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Ducks offensive lineman Penei Sewell (58) cheers with his teammates before the game. Oregon Ducks Football takes on University of California at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Oct. 5, 2019. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

MVP: Penei Sewell (4 votes)

The offensive line is consistently the least talked about position in football. Sometimes, although few and far between, a prolific talent garners the attention of his fellow teammates, starting a national conversation. Oregon’s Penei Sewell has done that and more, drawing the attention of commentators, analysts and scouts, and even landing a post-game interview — a rarity for someone of his position. 

Sewell has been the nation’s best offensive tackle and looks to be a lock for the first round of the NFL Draft in only his second season. He’s anchoring one of the nation’s best lines as he makes weekly highlight reels with his near-flawless pass protection on Justin Herbert’s blind side and road-grading blocks in the run game. 

He’s won three Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week awards and is on nearly every outlet’s midseason All-American team. With unmatched strength and speed, Sewell has become the heart and soul of the 6-1 Ducks. 

Others receiving votes: Justin Herbert (3), Troy Dye (1)

 

Offensive Player of the Year: Jacob Breeland (5 votes)

Before tight end Jacob Breeland’s season was cut short after injuring his knee against Colorado, he was Oregon’s most explosive offensive weapon. After fellow tight end Cam McCormick was ruled out for the season without appearing in a game, Breeland decisively took the starting job. 

Furthermore, with a bevy of injuries to various wide receivers, Breeland stepped in and instantly became Herbert’s favorite target. In six games, he racked up a total of 405 yards on 26 catches and six touchdowns. 

Breeland was consistent, recording at least 47 yards in every outing and scoring a touchdown in all but one game. He made contested grabs all over the field and was a demon in open space, recording a huge chunk of his yards after the catch. Additionally, he was often the go-to target on third down, a presence which Herbert and the Ducks sorely missed against Washington. 

Luckily for Breeland, his impressive performance, while cut short, should ensure him a future in the NFL. 

Others receiving votes: Jaylon Redd (1), Penei Sewell (1), Justin Herbert (1)

 

Defensive Freshman of the Year: Kayvon Thibodeaux (6 votes)

 Despite losing out on the starting job to senior Gus Cumberlander, Kayvon Thibodeaux was a key piece of Andy Avalos’ defense from day one; when Cumberlander was lost for the season, Thibodeaux’s full talent was realized. 

With a towering frame and blazing speed, he has been living in opponents’ backfields. Oregon leads the conference with 22 sacks, and while Thibodeaux is only responsible for two and a half of those, his impact has been undeniable. 

While he doesn’t always get home, his athletic prowess alone has been enough for him to become a disruptive presence on the defensive line. Whether he’s pinning his ears back and blowing by tackles off the edge or tracking down a running back with defensive back-like speed, he jumps off the screen. 

Others Receiving Votes: Mase Funa (2)

 

Best Position Group: Front seven (5 votes)

Up until last week’s 35-31 win against Washington, Oregon’s defense had been near flawless, and many would likely argue that was due to the secondary. An argument could certainly be made for both, but it has been hard to ignore the front seven’s impact thus far. 

Even after last week’s shootout, Oregon ranks second in the conference in defense, just barely behind Utah’s dominant unit. They’ve allowed just one more point than the Utes and just 30 more yards per game. Where Oregon’s defense differs is in its sack (22) and interception (13) numbers, both of which are conference leading. 

The front seven is made of playmakers. The group is deep and multi-talented, but the one thing they all have in common is a relentless motor and nose for the ball, something Avalos has invoked — a different player has led the defense in tackles each week. 

Whether it’s the hulking bodies up front or the speedy, yet powerful edge rushers, the unit has bullied opponents in the trenches. 

Behind them, the linebackers have been equally impressive. Although his stats have been greatly marginalized, Troy Dye has been just as effective as ever and the new starter at inside linebacker, Isaac Slade-Matautia, is wreaking havoc week in and week out. 

Others Receiving Votes: Secondary (2), Offensive line (1)

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Jevon Holland (5 votes)

Holland was outstanding as a true freshman in 2018, but he’s taken his game to an entirely different level in 2019 — all while switching from safety to nickel corner. He leads the team in interceptions for the second year in a row, is fourth on the team in tackles and has also served as one of the more effective punt-returners in the nation.

Voted a midseason first-team All-American by Athlon Sports, Holland has grown into a leadership role among one of the best secondaries in the conference and has shored up the only weakness he displayed in 2018 — run support.

As Holland goes, so goes the Oregon defense. And both have been fantastic through seven games.

Other Receiving Votes: Isaac Slade-Matautia (1), Troy Dye (1), Deommodore Lenoir (1)

 

Offensive Freshman of the Year: Mycah Pittman (8 votes)

Oregon brought in its best freshman class in program history in 2019, and Mycah Pittman has risen to the top of that offensive group in just three games. 

He missed the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury suffered in fall camp but has hit the ground running, instantly positioning himself as one of Herbert’s go-to targets. After catching seven passes for 100 yards over his first two career games, Pittman broke through against Washington for his first touchdown of the year on a critical fourth-and-3 play that was one of the defining moments in the game.

Working both in the slot and out wide, Pittman figures to be a staple in the Oregon passing game moving forward as he continues to work into mid-season form.

Others Receiving Votes: None

 

Breakout Player of the Year: Johnny Johnson III (5 votes)

Johnny Johnson III struggled mightily with drops for much of 2018 and eventually lost his starting spot despite being one of the team’s more experienced receivers.

This season has been a remarkably different story. Johnson immediately established himself as one of the most reliable targets in the passing game against Auburn, catching seven passes for 98 yards against a stout Tigers defense. His 389 receiving yards in 2019 already far surpass last year’s total of 215, and he’s caught 30 passes in seven games as opposed to 17 receptions in 13 games in 2018.

The questions surrounding the receiving corps were rampant throughout the offseason, and Johnson represented one of the most prominent mysteries. Through seven games in 2019, he’s risen to the challenge.

Others Receiving Votes: Jevon Holland (2), Jaylon Redd (1)

 

Best Performance: Justin Herbert vs. Nevada (3 votes)

Facing off-the-charts expectations heading into his senior season, Justin Herbert has been consistently excellent leading the nation’s now-No. 11 team in 2019.

The highlight of his season so far came in Week 2 against Nevada, when he unloaded on the Wolf Pack for 310 yards and five touchdowns — in three quarters — en route to a 77-point offensive explosion.

The performance was undoubtedly big on the stat sheet, but it was also big considering the context of the season. Oregon had just come off a heartbreaking loss to Auburn in which the offense went cold down the stretch and ultimately cost the Ducks a game that they led for all but nine seconds. Herbert’s performance against Nevada was a statement as much as it was just another win over a Mountain West opponent, and the most impressive single-game performance by a Duck this season.

Others Receiving Votes: Verone McKinley III vs. Colorado (1), Jacob Breeland vs. Nevada (1), Kayvon Thibodeaux vs. Cal (1), Justin Herbert vs. Washington (1), Cyrus Habibi-Likio vs. Washington (1)

Brady Lim is a sports reporter, currently covering the beat for Ducks football and the Eugene Emeralds. Brady is originally from San Diego, California and is a senior at the University of Oregon.