Ducks fans sweating going into Thibodeaux’s public commitment. A few nights before, Thibodeaux sent out a cryptic tweet that read “Shock the world.” While you might be thinking to yourself, “‘Shock the world’? While of course that means he must be a duck! Who would be shocked by another 5-star defensive end choosing Bama??” Those who follow recruiting know the error in this logic, recruits tweet out exactly these types of messages all the time to build buzz and anticipation, only to go with the widely expected choice in the end. When we woke up on December 18th, the day Thibodeaux’s commitment would be broadcast live on ESPN, Steve Wiltfong still had his Crystal Ball prediction in for Alabama (Yes the same guy I mentioned earlier. You know the one who is National Director of Recruiting at 247 and has only missed 9.25% of his nearly 3000 Crystal Ball predictions over the course of his career at 247). To make matters worse, as the broadcast shifted to picture the Thibodeaux family they were dressed in almost exclusively red and black (not exactly Alabama’s colors but, I mean, close enough). Yet, of course as we now know, Kayvon Thibodeaux didn’t choose the Crimson Tide. Instead, he picked up a green visor with a yellow O on the front. In doing so, he opened the door for a movement to follow. Thibodeaux was the best player to ever sign with the Ducks and, equally important, he was from California – the state with Oregon’s strongest recruiting pipeline. All this is to say that the Kayvon Thibodeaux recruitment was a massive moment in Ducks history and a key advancement in the potential of this program. It also plays a massive role in the Korey Foreman recruitment we are currently in the middle of.
Essentially, Kayvon Thibodeaux’s commitment took the flash and excitement surrounding the Oregon program and gave it real substance in the recruiting world. He legitimized Oregon as a real option for top defensive players nationally. He’s since followed it up with a breakout freshman season on the field, in which he tallied an impressive 9.0 sacks. Now he lands on many lists predicting the top defensive players in college football and is projected to be a top pick in the 2022 NFL draft when he is eligible to enter. Thibodeaux is a blueprint for what Korey Foreman could accomplish at Oregon in terms of production and brand, albeit through a slightly different style of play. His success shows Foreman that the Oregon brand is strong enough to propel a top defensive player into the national spotlight – we no longer carry the baggage of being an untested program for this caliber of player. It also definitely doesn’t hurt to have guys like Arik Armstead and Deforest Buckner tearing it up in the NFL (although they were produced under past coaching staffs).
Where Oregon Stands
I’ll change it up this time and start with our odds, then give my explanation. ODDS: 50%
Yes, you did the math correctly. Take away USC, Georgia, and LSU’s slice of the pie, on you’re left with a coin flip for the Ducks! Am I a bit of a homer here? Maybe. I’ll admit it, I do love my Ducks. But before you dismiss me offhand, let me explain… More than anything, I am a Mario Cristobal believer. He has targeted his man and got him consistently over the past 2 cycles, and the trend has continued thus far in 2021. Oregon is hot right now and the pieces are there for this program to blow up.
What I love so much about Oregon’s positioning in the Korey Foreman recruitment is in a word: flexibility. Because, the scary thing is, despite all of Cristobal’s success over the past 2 cycles, he has so much more firepower at his disposal in this cycle than he has ever had before. He’s got absolute superstars in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe on campus already. To pair with them he has an assortment of young high, high-end blue-chip guys: Mase Funa, Noah Sewell, Dontae Manning, and Mykael Wright – just to name a few. Cristobal has a top defensive mind in the country, Andy Avalos, as coordinator. Avalos already mastered a very impressive first year at this level and is expected to put a top 5 defense on the field in 2020. Cristobal has a top tier offensive line for Foreman to sharpen his skills against in practice. He has a Pac 12 Championship ring and a Rose Bowl ring! That’s all before we even address the 2021 class that Cristobal and staff are currently putting together. Particularly, it’s a class that is loaded with weapons and depth on the offensive side of the ball – the type of class that puts Oregon in a great position to contend for a national championship during Korey Foreman’s time at Oregon. But this influx of talent also has yet to limit Foreman’s path to immediate playing time. Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu will leave after this year and free up two spots on the defensive line next to Kayvon Thibodeaux. That’s something that most SEC schools can’t say, just compare Thibodeaux’s freshman year production to Georgia’s Nolan Smith, the only player ranked ahead of Thibodeaux in the 2019 class. Oregon still has the brand, the facilities, and the uniforms. I also feel we’re situated in a great spot geographically. We are the only school amongst the top four that figures to be a prominent force in this recruitment whether or not distance is a major factor. We still capitalize on the pros of being connected to west coast pride and providing family the opportunity to easily travel to games, while also offering a chance to experience something new, outside of what is essentially Korey Foreman’s backyard in USC (it’s just about an hour drive from Foreman’s high school to the USC campus).
All these factors are starting to pay off. The buzz is consistent and I believe it’s only going to get louder as a decision nears. At 247, Greg Biggins has said that the rumors of Oregon trending for Foreman have legs to them, and he consistently includes Oregon amongst the teams pushing hard for Foreman who he
believes have a real shot. Justin Hopkins and his staff over at Scoopduck deserve a ton of credit for being early on this story and pushing that Oregon is a serious player here. J Hop has even gone so far as to log a prediction for Korey Foreman to Oregon on his site (the first recruiting outlet to do so to my knowledge), and 3 of his staffers have done the same. J Hop is very in touch with the Oregon program, and many of his sources have a close connection to Cristobal. Basically what I’m saying is that if J Hop is confident, it probably means that he is hearing that Cristobal is confident. And for my money, Cristobal is one of the best in the business, both in his recruiting ability and his ability to understand where a kid is leaning. He’s proven that recruiting acumen by being crowned 247 Recruiter of the Year during his time as an offensive line coach at Alabama. During his stint in Tuscaloosa, he was the primary recruiter for BIG names such as Alex Leatherwood, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Quinnen Williams.
In terms of developments coming directly from the mouth of Korey Foreman, you can listen to a recent interview with him here.
A few quotes that stood out to me about the Ducks were:
“I’m very comfortable with them. Coaching staff is amazing, coach Joe (Salave’a) is probably one of my best friends… As of right now Oregon is getting some dogs, along with the defense that they already have. So, I mean, every day I think about how it would be if I was already there. And due to just everyone else I would be playing with, so Justin Flowe, Noah (Sewell), KT (Kayvon Thibodeaux), so forth… I mean the defense would be unstoppable.”
Sounds good to me! Anyways that’s all for my thoughts on Korey Foreman and his recruitment. If you want to hear me talk more Ducks football & recruiting go subscribe to Quacked Out Podcast on Spotify and follow at @QuackedOutPod on Twitter! My personal Twitter account is @mf_reid so go follow there as well for more Ducks content and reach out with any questions or topics you’d like me to address on the podcast or in an article here on Cascadia SN. Appreciate your readership. Peace.