UO must replace four standout players who were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday
Oregon’s 2019 recruiting class includes five defensive linemen, four wide receivers, two outside linebackers and two safeties.
The newcomers at those positions will have some big shoes to fill with the departure of defensive end Jalen Jelks, wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, outside linebacker Justin Hollins and safety Ugo Amadi to the NFL.
All four former Ducks were among the 338 draft prospects officially invited Thursday to the NFL Scouting Combine, which will be held Feb. 26-March 4 in Indianapolis.
Jelks impressed scouts during practices at the Senior Bowl and met with a handful of teams, including Super Bowl champion New England, during his time in Mobile, Ala.
During his senior season, Jelks led Pac-12 defensive linemen with 57 tackles and finished with 22.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 recruiting cycle, is already on campus and will be in the mix to replace Jelks in the starting lineup.
“The way the coaches are and the future, it is great,” Jelks said before capping his Oregon career during the 7-6 win over Michigan State at the Redbox Bowl. “Of course I’d come back if I could.”
Hollins, who played on the Ducks’ 2014 team that won the Pac-12 and appeared in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game, was named the defensive most valuable player of the East-West Shrine Game.
Last season as a fifth-year senior, Hollins had 64 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception.
Miami transfer D.J. Johnson, sophomore Adrian Jackson and redshirt freshman Andrew Johnson are candidates to replace Hollins at the position opposite La’Mar Winston.
The incoming class includes two players listed as outside linebackers — Treven Ma’ae and Isaac Townsend.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal replaced outside linebackers coach Cort Dennison, who left for Louisville, with Washington State assistant Ken Wilson.
“I’m really fired up about (Wilson),” Cristobal said. “As I was traveling in recruiting it almost felt like he had an advertising agency up and down the coastline. Every school I’d stop, ‘You got to talk to Ken Wilson.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, are you his agent or something, is there a fee that comes with his?’
“But we’re real happy that he is here.”
Amadi won the Lombardi Award given for “performance and leadership honed by character and resiliency.” The versatile senior, who began his career at Oregon as a cornerback, returned two interceptions for touchdowns and a punt for another touchdown last season.
The favorite to replace the Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist in the starting lineup is Jevon Holland, who had five interceptions as a true freshman. Oregon also signed two safeties from Alabama in Trikweze Bridges and Jamal Hill.
“We’ve got guys like Steve Stevens, Billy Gibson who have to do a lot of development in this offseason, too,” safeties coach Keith Heyward said. “Those guys who are here (for spring practice) are going to get the first crack at it, then when those young guys come in they’re going to have an opportunity to earn it.
“It will be fun. We’ve got some good guys to play.”
Mitchell was the only junior to leave the Ducks early for the NFL draft. He led the Pac-12 and set a single-season Oregon receiving record with 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018.
Developing reliable targets for Justin Herbert will be one of the key story lines for Oregon entering the season.
During Wednesday’s signing day news conference, Cristobal said he is close to hiring a new receivers coach to replace Michael Johnson Sr., who left to join the staff at Mississippi State.
Three receivers with starting experience — Jaylon Redd (433 yards, five touchdowns), Johnny Johnson (215 yards, four touchdowns) and Brenden Schooler (203 yards, one touchdown) — return.
Bryan Addison, a physically gifted 6-foot-5 freshman, was able to retain his redshirt after playing in only four games in 2018.
True freshman Josh Delgado has enrolled early to start getting on the same page with Herbert during spring practice. The incoming class includes four wide receivers, including four-star prospect Mycah Pittman.
Another touted 2019 receiver, Puka Nacua, has yet to sign a national latter-of-intent. The top overall prospect from the state of Utah is verbally committed to USC but considering Oregon and Washington.
Cristobal and his staff could also add Penn State graduate transfer Juwan Johnson to the roster.
“Competition is not a threat, competition is a way to elevate a program,” Cristobal said. “So the older guys have to embrace the younger guys and the young guys have to embrace the culture. It’s a two-way street.”