The ‘big ugly’ ducklings: The unsung heroes on Oregon’s offensive line

Justin Herbert enters the season as a heavy favorite to go #1 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. His bodyguards up front are also deserving of some buzz.

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For nearly the past two decades, the Oregon Ducks have fielded among the most explosive offenses college football has to offer. During that span, they’ve sent a slew of offensive players to the NFL, including numerous offensive linemen.

Now, as they enter the 2019 season, they do so with the prized quarterback prospect of the 2020 NFL Draft in Justin Herbert.

Of course, your potential #1 pick at QB and playmakers will garner most of the praise. However, Oregon also boasts one of the best offensive lines not only in the Pac-12 but in the entire country. Up front, the Ducks return all five starters from last year. This includes the senior trio of Oregon offensive linemen Calvin Throckmorton, Shane Lemieux and Jake Hanson who have started all three years on the line together.

With such experience and talent, this group is bound to get the most attention when it comes to those talking about the NFL Draft. They’ve even created some buzz already in the premature process. Looking ahead to April, it’s very likely we see three players off of the Oregon offensive line drafted.

OT Calvin Throckmorton

An early candidate for All-Name Team, Calvin Throckmorton is your modern day Renaissance Man. Aside from his NFL aspirations, Throckmorton has his sights set on applying to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. This should come as no surprise, as the offensive linemen are typically the most intelligent men out on the field.

In the early goings, Throckmorton holds the most name notoriety among this group. I wasn’t sold on him going back to the 2017 season. He gave off that classic lumberer vibe. However, he showed signs of development this past year, especially on a game to game basis.

There were worries for Throckmorton in pass protection. Typically slow off the snap, he struggled to recover ground against speedier rushers. As the 2018 season went on, you saw him become more comfortable in his pass sets. He’s never going to be a natural knee bender which hurts his fluidity around the arch. However, he cleaned up his footwork and was more efficient in his kick step as last season progressed. Still, he could struggle against the rush at the next level due to his high, off-balanced stance.

While his movement skills can get him into trouble, Throckmorton’s strength and power serve as his saving grace. He has a strong punch and the grip strength to derail an edge’s rush. I was particularly impressed with his ability to use his body mass to crowd rushers and seemingly swallow their rush angles–something he vastly improved. I’d personally like to see continued growth in his hand usage.

Run game support

In the running game, Throckmorton proved to be a mauling presence at times. Listed at 6’5”/318, he looks even bigger on tape. He’s not a natural mover in space, but he can stick to the script and be effective in the ground game. As a bigger guy, he struggles with leverage at times. However, when he gets off the ball first, he’s shown the ability to use the snatch-and-trap and swallow the opponent. When he gets his hands on his opponent, he’s shown the ability to keep hold and drive laterally.

There are still some kinks for Throckmorton to work out. However, the steps he’s made in the past year are encouraging. He’s started at both tackle and guard spots during his career at Oregon. The versatility will be sure to entice teams, along with the durability he’s proven to this point. Throckmorton looks like a potential late day two pick. We could see him transition to the interior at the next level if he doesn’t initially play well at tackle.

LG Shane Lemieux

Perhaps the most unsung hero of the unsung heroes, Shane Lemieux was my favorite guy to watch among this group. You don’t see much draft buzz for him compared to Throckmorton or Jake Hanson. However, he sets the tone up front and certainly plays with the most nastiness along Oregon’s line.

Like the other guys on this list, Lemieux has started all three years. The redshirt senior has been a mainstay for the Ducks at left guard. Dominant at times as a run blocker, leverage comes easy to him. Lemieux sits low in his stance and has shown flexibility in his lower half. He moves well and has the strength and lateral agility to drive blocks along the line. Often deployed on pulls, Lemieux generates momentum upfield and hits blocks with authority.

Protecting the pass, he uses leverage and knee bend to keep a sturdy anchor. He’s shown the ability to block multiple defenders and adapt to transition blocks. He plays to the whistle and is one of those guys always looking for work. Lemieux is aggressive and physical with a knack for finishing. He’s one of the best combo blockers you’ll find; extremely willing to bring the pain on vulnerable opponents.

What Lemieux brings to the NFL

From where I’m sitting, Lemieux looks like a surefire draft pick. According to Pro Football Focus, he was their #6 graded guard in the nation last season. The NFL loves these physical interior guys who can move and play with aggression. Lemiuex’s draft stock very well could come down to his testing. Regardless, another strong season and perhaps a solid Senior Bowl appearance could drive his draft stock up to day two.

C Jake Hanson

Now we get to the most technically refined player and arguably the top center in the nation. Jake Hanson is the catalyst up front and applies the cohesion to the interior. He’s exceptional off the snap and gets his hands up in a hurry. With that, he’ll typically win the leverage battle. However, even when he doesn’t, he possesses phenomenal recovery ability.

Like Lemieux, you’ll see Hanson often utilized on pulls. While he has good but not great movement skills, he turns the corner with speed and can punish defenders in his path. He looks composed climbing to the second level and understands leverage angles in space.

The trump card for Hanson comes with his devastating power. Often times he won with brute strength and flashed the ability to finish with force. Along with his power and ability to win leverage, Hanson displays lateral agility which makes him a force as a run blocker. He gets under his man, drives them and finishes.

What Hanson brings to the NFL

There’s a lot to like in Hanson and quite frankly there just aren’t many holes in his game. You’d like to see him become more consistent, especially in pass protection. Also, he looked most prone to penalties among the Oregon offensive linemen last season. However, he has all the traits of an imposing interior lineman. With his body of work and another year of good tape, Hanson could find himself off the board as early as day two.

Ducks fly together

These Ducks have now soared together for three seasons going on four. Aside from their in-season goals, they could all find themselves participating in this year’s Senior Bowl; which would be a feat for them and the program alike. It wouldn’t end there as I believe there’s a strong chance each hears their name called during draft weekend. From starting together as freshmen, through all the accolades and recognition over illustrious college careers, getting drafted would be the icing on the cake.

I think all have day two potential. Throckmorton isn’t the most refined, but his mold of size and power will be sure to attract teams. Lemieux is a rock-solid player with tons of physicality and a scheme versatile skillset. Hanson has an excess of experience calling the shots and brings a lot of stability to the interior.

The potential of the Oregon offensive linemen

This Oregon offensive line unit has to be in the conversation among the best in program history. Not only will this team be forced to replace Herbert following the season, but they will need to retool the offensive line with four new starters in 2020. Not mentioned in the article is redshirt senior Dallas Warmack (Chance’s brother), who should draw interest as an undrafted free agent.

Then there’s Penei Sewell who started last year at left tackle as a true freshman and should for the next two to three seasons. Sewell was a coveted recruit coming out of high school and will maintain this strong lineage of Oregon offensive linemen when he reaches the next level. He finished 2018 as PFF’s top-graded tackle in the Pac-12.

It’s truly special what this unit has been able to accomplish during their stay in Eugene. With their sights set on a conference title and beyond, the Oregon Ducks will be one of the best teams in the nation this season in large part due to their offensive line. Let’s enjoy their last season together as we continue to witness greatness.

Opposing defenders, beware.


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