Players to watch in 2017: Freeman, Griffin can be explosive weapons for Taggart’s offense

In 2016, the Oregon Ducks might have been the most talented 4-8 team in the country. The athletic potential of the Ducks was, and still is, tantalizing. Willie Taggart has some talented players to work with this season.

Here are four players to watch in 2017.

Taj Griffin:
Griffin was impressive in his debut season with the Ducks in 2015. A combination of speed and lateral quickness led to three rushing touchdowns and an average of 7.9 yards per carry. Due to injury, however, he only played in eight games last season. Despite the shortened season, Griffin still found pay dirt, scoring three rushing touchdowns. Now that he’s recovered from his injury, watch for Griffin to contribute in a big way this season. He possesses the versatility to contribute as both a receiver and rusher. When he’s firing on all cylinders, there are few defenders that can match Griffin’s sheer speed.

Royce Freeman:
This one might seem obvious, but it’s difficult to overstate the impact Freeman has on the Ducks. In his first two seasons, Freeman rushed for a combined 3,201 yards and 35 touchdowns. An early season injury against Nebraska put a dent in his production last season. Freeman still rushed for 945 yards and nine touchdowns. The prospect of a healthy season for Freeman should frighten the Pac-12. He is a physical runner able to break tackles and finish runs with consistency. He also possesses the speed and vision to hit holes and extend runs to the second level. That combination of skills will likely make Freeman the centerpiece of Oregon’s offense this season.

Thomas Graham Jr.:
Graham was one of the Ducks’ most touted recruits, and he’s been showing why in practice. Despite his status as a true freshman and the relative depth of the cornerback position, Graham has consistently spent time with the first team defense. He possesses solid speed (4.52 40-yard dash) and a strong technical foundation. In practice, he’s flashed terrific awareness. Namely, he knows when not to make a play on the ball, and lock up a receiver before they can do more damage. For an Oregon team that struggled to contain pass-heavy offenses, Graham’s discipline and speed will be a welcome asset.

Troy Dye:
On a defense that struggled  in 2016, Troy Dye was one of the few bright spots. As a true freshman, the inside linebacker recorded 91 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks. All three of those statistics led the team. Dye’s vision and speed led to him flying around the field, displaying an ability to disrupt a wide array of plays. While his freshman season was spent mostly stopping the run, Dye has the instincts and physical tools to be a threat in coverage as well. While the defense as a whole will be much improved this season, Dye will without a doubt still be its focal piece.

Follow Aaron Alter on Twitter @aaronalter95

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Aaron Alter

Aaron Alter