Oregon football has a long history in the NCAA, but it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that the program started to make its mark on a national level. The school, and especially alumni Phil Knight of Nike, started to inject more resources into the program, and the result has been Oregon becoming one of the best football programs of the 21st century.
Along the way, there have been some legendary Ducks players, but a handful that truly stands out. These players may not have had the best careers in the NFL, but what they did during their days in Eugene makes them the five best players in Oregon Ducks’ football history.
Before we start the list, here are some honorable mentions of players that just missed the cut: Jonathan Stewart, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Max Unger, Gary Zimmerman, DeForest Buckner, Kayvon Thibodeaux, LaMichael James.
5. Joey Harrington
Portland native Joey Harrington started seeing playing time in his sophomore season with Oregon, and by his junior year, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-10. Harrington’s Oregon career was capped off with a 27-6 touchdown to interception ratio and a fourth-place finish in the 2001 Heisman voting. He finished his career with 6,911 passing yards and 59 touchdowns to go along with a massive win in the Fiesta Bowl.
Post-Oregon Days: Harrington was thought to be a surefire franchise quarterback in the NFL and was selected by the Detroit Lions with the third overall pick in 2002. He remained there for four seasons and played with Miami, Atlanta, and New Orleans before ending his career in 2008 with 79 touchdowns and 85 interceptions.
4. Penei Sewell
Penei Sewell was considered a can’t-miss high school prospect who grew up in St. George, Utah. Almost every team was after his services, and Oregon landed Sewell in 2018. He immediately became a starter on the offensive line and won the Outland and Morris trophies during his 2019 All-American season before opting out of the COVID-19-affected 2020 season and entering the NFL Draft.
Post Oregon Days: Sewell was also a top 10 pick by the Detroit Lions and was selected seventh overall in 2021. Sewell became an immediate starter in Detroit and made an impact in his first season, being named to the All-Rookie Team and figures to be a staple of the Lions’ offensive line for years to come.
3. Haloti Ngata
Coming out of Salt Lake City, Haloti Ngata started on the Ducks’ defensive line for three seasons and was both an All-Pac-10 and All-American player while also winning the Morris Trophy in 2005. Ngata could do it all in college, and he only left Oregon early because of his mother’s illness and needed the NFL money to support her.
Post-Oregon Days: Ngata is another Oregon player that made his way to Detroit for three seasons, but spent nine years with the Baltimore Ravens first, and was a five-time All-Pro with the team. Ngata won a Super Bowl with Baltimore and was the 12th overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft.
2. Dennis Dixon
One of the flashiest quarterbacks of his time, Dennis Dixon threw for over 5,100 yards and had 38 touchdowns through the air during his Oregon career while also rushing for 1,208 yards and 12 touchdowns. Dixon was a two-time All-Pac-10 player and the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2007.
Post Oregon Days: Dixon is the lone Duck on the list to not be a first-round selection as he was taken 156th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008. He remained in Pittsburgh through the 2011 season and was on the practice squad for four different franchises from 2012 to 2014 before retiring with one touchdown and two interceptions.
1. Marcus Mariota
Of course, the best player in Oregon’s program history is the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner: Marcus Mariota. Mariota was a three-year starter with the Ducks, throwing for 10,796 yards and 105 touchdowns compared to just 14 interceptions. Mariota also rushed for 2,237 yards and another 29 touchdowns.
Post-Oregon Days: Mariota was the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft after Jameis Winston was taken first, leading the Tennessee Titans for five seasons. Mariota was let go by the team following the 2019 season and made his way to the Las Vegas Raiders as a backup to Derek Carr before becoming a starter once again for the Atlanta Falcons.