Posted on December 15, 2020
Will there be a smaller draft pool of players this year?
Because of all this it’s going to be an extra interesting year to watch which Pac-12 underclassmen will declare for the 2021 NFL Draft and which will come back even if they maybe have NFL potential. Here’s a breakdown of the top players to watch in my opinion as the season comes to a close.
(Note, I’m not breaking down seniors who may or may not come back for another senior year as that would just be too difficult.)
Christopher Brown Jr., Junior Running Back, Cal
This was supposed to be a big year for the huge (6-foot-1 220 pound) back, but he’s barely played thus far, with just over 20 carries and less than 100 yards. The next level has to love his size, but maybe not his speed so he will likely be looking at the NFL, especially as a running back, though I think he comes back as he’s still probably an undeclared free agent (UDFA) prospect.
Travis Dye, Junior Running Back, Oregon
Dye has exploded in 2020 as Oregon’s best playmaker. He’s averaging 7.5 yards per-carry and has made huge plays as a receiver, with more than 200 yards on five catches and three touchdowns. He’s only 5-10 and 200 pounds, and looks smaller than that, but he’s definitely a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot type, especially as a running back. He might have to consider looking at the next level, especially if CJ Verdell returns, making him have to continue spliting carries. I think he returns, though, because he could cement himself as a player who probably gets drafted if he can show he’s an 1,000-yard back in a full season. For now, he’s probably just an ideal UDFA prospect.
Tyler Shough, Sophomore Quarterback, Oregon
Shough came out the gate hot and looked like he was going to fulfill the high expectations of Oregon’s camp that the media built up for him in the off-season. He could be another Duck QB with Top 10 draft potential with his size and mobility. He’s remained steady stats-wise as the season has progressed, but his ability to turn the ball over and his lack of ability to make throws when really needed have shown he still has a long ways to go. Still, a QB with his size and mobility putting up the numbers he has is on the NFL radar, and incoming Oregon QB recruit Ty Thompson is being built up as the next second coming, so maybe he looks at the draft in a Darron Thomas/Marcus Mariota situation. But I think he returns because he’s probably still a UDFA prospect.
CJ Verdell, Junior Running Back, Oregon
I thought Verdell was going to leave after 2019 and then opt out once 2020 started and got weird. He didn’t, and he came out the gate strong with two 100-yard games with a high per-carry average. He’s really struggled for a few games now, though, and his lack of size and questions about his speed make him a questionable NFL prospect, even though he’s run for a ton of yards in his career. I think he comes back again in hopes he can return to form in 2020 and push his production back up because I think he’s a 6th or 7th round prospect right now.
Devon Williams, Sophomore Wide Receiver, Oregon
The USC transfer was a godsend to the Ducks in 2020 as their only consistent big playmaker in the receiver group. He had big games against UCLA and Oregon State with huge touchdowns on long gains that showed how explosive he is at 6-5, 205. He hasn’t shown enough to be a big NFL prospect but he’s been out of high school three years now and might be antsy to try the NFL waters as a UDFA like recent Oregon prospect Juwan Johnson who is with the Saints now. I think he returns though.
Jermar Jefferson, Junior Running Back, Oregon State
Jefferson was a shoe-in to win Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year before COVID-19 took him out of a game, and he could probably still win it. The 5-10, 217-pound back has been beyond explosive all season and seems like the easiest choice to me to declare in the Conference. He seems like he’s worked his way to being a 2nd- or 3rd-round pick.
Brandon Kipper, Junior Offensive Tackle, Oregon State
The big right tackle was honorable mention All-Pac-12 last year and surely will get a lot of buzz for opening so many holes for Jefferson this year. He’s a Hawaii transfer, so he’s been out of high school for four years now and may want to look at the next level as I think he could be a 6th- or 7th-round pick already, but I think he decides to return.
Avery Roberts, Junior Linebacker, Oregon State
He’s been a tackling machine all season and emerged as one of the Pac-12’s best linebackers in 2020, taking the spotlight a bit from Hamilcar Rashed Jr. Like Kipper, he’s a transfer (Nebraska) so he’s been in college football for a while and might want to explore the NFL since I think he’s a 6th or 7th round prospect though I think he returns.
Nahshon Wright, Junior Cornerback, Oregon State
Surprise, surprise, the Beavers have a decent amount of underclassmen NFL prospects! Wright is a 6-4, 188-pound cornerback who has really emerged in the past two seasons with five interceptions, and I’m sure the next level has to love his size and length. He’s a former JC transfer, so again with the Beavers, a guy who might be looking to jump to the next level as a 6th- or 7th-Round prospect, though I think he returns.
Greg Dulcich, Sophomore Tight End, UCLA
The young prospect has exploded in 2020, quickly topping 300 yards and scoring two touchdowns. He’s not huge, but he has that kind of 6-4, 240-pound size the league has loved from recent Iowa tight ends and moves as smooth as a receiver. The Draft could be tempting as he has probably built up some stock, but likely returns given he’s probably only a 6th- or 7th-Round pick right now.
Caleb Johnson, Junior Linebacker, UCLA
Another Bruin who has made the most of this season, he’s a big attacking linebacker and has been a hard-hitting sack machine. He’s another junior college product who might be ready to take the leap to the next level, and he looks like he could be a 5th- or 6th-Round pick, though I think he stays.
Olaijah Griffin, Junior Cornerback, USC
The veteran cornerback who has past All-Pac-12 honors and checks in at 6-foot is having a solid season for the Trojans. Enough that I think he’s a 6th- or 7th-Round pick and should be looking at the 2021 Draft before deciding to return.
Talanoa Hufanga, Junior Safety, USC
Hufanga is a bit of a throwback the NFL doesn’t like as much as they used to in a big hard-hitting safety, but he’s one of the best pure players in the Pac-12 at any position this year, and he seems like a surefire pro to me. He has the rare talent and ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage, but can also be a force in pass defense as he already has four interceptions this season. I think he’s a 2nd- or 3rd-Round pick and declares for 2021.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Junior Wide Receiver, USC
Add St. Brown to the list of players I thought was going to opt out who didn’t. He came back and has been big with catches and yards for the Trojans and finally broke out with touchdowns against Washington State, grabbing four. I think he’s done enough to declare for the 2021 Draft where he looks like a 4th- or 5th-Round pick.
Marlon Tuipulotu, Junior Defensive Tackle, USC
Jay Tufele opting out opened the door for Tuipulotu to shine in 2020 and he has, becoming one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12. He’s big, strong and can hold down the middle in much the same way Tufele can. He had some back issues early in his career, so I anticipate he wants to get to the next level and will declare where he will be a 5th- or 6th-Round pick.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, Junior Offensive Tackle, USC
AVT might have boosted his stock more than any other player in the Pac-12 who could have opted out but didn’t, excelling as USC’s left tackle. I’ve seen him as high as the Top 5 in some mock drafts. He seems like a guaranteed First-Round pick now, either as a tackle or a guard, and a lock to declare.
Devin Lloyd, Junior Linebacker, Utah
Lloyd hasn’t been able to play much due to Utah’s COVID-19 issues, but he has impressed, racking up tackles and progressing past even his great 2019 campaign. He seems like a guaranteed draft pick now and probably a 5th- or 6th-Round pick, but I think he returns to have one more year, gain exposure and move even higher up draft boards.
Jaxson Kirkland, Junior Offensive Tackle, Washington
There was talk of Kirkland declaring for the 2020 Draft, but he came back and the All-Pac-12 offensive lineman has moved from right guard to left tackle, and looked solid and athletic at 6-7, 295. He looks like he definitely needs another year to learn the position and probably returns despite being a likely 6th- or 7th-Round pick already.
Cade Otton, Junior Tight End, Washington
Otton has been a good player for Washington the past two seasons, and he exploded in 2020 as one of the most-productive tight ends in the nation. Given Washington’s recent ability to produce NFL tight ends, combined with his love of blocking, I think he’s moved all the way to being a 3rd- or 4th-Round pick and will declare.
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Sophomore Defensive End, Washington
ZTF made a quick case for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in the first few weeks of the season and was one of the most-dominant defensive player in the country, if not the most. He’s 6-3, 280, and has incredible power and quickness off the edge that should make him already look like a 3rd- or 4th-Round pick. I think he comes back, though, since he still has a lot of work to do in run defense and can turn himself into a First-Round pick, if he can improve that.
Max Borghi, Junior Running Back, Washington State
Borghi missing almost all of 2020 was one of the disappointments of the season. The NFL has to love what he brings to the table as a pass-catching back with crazy speed yet he has a great chance to show more as a pure running back if he comes back in 2021 in Nick Rolovich’s run and shoot and I think he returns to do that even though he could already be a 5th or 6th round pick.
Abraham Lucas, Junior Offensive Tackle, Washington State
Lucas has been an amazing lineman for Washington State three years now and is an excellent pass blocker. He’s 6’7 330 and has been an All-Pac-12 player since he got on the field. I think he declares as he is a 3rd or 4th round pick already and could go even higher but is slightly dinged by being a right tackle and not a left.
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