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College Hotline - 2017 NFL Draft: Ranking the top prospects from the Pac-12

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    One of my favorite Hotline posts of the year, every year, is ranking the top Pac-12 prospects for the following year’s NFL Draft. It’s it’s mostly for entertainment purposes … so readers can return to it time and again and mock the predictions … but there’s also an attempt to inform:

    A look ahead to the prospects provides clues into how the season might unfold – which teams, and which positions, are the strongest and weakest.

    For instance: Quarterbacks.

    The league will have some good ones next season, but most of the top talent is young, and a young lineup of quarterbacks doesn’t bode well for the conference in the College Football Playoff race. (Scan the rosters and, partly because of the QBs, there’s no obvious on-paper contender for a semifinal spot.)

    Also: The defensive backfields look to be well-stocked, and when combined with the young QBs … and a modest array of talent on the offensive line (as we’ll see below) … and it appears there could be a lot more 24-21 games than 45-42.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.




    Notes on the following:

    ** Many of the players listed below will be draft-eligible juniors and sophomores during the upcoming season but won’t necessarily turn pro. I have selected underclassmen who seem more likely than not, from my vantage point, to leave school.

    ** Yes, yes, yes: Plenty of players not listed below will emerge as quality prospects. Have I missed some worthy names? No doubt. (Cue Utah fans railing against exclusion of Marcus Williams.) It happens every year, with multiple prospects.

    ** This is not a projection of the best players in the conference. Rather, it’s a look at the players most likely to get selected in the top three or four rounds. (Plenty of others will be picked.)

    In that regard, keep in mind that position is almost as important as ability. Quarterbacks, offensive tackles, edge rushers and cornerbacks are immensely valuable in the present-day NFL. A solid cornerback could be picked higher than a good safety, for example.

    How did I fare with the 2015 projections of the 2016 class? Not awful, especially considering the unpredictable nature of Myles Jack’s knee injury. (Didn’t see Joshua Garnett emerging as a first-round pick, however.)

    Here we go …

    12. Washington State QB Luke Falk: Can’t necessarily paint him as a system guy, but at the same time, he’s a system guy. Tougher than his lanky frame (6-4, 215) indicates, accurate and smooth in the clutch. But an early-round pick next spring? Not convinced. Yet.

    11. Oregon RB Royce Freeman: Big (230), fast and shifty. He’s everything you want in a lead running back, but even elite lead running backs are usually second-day selections. (Ezekiel Elliott was an exception; Freeman’s not Elliott.)

    10. Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie: Five of the top-25 picks in the ’16 draft were cornerbacks. Awunzie isn’t the best in the conference, but he’s on the next level and has plenty of size (6-0) and versatility (can play the slot).

    9. UCLA DL Eddie Vanderdoes: We’ll assume Vanderdoes recovers fully from his season-ending knee injury and causes havoc at the line of scrimmage throughout the upcoming fall.

    8. UCLA OLB Deon Hollins: Surprised to see his name on the list? Edge rushers, edge rushers, edge rushers. And he might be the best in the conference in ’16.

    7. Washington FS Budda Baker: Best bet to be the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year, but free safeties — even the best of them — need just the right circumstances to be picked on Day 1.

    6. USC OT Zach Banner: The best offensive lineman in the league, perhaps by a significant margin. At 360 pounds, he walls off the edge. More nimble than you’d expect for a mountain on two legs.

    5. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey: A brilliant college player who’s a threat as a pass catcher and returner (duh!). But 200-pound running backs aren’t typically top-15/20 picks. Elliott, who was by far the top RB prospect this year — and the only one picked in the first round — is 225 pounds.

    4. Utah DL Lowell Lotulelei: Exactly what teams covet in interior linemen: big, and wide. He’s a bull rusher, not a speed rusher, which could cost him a few spots. But Lotuleleli should be a first-day pick, and the success of big brother Star in Carolina won’t hurt.

    3. Washington CB Sidney Jones: This placement could come as a surprise to some, but Jones is an elite player as a position of prime value. Natural ball hawk with closing speed. Huskies won;t have to worry about his half of the field.

    2. USC CB/WR Adoree Jackson: Does everything, and does everything very, very quickly. Game-breaker with 0-to-60 acceleration. (He’s the Pac-12 long jump champ.) Assuming for purposes of this exercise that he’s pegged for defense by NFL teams, and not for receiver. But he can do that as the NFL level, too.

    1. USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: Absolutely love his game. Has NFL size and speed. Played with an injury last season and still productive. Would be surprised if he’s in the top five, but anything in the No. 6 -15 range feels right … as of now.

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    The post 2017 NFL Draft: Ranking the top prospects from the Pac-12 appeared first on College Hotline.

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    by Jon Wilner
     

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