Beginning Thursday, approximately four dozen Pac-12 players will participate in on-field workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Many of the drills will be broadcast on the NFL Network and some will be broadcast in prime time.
Forgive us for not allocating equal interest to each prospect, but one carries far more intrigue inside Hotline HQ than the others:
Washington quarterback Jacob Eason.
The impressive arm talent, tepid college production, high position value and wide range of draft landing spots combine to make Eason’s Combine a high-interest event for both Washington fans and the conference at large.
The more players picked on Day One, the better for the Pac-12 during what is expected to be a Las Vegas showcase dominated by the SEC.
At this point, only Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is considered a lock for the first round among the top Pac-12 prospects.
If Eason shows well this week, he could vault into the first tier of quarterbacks with Herbert, Utah State’s Jordan Love, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and LSU’s Joe Burrow, the presumptive No. 1 pick.
Eason’s goal this weekend: Eliminate or ease concerns about every other aspect of his ability — both mental and physical — so that scouts can focus on his immense arm talent.
Beyond Eason, these seven prospects are particularly intriguing:
Utah DE Bradlee Anae: One of the top pass rushers in conference history, Anae’s goal this week is to show enough quickness to convince teams he can fill the role of edge rusher in a 3-4 scheme.
No position, with the exception of quarterback, is more valuable in the NFL.
Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk: The versatile playmaker is currently viewed as a potential first-round pick (likely in the 20s).
He could be the second Pac-12 player off the board.
(Another candidate for that position is USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson.)
“A personal favorite of mine — how competitive he is with the ball in his hands,” Jeremiah said of Aiyuk on NFL.com video.
“You want to flip him the ball on a little Jet Sweep; you want to get him the ball in the flat; you can watch him return. He’s just pure excitement.”
Washington State QB Anthony Gordon: Is he a system quarterback, or good enough to carve out a lengthy NFL career?
Or is he both? After all, the Air Raid is gaining traction in the NFL.
Gordon’s arm motion (his delivery) is a thing of beauty, but his arm strength — the ability to drive the ball on sideline and middle-distance passes — will be scrutinized this week,
Oregon QB Justin Herbert: An obvious choice, sure, but also an important one for the conference.
Herbert is the Pac-12’s best hope to claim a slice of real estate among all the SEC and Big Ten prospects expected to be picked early.
Arm strength isn’t an issue. Touch is.
“All the traits are there for Herbert; really, the question is, can he put it all together,” NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero said during a pre-Combine report.
“One thing that frustrated scouts on tape is the fact that they didn’t see Herbert make a big leap in his final two seasons there. At times, they just wanted to watch the tape, see him cut it loose, and make a play. He should light it up in the throwing session.”
USC WR Michael Pittman: At 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds and phenomenally productive, Pittman has been understandably labeled a possession receiver at the next level.
The degree to which that limits his draft value will depend on how well he runs.
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault: A playmaker extraordinaire … when he’s healthy.
Alone among the players listed here, Shenault’s medical evaluations will be the most important aspect of his week.
He missed numerous games in each of the past two seasons with an assortment of injuries.
Cal LB Evan Weaver: Possesses a bloodhound’s nose for the ball but limited athleticism could undercut his draft position.
As NFL Network analyst Lance Zierlein wrote in his report on Weaver:
Outlandish production dating all the way back early high school
Great teammate and elite competitor
Eyes play past blockers and locks in on where the ball is
Motor and pursuit seem unfazed by contact
But as Zierlein also wrote:
Won’t be a head-turner at the beach
Built like an undersized center with stubby arms and fleshy midsection
Lack of speed offers little margin for error in diagnosing the play
Lower body tightness creates movement limitations
Can’t stop-start with any twitch