The list of Pac-12 players who have selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft runs 16 deep.
Within that illustrious group, there are 11 quarterbacks:
1954: Stanford’s Bobby Garrett
1955: Oregon’s George Shaw
1963: Oregon State’s Terry Baker
1971: Stanford’s Jim Plunkett
1975: Cal’s Steve Bartkowski
1983: Stanford’s John Elway
1989: UCLA’s Troy Aikman
1993: Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe
2003: USC”s Carson Palmer
2012: Stanford’s Andrew Luck
2016: Cal’s Jared Goff
Will No. 10 become No. 12?
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is on the short list of players currently pegged as the potential No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 draft, and he occupies the top spot in the Hotline’s ranking of the top Pac-12 prospects for next April in Las Vegas.
Like previous editions, this exercise in semi-futility carries a morsel of value:
The research and ranking process helps identify the conference’s strengths (and weaknesses) from a personnel/positional standpoint.
As always, two reminders:
1. The ranking includes underclassmen who are, in the Hotline’s purely subjective assessment, likely to turn pro, and it excludes those projected to stay in school. (For instance: We think Washington’s Jacob Eason will be back in 2020.)
That said, not all of the players listed will declare for the draft, and some prospects not listed will assuredly leave school.
2. What this isn’t:
A ranking of the best players in the Pac-12 next season. On-field production and draft value don’t always move in lockstep.
We’re not ranking every draft prospect, only the top candidates for the high rounds.
(Have I missed someone? Undoubtedly so.)
And be warned: A few names below won’t be found on the early 2020 mock drafts and prospect rankings surfacing on other outlets.
Also considered: Oregon TE Jake Breeland, Utah DL Leki Fotu, ASU TB Eno Benjamin, USC WR Tyler Vaughns, Oregon DL Jordon Scott, Cal LB Evan Weaver, Washington QB Jacob Eason, Oregon G Shane Lemieux, Colorado QB Steven Montez, Cal CB Camryn Bynum, Oregon LB Troy Dye, UCLA WR Theo Howard, Arizona DE Kylan Wilborn, UCLA LB Kiesean Lucier-South and Washington DL Levi Onwuzurike.
15. Arizona State CB Chase Lucas: Had a standout freshman season, then didn’t quite match the performance in 2018. The lock-down potential remains, although he could use another 10-15 pounds of muscle considering his slight frame.
14. Stanford TE Colby Parkinson: The top-rated tight end in the high school class of ’17, Parkinson has done nothing to undercut that assessment. He’s 6-foot-7 and fluid, with excellent hands. But tight end is often a low priority for teams, making Parkinson’s draft position difficult to project.
13. USC DT Brandon Pili: Admittedly, pegging Pili as a Day Two selection seems like a bit of a reach. But he’s a massive run-stuffer (325 pounds) who was highly productive as a sophomore in limited time and is loaded with potential as a dominant interior force.
12. Utah DE Bradlee Anae: Relentless off the edge, Anae had 15.5 tackles-for-loss last season and led the conference with eight sacks. Expect his Combine results (i.e., short-area quickness) to establish his draft range. Anae was given the edge over lineman Leki Fotu because of position value: Edge trumps interior in the NFL these days..
11. Washington State FS Jalen Thompson: Solid in run support and typically around the ball, Thompson is as sound on the back line as any safety in the conference. The success of former WSU safety-turned-linebacker Deone Bucannon in the NFL could bolster the scouts’ assessment of Thompson’s potential.
10. Stanford QB K.J. Costello: Has the size, poise and arm to eventually compete for an NFL starting job. Whether he emerges as a Day One candidate next spring or falls to Day Three will depend on his efficiency and decision-making: Costello forced a few too many passes last season and won’t have his favorite targets around in ’19.
9. Oregon OT Calvin Throckmorton: In a conference well-stocked with elite offensive tackles, Throckmorton is one of the best. (Curiously, he didn’t make first- or second-team all-conference, which only shows the coaches don’t get everything right.) The top pro prospect on the Ducks’ loaded line, by the way, is only a true sophomore: Penei Sewell.
8. Utah CB Jaylon Johnson: Emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the conference after playing sparingly as a freshman in 2017. Natural ballhawk with four interceptions last season, including 100-yard Pick Six against Stanford. NFL value is higher for cornerbacks than any position except quarterback and edge rusher.
7. USC DE Christian Rector: Few players in the conference possess more pocket-crushing potential than Rector, who has 20 tackles-for-loss in 13 starts/36 games. The question is consistency of high-level effort and finding the right position at the next level; he has played played USC’s Predator spot and also lined up with a hand in the dirt.
6. Washington OT Trey Adams: The size and skill required for Adams to become a Day One selection are present. But he missed last season with a back injury that required surgery, and that could be cause for serious concern for some teams. (More of a concern, for instance, that a surgically repaired knee.) If he remains healthy through the ’19 season and the pre-draft workouts, Adams just might join former teammate Kaleb McGary as a first rounder.
5. Utah TB Zack Moss: Yes, this is a lofty projection (late-first/early-second) for a player who was injured last season and is not exactly a national name. But for those unaware, the Hotline is driving the Moss Train in 2019 — we think he’s a smart Heisman sleeper pick — and fully expect him to produce a breakout season. Fast and strong, with good balance and vision … Moss could be one of the top tailbacks selected next spring.
4. Stanford OT Walker Little: A 5-star recruit who was named first-team all-conference as a true sophomore, Little is one of the top young tackles in the FBS. His size, mobility, instincts and position value are made-to-order for the first half of the first round. That said, he could opt for a fourth year in school to mature physically.
3. Colorado WR Laviska Shenault: This projection for Shenault comes with a bit of trepidation, partly because he has more injuries (shoulder and toe) than full seasons played (one) and partly because of moderate position value. (Only two receivers were picked in the 2019 first round, and none in the top 20.) But Shenault’s versatility, size and playmaking skills are first class.
2. Stanford CB Paulson Adebo: You won’t find him on many early projections, if any, and that surely has something to do with his lack of experience: Adebo was only a redshirt freshman last season and very well might stay in school for 2020. If he turns pro, there won’t be a shortage of NFL interest next winter for one of the top cornerback talents in the nation. He’s 6-foot-1 with the requisite speed and phenomenal ball skills. Not as polished as Byron Murphy was coming out this year, but more pro potential.
1. Oregon QB Justin Herbert: Plenty of room for accolades to be added to his college resume and a few boxes still to check for NFL scouts. But combine the size and mobility with the arm and the position value, and Herbert is the odds-on favorite to be the first Pac-12 player picked next April, whether it’s in the No. 1 overall spot or somewhere in the top 10.