College Hotline: Pac-12 projections for the 2018 NFL Draft
For those wondering (and that could be everyone), here’s why I undertake this annual exercise: Because it’s fun, and fun is good, and because it helps frame the upcoming season, which is also good.
Example of the latter: This time last year, early projections for the 2017 draft showed an unusually high number of elite defensive backs in the Pac-12.
That proved prescient, with secondary play leading the way for the two division winners.
My canvassing of the rosters and draft candidates for 2018 shows notable strength at quarterback (obviously) and along the defensive front seven.
*** The below ranking was formed at the intersection of talent, position value and eligibility: underclassmen likely to turn pro, in my estimation.
Not all of the players below will declare for the draft, and some prospects not on the list will assuredly leave school (and get picked in the early rounds).
Last year, Solomon Thomas wasn’t listed because it seemed unlikely that he would turn pro.
So yes, the margin for error here is considerable. That doesn’t make it any less fun or undermine the framework it provides.
*** This is not a projection of the best players in the conference. On-field production and draft-week value don’t always move in lockstep. This list covers three rounds (approximately) of players. It’s not meant to include every draft pick the conference will produce.
Last week, the Pac-12 had 16 selections on Day One and Day Two. For that reason, I’ve gone 16-deep with these projections.
Also considered: Washington C Coleman Shelton, USC TB Ronald Jones, Utah S Chase Hansen, Washington TB Myles Gaskin, Stanford TE Dalton Schultz, USC DL Rasheem Green, Washington State OG Cody O’Connell, UCLA OL Scott Quessenberry, USC WR Deontay Burnett, ASU RB Kalen Ballage, Stanford WR Trent Irwin, Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver, Washington LB Keishawn Bierra, USC S Chris Hawkins, Stanford CB Alijah Holder, Colorado OL Jeromy Irwin, Washington State LB Peyton Pelluer, USC LB Porter Gustin
16. UCLA LB Kenny Young: Highly productive on both sides of scrimmage (tackles and tackles-for-loss) and should continue recent draft success of UCLA linebackers: At least one has been selected each of the past four years.
15. Washington State DE Hercules Mata’afa: As relentless as he is difficult to block and one of the Hotline’s favorites. Projects as an outside linebacker at the next level, and he’ll be on the next level for many years.
14. Washington State QB Luke Falk: Yes, this looks low, and it could prove to be low. But it correlates to Day Two, and I’m not sure Falk, tough and smart as he is, has the arm for the first round.
13. Washington WR Dante Pettis: With John Ross gone, Pettis will be the primary focus of opposing defenses. Expect his stellar production to continue – and for him to run well in Indianapolis next winter.
12. Stanford S Justin Reid: Will be a true junior in the fall, with one year of starting experience. But Reid has the physical skills and an older brother in the NFL (Eric, 49ers). That combo could lure him into the draft.
11. Oregon TB Royce Freeman: An intriguing mix of size and speed, but how will that translate? Only tailbacks with an extraordinary skill are locks for the first round. We’ll peg Freeman for mid/late-second.
10. Washington OT Trey Adams: Started as a true freshman in 2015 and was a first-team all-conference last season. Should carry a high-round grade at high-value position.
9. USC LB Cameron Smith: Plays inside, not on the edge, and that could diminish his value. But the production is undeniable, as is the energy.
8. Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby: Projects as the top offensive tackle in the conference, assuming he stays healthy. (A foot injury cost him most of 2016.) Elite left tackles are always first-round candidates.
7. USC CB Iman Marshall: Entering his third year but already has two seasons of starting experience. Natural ball-hawk with size and speed. Just how much speed will help determine whether he’s a candidate for the first round or a Day Two pick.
6. Washington OLB Azeem Victor: A destructive force of the highest order. Was one of the top defensive playmakers in the conference until his broken leg. We’ll assume he returns to top form and stays healthy.
5. Stanford CB Quenton Meeks: Elite cover skills, nickel ability and ability to see the field — his father, Ron, is a former NFL defensive coordinator — make Meeks a candidate for the top half of the first round.
4. Utah DL Lowell Lotulelei: Has the frame, the film and the genes. Star was the 14th overall selection in the ’13 draft. That’s a good baseline projection for his little brother.
3. UCLA QB Josh Rosen: Has the arm talent to emerge as the No. 1 overall but is coming off shoulder surgery, carries a brashness that might not sit well with some teams, and must become more consistent.
2. Washington DL Vita Vae: Dominant interior linemen, as we saw with Thomas last week, are highly-coveted. Vae isn’t similar to Thomas physically – he’s 70 pounds heavier, for one thing – but he’s bull-rushing, run-stopping force.
1. USC QB Sam Darnold: Currently projected to be the No. 1 overall selection based on combination of his efficiency, upside, production under pressure and the likely need for a franchise quarterback atop the draft. Plenty of obstacles could keep Darnold out of the top spot, including his return to USC for the 2018 season.
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*** The Hotline podcast is available on iTunes.