Oregon produced the top pick from the Pac-12 in the 2020 NFL draft and is the heavy favorite to produce the Pac-12’s top pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
(Sorry about that, Husky fans.)
But sizable uncertainty exists about what happens to the conference’s draft board below Ducks left tackle Penei Sewell, which is only natural given the highly fluid nature of the event and the long lead time.
Yes, of course: The Hotline’s annual analysis of the following year’s draft class is an exercise in semi-futility, but it serves one seemingly useful purpose by providing a snapshot of the talent distribution across the conference:
Will the Pac-12 be better stocked on offense or defense?
On the lines of scrimmages or at the skill positions?
And what of the quarterbacks?
On that last topic, we won’t keep you in suspense: As of now, the conference is devoid of quarterbacks who project as high-round draft picks next spring.
For that matter, the 2020 rosters generally appear limited in the quantity of elite skill-position playmakers.
However, there are numerous high-round talents on the offensive line and every level of defense, as we’ll examine below.
Notes on the following:
*** Projections include underclassmen who will be draft-eligible next spring and are, in our view, likely to declare; projections exclude players we expect to stay in school.
(Working assumption: Linemen are more likely to spend an extra year on campus because of the level of physical maturation needed for the NFL.)
*** Not every player listed will declare for the draft, and some prospects not listed will assuredly leave school.
*** We’re not ranking every draft prospect for 2021, only those we see as strong candidates for the high rounds.
*** Our recap of the 2020 draft is here.
Here we go …
12. Oregon RB CJ Verdell: Nice combination of power, speed and durability who faces two obstacles: Maintaining production behind a revamped offensive line (against defenses structured to stop the run) and the low draft value assigned to the running-back position. Only one went in the first round, and not until the final pick.
11. UCLA DL Osa Odighizuwa: That’s right: UCLA, owner of a consistently porous defense, also possesses one of the top line talents in the conference. Odighizuwa had 10 tackles for loss last season and carries more draft value than name recognition regionally. At 280, he’s probably not an interior player, so quickness off the ball will be key for his draft position.
10. Cal CB Cam Bynum: So solid for so long for a secondary that’s so well coached, Bynum is easy to overlook as a top-tier prospect. Tackles in the open field, has man-to-man coverage skills and good size (6 feet) — all of which should put Bynum in position to play his way into the high rounds.
9. Oregon DB Jevon Holland: Listed as a safety but basically plays everywhere, all at once. Ball-hawker with five interceptions as a freshman and four more as a sophomore. Only a third-year junior but should be physically ready for the NFL. Oregon’s back line is excellent, and he might be the best of ‘em all.
8. Washington DL Levi Onwuzurike: Not quite at the level of physical dominance we saw from recent UW granite slabs like Danny Shelton or Vita Vea, but the 290-pound Onwuzurike is a first-rate impact player along the Husky front. To be determined: Where he fits along an NFL front.
7. Stanford CB Paulson Adebo: Was higher on this list last year (No. 2, behind Justin Herbert) but struggled with consistency during the fall and lost draft value. Fabulous ball skills, long arms and could well emerge as the top cornerback in the West. If he lands in the middle of the first round, we won’t be surprised.
6. Oregon State OLB Hamilcar Rashed: The production is undeniable (14 sacks, 22.5 TFLs last season). At 240 pounds, we like Rashed’s size-speed combination and potential to play outside in the NFL. Significant draft upside because of the value assigned to edge rushers.
5. USC WR Tyler Vaughns: Has the size, speed, hands and instincts for the end zone that translate to a Day One (or early Day Two) selection. The top draft-eligible prospect in the conference from the skill positions and on our initial list of Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year candidates.
4. Stanford OT Walker Little: If not for a season-ending injury (dislocated knee), Little might have been a top-10 pick last week. Fluid and skilled, he’s as good as his five-star recruiting rating suggested. One of the top tackles in the country, but only No. 2 in the conference.
3. Washington CB/NB Elijah Molden: Elite man-to-man skills in the tradition of former UW stars Byron Murphy and Sidney Jones. Can handle the slot or edge, and that versatility should only increase his value. The NFL bloodlines — his father, Alex, spent eight years in the league — will serve him well in the evaluation process.
2. USC DT Jay Tufele: Fourth-year junior who had 4.5 sacks last season as a 315-pound interior lineman. Short-area quickness will determine if he lands in the top half of the first round. From Salt Lake City, which is fitting: He’s the type of bull-rushing defensive tackle we’re used to seeing at Utah.
1. Oregon OT Penei Sewell: Arguably the conference’s best offensive-line prospect since Jonathan Ogden. Massive, athletic, dominant. Serious injury aside, Sewell cannot miss and is a strong contender to be the No. 1 overall selection, at least among the prospects not named Trevor Lawrence.