Oregon Playmaker Poised For Huge 2024?
What house would Jordan James belong to if he were a student athlete at Hogwarts? VP has the answer...
Twelve and a quarter inches... ash... pleasantly springy. It's in fine condition.
- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
“Sixty One and a quarter inches tall... nimble... pleasantly springy. He’s in fine condition.”
On a chilly afternoon in Eugene, OR, as he puffed on a stogy, Coach Dan Lanning observed with delight as rising junior RB, Jordan James, breezed through a set of demanding agility drills.
“His new Nike cleats are fire,” Lanning remarked to his assistant, Cedric, who responded, “He polished them off first thing this morning.” with a grin.
Lanning continued, reflecting on a recent team-building exercise inspired by his favorite book series, Harry Potter. “When I first introduced the sorting ceremony based on the four houses, I had no idea it would be such a hit. I remember James’ sorting ceremony like it was yesterday. You recall, Cedric?”
Cedric, waving a wand-like object to signal a water break to the players, replied, “Of course, there was much deliberation between Hufflepuff vs. Ravenclaw.”
“That’s correct, Ced. One on hand, James embodies the values of Hufflepuff to a tee: hard work, patience— I love his patience running between the tackles… and most importantly, loyalty.
He didn’t transfer just because he was playing behind Bucky Irving and the boys— no! He got stronger, smarter, he learned new tricks.
When he wasn’t playing as much as he wanted, did he turn into a hater like that dickhead Malfoy? Hell no, he grinded…
On the other hand, he does hold many of the traits of Ravenclaw also: intelligence— he’s such a smart runner… he navigates so well in traffic (Cedric nods along)…
Values like knowledge and planning ahead, wit, these all fit his description too…
So of course, it took us all by surprise when his sorting ceremony concluded with him picking out the Gryffindor-themed Nike shoes from his mystery box…”
Cedric interjects: “The Nikes choose the player, not the other way around.”
“Indeed, you’re right, I’m just so fired up about the magic he as in the store for us next season…”
Lanning takes a final puff of his stogy, and bids farewell to his assistant, seemingly vanishing into thin air upon the touch of his Nike cleats, which he insists on calling his ‘Air-Portkeys’.
Hello to all the readers out there, and welcome back to VolumePigs. If you haven’t guessed it by now, today’s player profile is focused on Oregon RB Jordan James.
A product of Nashville, TN, James was originally committed to UGA, until former Bulldog DC Dan Lanning took the Oregon head coaching job late in 2021. Evidently, the connection between the player and the coach was a strong one, as James decided to follow Lanning to Eugene later that cycle. Lanning — gentleman that he is — repaid the Bulldogs by sticking with the program to see them through a Natty before official making his way out West.
James was a prolific player at the high school level in Tennessee, showing a nice blend of burst and power on his highlights linked above. More importantly, he finds himself on a team looking to replace a Volume Pig in the backfield headed into 2024.
Coaching & System
Oregon OC Will Stein’s system is more known for his pass production, but Bucky Irving’s 2023 campaign put me on notice. Looking through Stein’s history, he’s had a steep rise within the coaching ranks within the last five years. In 2019 he was the OC of a Texas high school called Lake Travis. In 2020, he was hired by UTSA as the pass-game coordinator and WRs coach. He was promoted to co-OC in 2022, before eventually being poached by the Ducks in 2023.
So, he doesn’t have an extensive pattern of play calling to draw information from. But, looking through his first two seasons as an OC (2022 and 2023), he definitely does not seem like the type of coach who wants his RBs to have 200+ carries, let alone 250+. That can still work, as long as the RBs are also getting significant work in the pass game, as was the case with Irving this past season. Señor Bucky took a total of 225 touches for over 1400 yards and 12 TDs (20.7 PPG in 1PPR formats) in 2023.
His primary runner the year prior was Kevorian Barnes at UTSA, who took 136 carries for over 800 yards and six scores, and caught 10 passes for 113 yards. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s one season with a Volume Pig in the backfield, and one without.
So the jury is still out on Stein’s background as it relates to RB production. That can be a good and a bad thing. On one hand, the so-so track record of the system may scare off enough people to avoid drafting James until late, pushing his price down.
On the other hand, it can be said that CFF managers tend to have short memories, and the performance of Irving in 2023 may loom large in their evaluations of Jordan James come summer drafts. It’s hard to say at this point which force will win out. I’m guessing the latter.
One question that we will probably have to ask ourselves with regards to Oregon’s starting RB in 2024 (whether it be James or someone else) is: how confident are we in their pass-catching abilities? Irving hit the 20 PPG threshold by season’s end in 2023, and it was in large part due to the receiving usage he received (no pun intended).
This is probably a good spot to Segway into the next section.
Jordan James — 5’10, 205
James joined the ducks as a freshman in the 2022 offseason. His frosh campaign was a successful one, he managed to play in 10 games, accumulating 189 yards on 46 carries and five scores (5.1 PPG). He was only targeted three times, catching one pass for six yards.
This past season, James played a bigger role in the offence as the RB2 behind Bucky Irving. The Ducks fed him 98 carries, of which he took for 696 yards and 11 scores (12.9 PPG). In 13 games played, he was targeted 17 times, of which he caught 14 for 123 yards and a score.
The receiving usage doesn’t stand out to me— not in a good way, at least. James averaged less than two targets per game when he played. My concern is that usually receiving usage is an indicator of the ability of the RB to do that thing. The coaches know best in this case, since they’re the ones who see the player most often.
That being said, James was the RB2 behind Irving, who was a pretty effective receiving back, so it could be that the Ducks staff opted to use Irving in this role whenever the occasion called for it. Thus, the lack of receiving usage isn’t a definite inditement on James, as it could be more of a compliment to Irving. Nonetheless, at this point we can’t say we have evidence suggesting that James has shown elite pass-catching upside. As mentioned above, that could be the make-or-break variable in determining whether James approaches the 20 PPG threshold in 2024 under Stein.
As far as as a runner, James was extremely efficient with his carries in 2023. He averaged 7.1 ypc, and scoring 11 TDs on less than 100 carries is pretty neat. He was given double-digit carries only three times, and in each of those games he scored: 28.1 (vs. Portland St.), 15.3 (vs. Washington), and 10.3 (vs. Washington State) points. His best three games came against Portland St., Hawaii (18.1 points), and Cal (15.4 points).
That’s encouraging, because even if he also doesn’t clear 200 carries in 2024, if he maintains some semblance of that efficiency, he could still be a significant CFF asset. By the numbers, let’s just say he gets the same amount of carries as Irving for simplicity’s sake. He would need to average 6.1 ypc on 172 carries to clear 1000 yards.
That leads me to the next issue. Oregon is moving to the B1G next season. That means that they’ll be playing against some stingier run defences in conference play. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin are potential games where it might be tough sledding. Certainly I would expect that to be the case vs. the latter three. Traditionally, Bret Bielema teams are strong vs. the run, but Illinois was pretty average in 2023. You also have games against former PAC12 opponents Oregon State, UCLA and Washington.
I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect James to maintain an efficiency of 7.1 ypc as the primary carrier next season, but as long as he maintains an average over six yards, he could still be valuable.
The receiving usage remains a question mark, and that’ll be something to watch this spring. Presumed Duck starting QB Dillon Gabriel’s most targeted RB last season at OU was Marcus Major (16), with only 12 receptions on the year. The kicker— Major only played in six games. Gabriel also targeted runners Gavin Sawchuk and Tawee Walker 16 and 10 times, respectively.
Bo Nix was famously amicable to the idea of check down targets during his time in Eugene, and that helped his RBs finish higher than you’d expect in year-end CFF rankings. ‘Check down Bo’ is what he was called. Actually— nobody called him that, but they might as well have. Going forward, we have neither evidence of Jordan James being a serviceable pass-catching RB nor Dillon Gabriel ever leaning on his RBs as receivers.
So what am I to do? It’s true, James is following a Volume Pig and he’s the next guy up (though they did bring in a 1000-yard JuCo RB via the portal). But when an important ingredient of why the first guy was a good asset in the first place is a major question mark with the next guy, some serious discounting has to be done. I’m not here to prescribe any range of rounds or anything yet on James, this is just as a word of caution to the readers out there. FWIW, I am still ‘in’ on James (for now, at least). Unfortunately, it seems we won’t get a glimpse of James as the starter in the Bowl game as Bucky Irving intends to play.
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