Courtney: What are the Ducks getting in Byron Cardwell?

The speedy four-star running back recruit is a true home run threat, if allowed a crease

Posted on January 25, 2021

  By Chris Courtney of WFOD for SportsPac12

While most of the hay is in the barn as it relates to Oregon’s 2021 recruiting class, there are still a few more last-minute finishing touches that Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal and his staff are putting on before their work is complete.


One of the last installations to this historic class came Monday, as Oregon landed a verbal commitment from San Diego (Calif.) Morse four-star running back Byron Cardwell.

Ranked as the nation’s eighth-best running back per 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, Cardwell joins fellow four-star ball carrier Seven McGee as the second pledge to Oregon’s class of 2021 recruits. He is also the sixth prospect from the state of California to commit to the Ducks this cycle, and combines with CJ Verdell to give Oregon a second running back who hails from the San Diego metro area.

After earning more than 20 offers from programs such as Florida State, Florida, Notre Dame, and LSU, Cardwell chose the Ducks over a final group that also included Auburn, Cal, and Texas A&M. Though he’ll be unable to sign until the February signing period, Cardwell’s commitment solidifies Oregon’s sixth-ranked recruiting class nationally according to 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings.

Below we take a closer look at Cardwell’s game, examining his weaknesses and strengths, as well as projecting how he may make an impact for the Ducks when he ultimately arrives on campus.

Notable Weaknesses
  • Not especially physical: Though he’s listed at 6-feet and 203 pounds, Cardwell’s game isn’t necessarily predicated on physicality and grinding out yards between the tackles. Seems to prefer bouncing plays to the edge, which may lead to the relinquishment of carries to bigger backs in short yardage or goal line situations.
  • Lacks explosiveness: While Cardwell has game-breaking ability, he’s not particularly explosive coming in and out of cuts, or attacking the hole. Has solid lateral quickness and movement skills, but doesn’t necessarily have the kind of “leave you in the dust” quickness you’d expect from a player of his size and with the label of top running back in the state of California.

Notable Strengths
  • Effective weapon out of the backfield: Cardwell’s ability to impact the game as a receiving threat out of the backfield should increase his chances of seeing the field early at Oregon. With a skill-set somewhat reminiscent of former Duck running back and receiver Byron Marshall, Cardwell could be a dynamic fit for this Oregon offense.
  • Long, smooth strider with breakaway speed: What Cardwell lacks in elite stop and start ability, he makes up for with smooth “one cut and go” skills. Cardwell’s long stride and efficient running style can lull defenders who don’t respect his speed and quickness to sleep. He’s a true home run threat if allowed a crease.
  • Quality size: Though we have concerns about his natural inclination to be physical as a runner, Cardwell’s size is nothing to scoff at. With proper weight training and time to mature and adjust to the collegiate game, Cardwell could emerge as a rock solid 210 to 215-pound running back who could be tough to corral if allowed to build up a head of steam.

Overall Outlook

With the decisions to transfer from Jayvaun Wilson and Cyrus Habibi-Likio, the number of potential available carries has gone up in the Oregon backfield since the end of the 2020 season. Of course, CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, and Sean Dollars still remain, with freshmen Trey Benson and Seven McGee also looking to crack the rotation next fall.

Yet, with as much collegiate game experience as both Benson and McGee, the opportunity will be there for Cardwell to compete for early reps.

The question, however, is how realistic is Cardwell’s opportunity in 2021?

Given Verdell’s struggles to stay healthy, Dye’s fumbling issues, and the unproven talents of Dollars, Benson, and McGee (who could eventually end up as a receiver), it’s easy to see Cardwell coming on as a factor later on in the year should the wear and tear of a season take its toll on the Oregon backfield.

However, it seems more likely that Cardwell’s first year on campus will look similar to Dollars’ first year in Eugene, with a chance at limited action during the non-conference schedule before utilizing a redshirt and seeing more of an expanded opportunity the following year, particularly if McGee changes positions.

Ultimately, with Cardwell part of the fold, it’s safe to say that the Ducks will have no shortage of options at running back for the foreseeable future. And though he may need to bide his time, the addition of Cardwell reinforces the notion that Oregon may have the Pac-12’s deepest stable of running backs entering the 2021 season.

This story also appears at and is syndicated with permission. Follow WFOD on Twitter @_WFOD and Chris Courtney @csquared02.

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