Assessing the future of the DL position in Eugene

Going into the offseason for the Oregon Ducks, one of the biggest areas of concern was on the defensive line. While that unit played well in 2022, there were a lot of question marks about who would be returning for the 2023 season.

Defensive end DJ Johnson announced quickly after the end of the regular season that he would be declaring for the NFL Draft and opting out of the bowl game. It was also believed that Brandon Dorlus would do the same, and guys like Casey Rogers, Taki Taimani, and Popo Aumavae had yet to make their future intentions clear.

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This past week has been an endless source of good news on that front for the Ducks. It started out on Sunday with Dorlus announcing that he would be coming back for one more year, and continued on Tuesday with Rogers announcing that he would do the same. Wednesday provided the fireworks, with South Carolina defensive lineman Jordan Burch, a former 5-star recruit and the No. 1 ranked player in the transfer portal, announcing that he would commit to the Ducks, giving Lanning one of the best DL in the nation.

We also got news from Aumavae, who has been granted an injury waiver and will be returning for one last season in Eugene as well.

With all of this news, I figured it would be a great time to look at the defensive line as a whole and try to project how things will shake up in 2023. Some of the aforementioned guys will likely announce their future intentions in the next week , and a few others may choose to transfer to other schools.

Let’s take a look at how things stand on the DL going into the offseason:

2022 Stats: 11 Games | 39 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR

Career Stats: 33 games | 64 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR

Outlook: DJ Johnson was one of the first players to declare for the NFL Draft on Oregon’s roster, and he will leave as the Ducks’ leading pass-rusher, which is a major need for Oregon to fill this offseason. The addition of Jordan Burch from South Carolina in the transfer portal is a major help.

2022 Stats: 13 Games | 39 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU

Career Stats: 38 Games | 83 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 5 PBU

Outlook: Brandon Dorlus announcing his return on Sunday was a massive deal for the Ducks, and it gives them back arguably their best defensive lineman going into the 2023 season. We will likely see Dorlus’ name scattered across a number of pre-season award watch lists later this summer.

2022 Stats: 13 Games | 60 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FR

Career Stats: 31 Games | 105 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD

Outlook: Next to Brandon Dorlus, the commitment from South Carolina transfer Jordan Burch is quite possibly the biggest news that Oregon got regarding the defensive line. Burch was ranked as the No. 1 available player in the transfer portal, per The Athletic, and the former 5-star recruit had a relationship with Dan Lanning from his time at Georgia. Burch immediately comes to Eugene and projects as a starter, and he should be one of the best players on the team if he plays to his potential.

2022 Stats: 13 Games | 34 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR, 1 TD

Career Stats: 27 Games | 76 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks

Outlook: Getting Casey Rogers back on the roster for the 2023 season is big for the Ducks because it gives that defensive line some depth and experience. Rogers’ numbers don’t jump off the page at you, but he is a valuable piece and he came on strong at the end of the year, having arguably his best game in the Holiday Bowl vs. North Carolina.

2022 Stats: No Stats/Injury

Career Stats: 30 Games | 68 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks

Outlook: Popo Aumavae was granted another year of eligibility due to his season-ending injury ahead of the 2022 season, and he will be one of the leaders on the DL, bringing a load of experience to the table. It’s hard to know exactly how he will look in Dan Lanning’s scheme, but this is a big return for the Ducks.

2022 Stats: 13 Games | 32 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD

Career Stats: 44 Games | 121 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD

Outlook: Mase Funa announced that he was returning for his final year of eligibility minutes after being named the Defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl, which is a major boost for Oregon’s defensive line/linebacker position. Funa is an experienced player who can have a major impact on the team and projects to be one of the best players on defense next season.

2022 Stats: 11 Games | 14 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU

Career Stats: 36 Games | 82 games, 4.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR

Outlook: Taimani didn’t have a massive impact in the 2022 season, but he is a big body and a really nice depth piece on the defensive line and should be able to play some of his best ball going forward.

2022 Stats: 13 Games | 21 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR

Career Stats: 23 Games | 46 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FR

Outlook: We now start getting into the category of players who I expect to return to Eugene for the 2023 season, but wouldn’t be completely surprised to see them hit the transfer portal. Ware-Hudson played in all 13 games this season and was a solid piece, but you could argue that he would find a bigger role elsewhere if he looked. Regardless, I think we will see him playing in Autzen next season.

2022 Stats: 11 Games | 5 tackles

Career Stats: 12 games 8 tackles

Outlook: Shipley is someone I see as 50/50 — just as likely to enter the portal this off-season as he is to return to Eugene. He hasn’t played much of a role during his three years at Oregon, but he did see a season-high 33 snaps in the Holiday Bowl against North Carolina. Does that mean his role is increasing and he would be a bigger part of the scheme if he came back in 2023? Impossible to say.

2022 Stats: 6 Games | 2 tackles, 1 PBU

Career Stats: 8 Games | 5 tackles, 1 PBU

Outlook: Williams may be a 50/50 guy, or he may be more of an 80/20 guy in favor of transferring. He’s a solid player with a nice build and skill set, but you could argue that he’d have more success seeing the field at a different school. As a former 4-star recruit, he would definitely be coveted in the transfer portal, should he choose to go that way.

2022 Stats: 1 Game | 1 PBU

Career Stats: 1 Game | 1 PBU

Outlook: After utilizing his redshirt as a freshman in 2022, Mells will have a chance to compete for some playing time on the interior defensive line and make an impact going forward.

2022 Stats: 4 Games | 3 tackles

Career Stats: 4 Games | 3 tackles

Outlook: We saw the true freshman get his feet wet in 2022, recording three tackles in four games and utilizing his redshirt, and it should be expected that he has more of an impact going forward. Roberts was the highest-rated DL commit in Oregon’s 2022 class and should have a nice future in Eugene.

2022 Stats: 13 Games | 12 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU

Career Stats: 25 Games | 34 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU

Outlook: Ma’ae is someone that I expect to return for the 2023 season. It would come as a bit of a surprise to see him enter the portal, although he could arguably find a better path to consistent playing time elsewhere. However, he has a nice role on the defense and should be able to have an impact in 2023 if he comes back to Eugene.

2022 Stats: 1 Game | 0 tackles

Career Stats: 5 Games | 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack

Outlook: Poti is a player who I expect to enter the transfer portal this offseason. He only played in one game this past season and could definitely find a bigger role on a new team.

2022 Stats: 2 Games | 1 tackle

Career Stats: 2 Games | 1 tackle

Outlook: Anthony Jones was a high-profile recruit in the 2022 class and he shows a lot of promise going forward. He was able to utilize his redshirt as a true freshman and projects to be an impactful edge rusher for the Ducks.

Outlook: Uiagalelei is the prized defensive line recruit for the Ducks in this recruiting class, and he has the skill and size to potentially be an instant impact player. We will see how the rest of the defensive line shakes out through the transfer portal, but there’s a scenario where Uiagaelei is asked to act as a pass-rusher on meaningful downs in 2023.

Outlook: Bowens is another member of the Class of 2023 who could make an impact as soon as next season as a true freshman. He’s a similar player as DJ Johnson in size and ability. It all really depends on how the numbers shake out. Bowens could add depth to the defensive end spot or be a Mase Funa-type linebacker or even be a hybrid player such as Johnson and play all over the field.

Outlook: Porter was the last addition to Oregon’s DL, but he provides a huge upside with a great set of skills and a big body from Texas. Primarily slotted on the interior, Porter fits the Brandon Dorlus mold and he could take over on the interior in the coming years.

Outlook: At 6-3 and 240 pounds, he could either fill a linebacker spot, an edge rusher or a hybrid of the two as DJ Johnson did in 2022. Oregon will have a need at linebacker in 2024 and with a year in the program, Purchase could have a chance to start as a sophomore.

Outlook: Jaeden Moore often goes overlooked in Oregon’s deep class of defensive linemen, but he provides great length and athleticism on the edge and could be a great pass-rusher in a couple of seasons.

Outlook: Green is already a big kid at 6-5 and 265. It’ll be interesting to see how he shapes out using Oregon’s weight room for a year or two. He might slim down some and be an outside pass rusher such as Kayvon Thibodeaux or bulk up and become a Casey Rogers type. The defensive line depth chart is jam-packed, so Green might slim down and improve his speed in order to get on the field earlier than one might expect.

Outlook: The Ducks have a lot of big bodies on the defensive line, and they just added another one with Gardner. It may be hard for him to see a lot of the field as a true freshman with all of the depth ahead of him, but Gardner has a high ceiling and should be a nice piece for the Ducks going forward.

Outlook: Tuioti is a big-bodied defender who really came into his own in his senior season with the Sheldon Irish. It’s hard to see him getting onto the field for a ton of meaningful minutes as a freshman, but Tuioti did enroll early and join the Ducks for bowl practice ahead of the Holiday Bowl, so he’s got a nice jump start on things.

Outlook: Washington is one of the few true freshmen who could see some significant playing time in 2023, especially if Dorlus decides to move on to the NFL. He would battle with the likes of Sir Mells, Jordon Riley, Taki Taimani and Ben Roberts for playing time as soon as next season for the Ducks.

Outlook: Pome’e is a big body on the defensive line with a lot of potential, but it may take a couple of years before he can be a solid contributor on the field, working his way up through the depth chart. Despite that, his size and skill-set make him a great player for Dan Lanning and Tony Tuioit to work with over the coming year.

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