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Why Oregon has the best secondary in college football

PFF has seen some remarkable secondaries over the course of the last six years, like LSU and Ohio State this past season, Alabama from 2016-17, etc. There are debates every year about who really has the best secondary or who the real “DBU” is. And for the 2020 season, the best secondary returning isn’t one of the teams we are accustomed to talking about in these discussions. Teams like LSU and Georgia will return some top-tier secondaries, but the best secondary in college football belongs to the Oregon Ducks.

[Editor’s note: Click this link to see PFF’s 2020 NFL Draft grades for all 32 teams. And if you haven’t already, be sure to pick up a copy of PFF’s 2020 NFL Draft Guide by subscribing to PFF EDGE or ELITE.]

Over the last few months, I've written a series of articles detailing the best returning players at every position. At cornerback, the Ducks have four of the top 25 in Jevon Holland, Mykael Wright, Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir. At safety, the Ducks have two in the top 11 in Nick Pickett and Brady Breeze.

Last year, PFF debuted our NFL Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and College Wins Above Average (WAA) metrics. In short, they measure player performance by a win value above a replacement-level player for NFL and above an average player for college. Oregon last year had the third-most-valuable secondary in college football in regard to PFF WAA. The Ducks’ secondary returns more snaps than any other in college football and — most importantly — returns the most talent than anyone else by a mile:

Most WAA in the secondary returning in 2020

Team WAA
1. Oregon Ducks 1.88
2. Georgia Bulldogs 1.28
3. LSU Tigers 1.19
4. TCU Horned Frogs 1.03
4. Virginia Tech Hokies 1.03
6. Washington Huskies 1.02

When you combine the talent Oregon has in the secondary with a great defensive coordinator in Andy Avalos — who led Boise State’s defense to above-average rankings in EPA per pass allowed from 2016-18 — you get yourself one of the top defenses in college football. Oregon was fifth in PFF coverage grade during Avalos’ first year as the Ducks’ defensive coordinator. They’re going to be a nightmare to face in his second year as DC with every key member of their secondary returning. In fact, Oregon returns the most WAA to its secondary that we have ever seen a team return in the PFF College era. These are the only teams to even come close to Oregon’s mark:

• Alabama in 2016 when it returned Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson

• Florida in 2015 when it returned Teez Tabor, Marcus Maye, Quincy Wilson, Vernon Hargreaves III, Brian Poole and Keanu Neal

• Michigan in 2015 when it returned Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers and Delano Hill

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