Editor’s note: Our annual Top 25 preview week continues with a look at the Pac-12’s best of the best.

LOS ANGELES — The hardest aspect to nailing down the Top 25 players in the Pac-12 is the age-old battle: Production versus potential.

Where does Justin Flowe fit on this list?

The Oregon linebacker might be the best talent in the conference. And he’s played all of 2 games in 2 years.

How do you judge a Cameron Ward, who tantalized …versus FCS competition? How about Jacob Cowing, who comes to Arizona from UTEP?

Out of all my Saturday Out West columns so far, this has been the toughest.

Here’s my take for the 25 best players in the Pac-12 heading into the 2022 season.

25. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA QB

Why he’s here: We start this list with a talented Los Angeles quarterback and end with a … well, you’ll see.

Thompson-Robinson improved leaps and bounds in the passing game last season, adding another dimension to his game that makes him a true Chip Kelly two-way threat. Kelly is at his best when his he has a quarterback who provides him flexibility, and DTR’s progress through the air is commendable. He completed 57.7 percent of his passes as a freshman at only 6.8 yards per completion. Last year, those numbers were 62.2 percent and 8.5 per completion. Plus, he threw just 6 picks against 21 touchdowns. He has the talent and offensive support to get to 30 scores this year.

24. Travis Dye, USC RB

Why he’s here: Dye has been overlooked for years at Oregon, but now he heads to Hollywood, where he’ll get the spotlight he deserves. A second-team all-conference selection last year by the Associated Press, Dye had 1,672 all-purpose yards, best in the conference. He is arguably the best dual threat in the league, rushing for 1,271 yards while adding 46 catches for 402 yards. Playing in what should be an electric offense, Dye figures to lose some time to Stanford transfer Austin Jones and freshman Raleek Brown. But he’ll get his, and he should make the most of it.

23. Cameron Ward, Washington State QB

Why he’s here: Maybe the single most intriguing player in the Pac-12 this season, Ward arrives in Pullman from Incarnate Word, where he was one of the most productive players in all of college football. Ward doesn’t have abundant talent surrounding him on the Cougars’ offense, and in fact, his offensive line may already be in shambles. But Ward is getting national attention for a reason.

22. Brandon Dorlus, Oregon DL

Why he’s here: This is the first example on this list of the power of potential. Dorlus hasn’t produced eye-opening numbers. In fact, his stats have been somewhat droopy. Last year, he had 2.5 sacks and 25 tackles, after 1 sack in 2020 and 1 sack in 2019. He is primed for a breakout 2022, though, and he should fair well under first-year defensive-minded head coach Dan Lanning. With one of the country’s best linebacker corps behind him, Dorlus will face plenty of winnable 1-on-1 battles.

21. Darius Mausau, UCLA LB

Why he’s here: Talk about instant impact: In his first career start for Hawaii, Mausau recovered a game-defining onside kick and led the team in tackles. A year later, he ranked No. 4 in the country in solo tackles and was named All-MWC first team in 2020. Last season, he added another first-team nod after another 108 tackles, 7 sacks and 5 forced fumbles.

Now he’s settled in as arguably UCLA’s top defensive player, and he should be among the backers in the conference.

20. Braeden Daniels, Utah OT

Why he’s here: If Daniels can seamlessly handle the transition from right tackle to left tackle, he’ll end the season higher on this list than when he starts it. That move, though — from right tackle to left — is arguably the most daunting in football. Your body positioning, hand positioning — it totally changes. But if anyone was prepared for the move, it was Daniels, who impressed coaches and teammates in spring ball with his adaptability and high IQ. And it wasn’t his first move, either. He started 19 games at left guard and probably would return to the position in the NFL.

19. Tavion Thomas, Utah RB

Why he’s here: Some guys are on this list for their potential. Some just for the promise of something grand. Thomas is all production, baby.

His 21 touchdowns last year were No. 3 in the FBS and led the conference. More importantly, he was always a reliable scoring option, reaching the end zone in the last 9 games of the season. His 1,108 yards on 5.4 yards per carry were high on the Pac-12 list, too. A former Cincinnati back who rushed for 499 yards as a freshman with the Bearcats, Thomas gives Kyle Whittingham exactly the kind of back he covets.

18. Ron Stone, Washington State DE

Why he’s here: Boasting perhaps the best smile in the Pac-12, Stone will give his new Wazzu coaches plenty to grin about in 2022. A preseason All-Pac-12 first-team selection by Pac-12 media and Athlon Sports, Stone had good but not great production a year ago. His 63 tackles were nice, his 11.5 tackles-for-loss were impressive and his 5 stacks were fine. But he should raise those numbers across the board this year as the unquestioned leader of the defense.

17. Daniel Scott, Cal S

Why he’s here: A valuable contributor since he first stepped foot in Berkeley, Scott has blossomed into arguably the conference’s top defensive back. As PFF’s No.  2 rated safety in the conference last year, Scott was consistent and fundamentally sound, picking up 82 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and 2 pass breakups. A former highly touted basketball player, Scott combines raw athleticism with a knack for the game.

16. Jacob Cowing, Arizona WR

Why he’s here: Jedd Fisch reeled in a good one in Cowing, a former UTEP star. He takes a big leap up from Conference USA competition, but another 1,000-yard season is in the offing. With new quarterback Jayden de Laura ready to lift the Wildcats from the cellar, Fisch is going to rely heavily on his passing game. That bodes well for Cowing, who produced every year with the Miners. Last year, he ranked No. 9 in the country with 1,354 yards while adding 7 touchdowns. Fisch would be served well to mix him into the red zone offense more than UTEP did.

15. Tuli Tuipulotu, USC DL

Why he’s here: One of USC’s few bright spots from a year ago, Tuipulotu has lived up to his lofty lineage. He is the brother of former USC defensive lineman Marlon Truipulotu and cousins with former USC safety Talanoa Hufanga, the 2020 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year now with the San Francisco 49ers, and former Trojans-turned-NFL defensive tackle Fili Moala. That is to say, the kid knows how to work, and what’s in store for him.

Plus, his motor never stops. He was named first-team all-conference last year after leading USC with 5.5 sacks while finishing with 48 tackles.

14. Dalton Kincaid, Utah TE

Why he’s here: A big-play superstar for San Diego out of the tight end position, Kincaid transferred to Utah in 2020 and made little impact. Last year, though, despite often sharing the field with fellow tight end Brant Kuithe, Kincaid dominated.

An all-conference honorable mention selection, Kincaid is getting a lot of NFL buzz. He had 36 grabs for 510 yards and 8 touchdowns last year, finishing the season on a high note with scores in 3 straight games, including the Pac-12 title game and the Rose Bowl.

He fits in perfectly next to …

13. Brant Kuithe, Utah TE

Why he’s here: You can’t really have one without the other, even if Kuithe is far more decorated. A three-time all-conference second-team selection, Kuithe will almost certainly bump into the first team slot if he’s healthy this year. Kuithe was fantastic last year, catching 50 passes for a Utah-best 611 yards and 6 touchdowns. His Rose Bowl performance was terrific: 6 grabs for 77 yards against Ohio State. He’s an advanced-stat hero and a future NFL tight end.

12. Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington LB

Why he’s here: Ulofoshio seems to have been forgotten after being injured in Week 5 and missing the rest of the year. His PFF grades are fantastic – a 90.2 overall grade on 452 snaps over the past 2 seasons – but he was relegated to preseason all-conference honorable mention honors by forgetful media. A former walk-on, he is the epitome of development and strength training.

11. Justin Flowe, Oregon LB

Why he’s here: Flowe goes right in the middle of this list because, well, where else could you put him? If you’re talking production, Flowe doesn’t deserve to be ranked. If we’re going by talent and potential, he’s arguably first. The former top-ranked linebacker in the country may be the most electric defensive player in the conference.

But now it’s time for the 2019 High School Butkus Award winner to deliver. He played in just 1 game in 2020 and 1 last year. Of course, he had 14 tackles and a forced fumble in that 1 game. Back from a foot injury, Flowe appears ready to dominate.

10. Jaxson Kirkland, Washington OL

Why he’s here: Kirkland has been a tragic tale over the past 12 months. He was stellar in the pass game in 2020 in only 4 games, but after playing on a bum ankle last year, his PFF rating and game tape plummeted, making him pull out of the 2022 NFL Draft after having surgery. He’s a big, strong, thoughtful kid, but if his ankle shows any more wear and tear, the Huskies – and his draft prospects – will need some help.

9. TJ Bass, Oregon OL

Why he’s here: One reason Dye was so effective last year was Bass, who ranked in the top 30 of Power 5 linemen in graded run play rate. He was also good in the passing game, though coming into a season as full-time tackle means he needs to improve in that facet.

8. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA RB

Why he’s here: The former Michigan hulking back had a fantastic year for the Bruins last year, complimenting a bruising running style with a prime role in the passing game. Charbonnet could average 150 yards per game as one of half of UCLA’s 1-2 punch along with Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Charbonnet ranked as PFF’s No. 9 running back after rushing for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns on 203 carries (5.6 per carry) last season.

7. Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford DB

Why he’s here: A stud from the get-go up in Palo Alto, Kelly started stacking up hardware in 2020. A second-team all-league selection last year, Kelly earned preseason first-team honors this year, as well as a spot on Phil Steele’s fourth-team All-American team.

Kelly was terrific in pass defense, leading the conference with 12 passes defended. He wasn’t too bad in the running game either; for the year, he totaled 58 tackles.

6. Cameron Rising, Utah QB

Why he’s here: Rising had a great year for the Utes last year, but you wonder how much better he can be. He had 3 games with no touchdowns and 3 games with 1. On the flip side, Rising threw just 5 interceptions all year. The returning Pac-12 all-conference first-team selection, Rising will have to fend off several suitors for the honors this year. A strong start will go a long way in terms of inching closer to postseason honors.

5. Andrew Vorhees, USC OL

Why he’s here: Vorhees is a PFF darling, receiving tremendous grades at left guard and left tackle, and in the passing game and on the ground. Vorhees has tons of experience and, at 6-6, 325, one of the broadest bodies in college football. Vorhees will start for his 5th season, but he’s settled in at left tackle, where he started the final 4 games last year.

4. Clark Phillips III, Utah DB

Why he’s here: Phillips is one of the best two-way cornerbacks in college football. He combines terrific cover skills with an aggressiveness in the run game that belies his size (5-10, 183). The Utes regularly boast star individual defensive talent, but Phillips is their best cornerback in years.

At one point the No. 4 cornerback recruit in the country, Phillips really turned it on the second half of last year, when he was PFF’s highest-graded outside corner in the country after allowing 0.34 yards per coverage snap in that span. PFF listed Phillips as the top returning corner in the conference.


3. Noah Sewell, Oregon LB

Why he’s here: Rated the No. 3 inside linebacker and the No. 13 overall player in the Class of 2020, Sewell lived up to the billing in his first 2 years. A member of several Freshman All-American teams in 2020 and a Butkus Award semifinalist last season, Sewell is considered one of the best blitzers in college football.

The Oregon star earned an 88.6 pass-rushing grade last season with 34 pressures from 98 blitzing snaps from PFF.

His pass coverage has left a lot to be desired. If he raises that part of his game, he’ll be a Butkus finalist this year.

2. Jordan Addison, USC WR

Why he’s here: This was my closest vote: Addison over Sewell. I think Sewell may be a better player. I think he’ll probably be a better pro. I certainly love his bloodlines. And there’s a good chance Sewell contends for postseason hardware.

All that said – Addison already has the hardware. Playing with the talented Kenny Pickett last year at Pitt, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner was electric in the slot and on the perimeter. His 3.47 yards per route run leads all Power 5 wide receivers, one reason he was named a PFF All-American.

That came on 10 targets per game last year. Will the Trojans have enough balls to go around in an offense that features Addison, Dye, Mario Williams, Raleek Brown and more?

One thing’s for sure. They’ve got a pretty good quarterback moving it all around …

1. Caleb Williams, USC QB

Why he’s here: This may be premature, but I’d rather be a little early on Williams than late. The numbers don’t lie: Last year, his 91.3 PFF grade broke Trevor Lawrence’s true freshman quarterback record. He has some things to work on — taking too many sacks at times, accuracy slumps — but when he’s on, there aren’t many better. It’s not the 21 touchdowns from a year ago, nor a 169.6 rating that would’ve topped the Pac-12 by almost 16 points. The kid had 4 interceptions as a freshman against a schedule that included 4 ranked opponents. Heck, his 21-for-27, 242-yard, 3-touchdown, 0-interception Alamo Bowl performance against Oregon tells the whole story.

It feels like buying into the hype to put him higher than Rising, not to mention all these other Pac-12 stars. But he has a chance to be that good throwing to arguably the nation’s most talented group of wideouts.