I’m running through the 10 most intriguing players in the Pac-12 this season. This isn’t a list of the most important players or the best — we’ve already done that. Instead, it’s a look at which players across the league have the widest-ranging potential. Who can swing the league with a strong campaign? Which players have the potential to flip a win or two their team’s way? Here’s the group so far:

No. 10 Stanford offensive line

No. 9 Washington’s Zion Tupuola-Fetui


No. 8: Justin Flowe, Oregon linebacker

Brandon Dorlus likes to go out around Dexter, Oregon, and fish with Justin Flowe. Everything you’ll read about the third-year Oregon linebacker would live in opposition with that hobby. Videos on social media show “Justin looking scary.” He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s loud. He’s everywhere. 

But for the past two seasons, Flowe has had to park the energy. He couldn’t be anywhere. He played one game in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He played one game in the 2021 season — the opener against Fresno State when he led the team with 14 tackles, forced a fumble, and broke his foot. 

“When I felt my foot, I wasn’t thinking about anything else but playing football,” Flowe said earlier this month. “I felt a feeling that I’d never felt before and I just wanted to take off with it. So, the foot wasn’t really a big (thing). I felt the foot, but I just wanted to keep going because this feeling, not everybody got that feeling that I got. Just to be around me team, the foot wasn’t really anything to me — I wasn’t worried about the foot. I was just in the moment.”

He finished the game. It finished his season. Two years. Two games for the former 5-star, can’t-miss linebacker prospect. The wait has been humbling.

But out on the lake, sitting in a boat waiting for a bite, he’s comfortable in the interim. 

“He’s the best out of all of us, to be honest,” Dorlus says. “He’s patient. It’s probably hard to believe, but he’s good.”

Dorlus jokes that Flowe would probably scare all the fish away if he wasn’t calm. The Chino, California, native traces that energy back to his childhood, growing up with brother Jonathan. He can flip a switch. Off the field, Justin is just Justin. On the field, he’s the defense’s battery.

“Every time he comes on that field, you can feel his presence,” said fellow middle ‘backer Noah Sewell. 

Ask his teammates who they’re most excited to see: “Justin Flowe.” 

Ask the fanbase who they’re most excited to see: “Justin Flowe.”

Ask the coaching staff who is bringing it every single day in practice: “Justin Flowe.”

“We tried our best to slowly progress (Flowe) but there’s not really that gear in his body,” defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said earlier this year. “We did a few walkthroughs and that turned into full speed for him so we had to slow him down. I’d much rather be coaching a guy that you’ve got to ask him to slow down rather than have to constantly encourage him to speed up.”

Yeah, that doesn’t seem to be a problem with Flowe. 

In the 2020 class, here was a 6-foot-2, 225-pound inside linebacker prospect who was rated as the sixth-best recruit in the cycle by the industry-generated 247 Composite. When he signed with the Ducks, he became the second-highest-rated recruit to do so at the program in the 247Sports era.

In high school, he ran a sub-4.7 40 and a sub-4.4 shuttle. He had a 34-inch vertical as a sophomore. In his final three seasons of ball for Upland (Calif.), Flowe produced 387 tackles in 33 games. Absurd production, but maybe even more impressive consistency. He had north of 100 tackles in three straight seasons to close out his prep career. He had 44 tackles for loss throughout that same time, and then 10 sacks as a senior.

Two interceptions, seven pass breakups, 10 forced fumbles, a blocked punt, four blocked field goals… You look at what he did and the picture paints itself pretty clearly. Flowe did everything. 

At Oregon, he’s done nothing. 

“I love this game of football, and what I’ve been going through has really humbled me, so I just try to bring as much passion as I can because this game is not guaranteed,” he said. 

Maybe the best indicator of his enduring (and limitless) potential is the fact Flowe landed on the preseason All-Pac-12 Second Team defense. Again, two games. And the league’s media views him as a preseason all-conference guy. 

Asked about that recognition, Flowe said his focus is elsewhere.

“I just want to play a whole season,” he said. “I want to play with my team, with my brothers.”

A defense led by Dan Lanning and Lupoi with a pair of middle ‘backers like Flowe and Sewell is incredibly exciting stuff. Flowe diagnoses things well pre-snap. Smooth feet. Good eyes. Explosive athleticism to fire at the ball. He can make plays in coverage. He can blast through blocks to seek out the ball carrier. 

“He can do some crazy things on the field that I’ve never seen before,” Sewell said. “His motor is top-tier. His energy… I wish you guys could switch cleats and be on the field with Justin Flowe. Justin Flowe will make the play.”

In truth, the way his teammates talk about him, Flowe almost sounds like folklore at this point — this incredible football force that you can hear about but haven’t yet been able to witness. 

“I’ve never seen someone work like him before,” said Dorlus.

He challenges the team’s best players every day on the practice field, not just to match him but to beat him. And, if they do, he takes it upon himself to return the favor. 

“No matter where the ball is, it could be 80 yards down the field, he’s running to that ball,” Sewell says.

Lanning recruited him to Georgia when he was the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator. Flowe chose Oregon. That path hasn’t been an easy one to this point — and maybe things might have been different elsewhere — but the two are together now and the potential of what Flowe can accomplish when healthy and what Lanning can help do for his game is enormous. 

Oregon could realistically have two All-American linebackers in the middle of its defense. If he gets through a fully healthy season, that isn’t just wishful thinking. Think about what that could do for this team’s ceiling. 

The talent around the periphery is undeniable. No one in the Pac-12 has matched Oregon’s run of sustained excellence on the recruiting trail. An offense built around a bully-ball offensive line and an opportunistic vertical shot game with a defense that yields nothing, Oregon has major potential in 2022 despite it being just Lanning’s first season. 

That’s a lot to place on the shoulders of Flowe, yes. But to be fair to him, this looks like a pretty darn good defense even if he can’t stay in the picture for a full 12 games. Fittingly, he’s the guy who could help them bust through the ceiling.

“He’s a dynamic athlete. He’s a really talented player, a specimen,” Lanning said when I asked him about Flowe at Pac-12 Media Day. “I think at this point he’s played five quarters. I think Justin will tell you there are high expectations and he hasn’t been able to execute at the level he wants to yet because of injury. 

I have great belief in Justin as well as all of our linebackers on our roster. We have a great group there. That’s something I have good experience with. I’m excited to see him continue to develop. I’m glad that he’s healthy and ready to go perform.”

As is anyone who likes seeing tremendously talented football players get to display that talent on a football field. 

“My whole life, I’ve always tried to be great,” Flowe said. “Personally, not worrying about anyone else, just trying to be great personally. To sit back and watch my team play and see everything go, it really humbled me. I thank God for that. It made me want to be around my team more. It made me want to play linebacker more. It made me want to make more plays.

“When I get to step back on the field, I’m going to give it all I’ve got because I want this so much.”

Notice the “get” there. “When I get to step back on the field.” You hear players all the time make that same statement and leave off the word “get.” When you’re healthy, you take it for granted. When you aren’t, you realize how important the thing you’ve lost is to you. 

Flowe has had to wait. 

He’s had to be patient. 

Healthy now, he has that bite he’s been praying for.

Time to make the most of it.