5 Oregon Ducks in the NFL that Fans Want Back
The Oregon Ducks football team has consistently churned out great players for the past decade and, more remarkably, at nearly every position. Fans remember great running backs in Jonathan Stewart and LeGarrette Blount, but the Ducks have also had greats at tight end (Ed Dickson and Justin Peele), defensive end (Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu) and many other units.
What’s incredible is that none of those guys listed above are on this list. That’s how good Oregon has been. Here are five players Ducks fans want to see “winning the day” on Saturdays again.
Casey Matthews (LB)
The Ducks look stacked at linebacker this year, but no matter who lines up in the middle, there will never be another Casey Matthews. His strip of Cam Newton in the 2011 National Championship game will never be forgotten by Ducks fans—ever. Oregon looked all but finished, but Matthews came from behind and punched the ball loose, setting up Oregon’s eventual tying drive. It’s a little hazy as to what happened next, but I’m pretty sure Michael Dyer was down.
Matthews finished his career at Oregon with 245 tackles and 50 games played. He was a first-team All-Pac-10 performer in his 2010 senior season as voted by the coaches.
He had an up-and-down rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles after being a fourth round draft pick in 2011. He started the first three games of the season, but was benched after inconsistent play. He finished the season strong, though, and figures to be in the mix for playing time this season.
Jeff Maehl (WR)
The Ducks certainly miss the consistency Maehl provided out wide in his four years in Eugene. Maehl went from being an unheralded reserve in the secondary his freshman year, to becoming one of the greatest Oregon receivers of all time. He ended his career tying Sammie Parker’s school records of receptions in a season (77) and receptions in a career (178).
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Maehl was the go-to-guy when the Ducks needed a big play. His catch in the National Championship to tie the game 19-19 likely would have been one of the most crucial play in Oregon history had the Ducks pulled out the win. Others that come to mind are his catches against Arizona in 2009 to put the Ducks ahead in overtime, and his miracle catch at USC in 2010.
Maehl went undrafted in the 2011 draft, but signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans. He was active for three games but never recorded a catch.
Walter Thurmond III (CB)
I can still hear PA announcer Don Essig say it now, “WAAALLLTER THURMOND THE THIRD, back to receive for the Ducks.”
Ducks fans remember Thurmond for more than his patented flat top. His career with the Ducks was about as solid as it gets, as he starred not only in coverage, but on special teams as well. He was honorable mention All-Pac-10 his freshman and sophomore seasons. He battled injuries most of his junior season, but still managed to start 12 games and was lost for most of his senior season after he tore his ACL returning a kick against Cal. A force in the return game, Thurmond returned two kicks for scores in his career, and returned three interceptions for touchdowns as well.
Thurmond was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Seattle Seahawks and would likely be their starting cornerback had he not broken his leg in 2011. He is currently on the physically unable to perform list.
Max Unger (C)
A teammate of Thurmond in Seattle, Unger had a standout career for the Ducks. He was twice named first-team All-Pac-10, and ended his career with 51 consecutive starts. He was named an All-American by Pro Football Weekly, SI.com and Rivals.com following his senior season. He started mostly at left tackle early in his career, but transitioned to center for his final two seasons. He goes down as one of the greatest offensive linemen in the program’s history.
Unger was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Seattle Seahawks and has started every game he’s been healthy for. He signed a contract to become one of the highest paid centers in the league in July.
“(Head coach) Pete (Carroll) and I are excited to lock up a young core leader on our offense,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider told the team’s official website. “Max’s consistent and professional approach to his job transcends the locker room and the huddle.”
Haloti Ngata (DT/NT)
Ngata came to Oregon with sky-high expectations, and managed to surpass them by the end of his career. The 6’5”, 338 pound behemoth missed his sophomore campaign after tearing his ACL in the season opener, but came back to dominate his final two years. Perhaps the most physically talented player in Oregon history, Ngata was Pac-10 defensive player of the year, as well as a consensus first-team All-American in 2005—his final season in Eugene.
After leaving school a year early, Ngata was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 12th overall pick. He’s arguably the top defensive lineman in the league, garnering four All-Pro selections to date.
The Ducks hope mega-recruit Arik Armstead can follow in Ngata’s footsteps and provide them with a dominating presence on the D-Line that they haven’t seen since Ngata’s stellar 2005 season.
Dennis Dixon (QB), Patrick Chung (DB), Ed Dickson (TE), TJ Ward (DB), LaMichael James (RB)
When making this list, both skill and necessity on the team were used in evaluation. Please comment below to share some of the players you’d like to see included on this list!