Gold: Pac-12 NFL Draft preview and predictions
It’s finally here, the 3 days that all college football players work toward.
While the 2023 NFL Draft won’t have anything on the 2024 version for the Pac-12, it does not diminish the significance of this year’s go-round for what is shaping up to be at least 2 dozen conference players.
Here are my final thoughts heading into one chaotic weekend …
Will the Pac-12 crack the top 10?
It’s on you, Christian Gonzalez.
The Oregon star is the Pac-12’s only hope at a top-10 pick, and for a lockdown corner, he’s no lock. Mock drafts have put him anywhere from No. 6 to No. 12, with the Las Vegas Raiders (7th pick), Atlanta Falcons (8th) and Houston Texans (12th) being primarily in the discussion.
Can Gonzalez become Oregon’s 4th consecutive top-10 pick?
Last year, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux went No. 5 to the New York Giants. In 2021, offensive tackle Penei Sewell went 7th to Detroit, a year after quarterback Justin Herbert was taken 6th by the Los Angeles Chargers.
That continued a strong recent draft history for the Ducks, who saw defensive end Dion Jordan (No. 3, Miami and Kyle Long (No. 20, Chicago) drafted in 2013, quarterback Marcus Mariota (No. 2, Tennessee) and defensive end Arik Armstead (No. 17, San Francisco) go in 2015 and defensive end DeForest Buckner (No. 7, San Francisco) picked in 2016.
As of Draft Eve, Gonzalez — who had a standout season and followed it up with a terrific combine — was a -220 pick to go in the top 10.
Which team will reign supreme?
Oregon, USC and UCLA will likely duke it out for the most draft-decorated Pac-12 squad.
In addition to Gonzalez, the Ducks have a couple of near-locks in defenders Noah Sewell and DJ Johnson, as well as a trio of offensive line hopefuls in Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, Alex Forsyth and TJ Bass.
USC will see wide receiver Jordan Addison go off the board anywhere from the mid-to-late 1st round, probably followed not too much later by defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu. Cornerback Mekhi Blackmon has a chance to go in the top 4 rounds, as does offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees, who hulked his way through the NFL Combine despite tearing his ACL. Fellow Trojans lineman Brett Neilon is hoping to go to a center-hungry team.
UCLA lacks the star power of either of those teams, with running back Zach Charbonnet projected to go in the middle of the 3rd round. Long-time Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is being looked at a mid-round sleeper, while a pair of his chief protectors Atonio Mafi and Jon Gaines, are grading out in the 5th or 6th rounds. Wideout Jake Bobo, one of DTR’s favorite targets for one year after transferring from Duke, has been projected as a 7th-round pick in some mocks.
Can the league pull off a 2 tight-end formation?
The Pac-12 has produced plenty of tight end talent over the years, but the league has technically never had 2 tight ends drafted in the 1st round.
In 2002, Colorado’s Daniel Graham went 21st to New England and Washington’s Jerramy Stevens went 28th to the hometown Seattle Seahawks, but the Buffaloes were not a Pac-12 member at that time.
In the 1984 Draft, Cal’s David Lewis went to Detroit at pick 20, and UCLA’s Paul Bergmann went 8th overall … in the supplemental USFL player draft.
This year could make history. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid has been pegged as high as the middle of the 1st round, while some mocks have Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave going as high as No. 26 and as low as No. 66.
If he’s close to the top of those projections, the Pac-12 could have a big night.
Who is getting skunked?
It’s not much of a surprise that Colorado is projected to have zero players in the NFL Draft.
But Arizona and Arizona State? There should be enough talent there.
Alas, ASU has but a pair of hopefuls, and short-timers at that: defensive tackle Nesta Jade Silvera and running back Xazavian Valladay.
The Wildcats have no one projected to be drafted, but Tucson won’t be joyless — homegrown talent Bijan Robinson, the talented Texas running back who hailed from Salpointe Catholic, could go in the top 10.
How was Stanford that bad?
NFL teams fell in love with Stanford during the Jim Harbaugh years and stayed true through the David Shaw regime. And even with Shaw riding off into the sunset, some of his last top prospects appear to have found favor.
It makes you wonder, though: With quarterback Tanner McKee, wide receivers Michael Wilson and Elijah Higgins and cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly all expected to be drafted, how did this team win just 3 games? The Cardinal could have more draftees than wins!
My top 10 Pac-12 picks
1. Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez: The Ducks star picked off 4 passes and had 50 tackles.
2. Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid: Dominated USC for 234 yards in a 43-42 win last year.
3. USC wide receiver Jordan Addison: The former Biletnikoff Award winner at Pitt transferred to USC and made an instant impact.
4. Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave: Was off to a great start before his season was derailed by injury.
5. USC defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu: Had a dominant year, leading the country with 13.5 sacks.
6. Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III: Had 6 interceptions and returned 2 for touchdowns in an ultra-productive junior year.
7. UCLA running back Zach Charnbonnet: Topped 1,000 yards twice after transferring from Michigan.
8. Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley: Henley was all over the field for the Cougars, finishing with 10 takeaways (5 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries) the past 2 years.
9. Oregon State cornerback Rezjohn Wright: Wright had 18 pass breakups in his Beavers career.
10. Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly: It’s in the bloodlines: Kelly’s father is former NFL defensive back Brian Kelly.