Justin Herbert's return was a big boost for Oregon. But Washington and Stanford didn't get quite so lucky, with several underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft.
At this point, there are 10.
That number could increase as news trickles out over the next few days. But with the NFL’s early-entry deadline having come and gone, it appears the Pac-12 suffered limited damage.
It’s all about degrees, right?
The number of underclassmen declaring for the 2019 draft wasn’t going to be zero, and it wasn’t going to be limited to two or three.
But in both size and quality, the list of departures constitutes a best-case scenario for the conference. Not since 2013 have so few players left early.
(Of course, there’s a reflective component, too: The Pac-12’s lack of high-value underclassmen, as compared to previous years and to other Power Fives, helped shape a season in which the conference did not produce a top-tier, playoff-caliber team.)
The 10 confirmed departures are:
Arizona State: WR N’Keal Harry
Oregon: WR Dillon Mitchell
Stanford: WR JJ Arecega-Whiteside, OG Nate Herbig, TE Kaden Smith
UCLA: OL Andre James and TE Caleb Wilson
Washington: CB Byron Murphy and S Taylor Rapp
Washington State: TB James Williams
While acknowledging the potential for additional names to surface — the NFL will release the official list of draft-eligible underclassmen on Friday — the Hotline, of course, has reaction to the known exodus:
For the first time in at least a decade, no USC players are leaving early.
(It might be more than a decade; the Hotline didn’t look back beyond that point.)
That’s a fairly damning commentary on the evaluation, teaching and development taking place within the program, which has few equals over time as a pipeline to the NFL.
Just compare USC’s early-entry total (zero) to that of similar blue-blood programs: Alabama (seven), Ohio State (five), Oklahoma (four), Michigan (three), Notre Dame (three) and LSU (three).
The Pac-12 got the best possible news at the most important position.
With Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Stanford’s KJ Costello passing on the draft, and with Arizona’s Khalil Tate eschewing a transfer, the conference will have a fairly impressive lineup of quarterbacks in 2019.
No team got hit harder by draft decisions than Stanford.
The Cardinal lost two of its top playmakers: Smith and Arcega-Whiteside combined for 110 catches; the latter had 14 touchdowns.
Add the departures of senior tailback Bryce Love and receiver Trenton Irwin, and Stanford’s skill positions will undergo an overhaul.
And yet, had Costello departed, it would have been much worse.
No team benefitted more from draft decisions than Utah.
The Utes could have lost four players. Instead, each opted to return: tailback Zack Moss, defensive end Bradlee Anae, defensive tackle Leki Fotu and cornerback Julian Blackmon.
Combine their presence in 2019 with the expected returnees at other positions, and the Utes are the early favorite to win the South.
Actually, check that: Oregon was the biggest winner.
Herbert’s return has sweeping implications, not just for the Ducks but the conference: The attention and interest that comes with having the NFL’s top-rated quarterback is invaluable.
Herbert lost his top receiver, Dillon Mitchell, but will have one of the best offensive lines in the country — none of the 2018 starters are turning pro — and playmakers across the defense, thanks to linebacker Troy Dye’s decision to return.
Another team that dodged a worst-case scenario: Washington.
Rapp and Murphy are first-round talents whose departures were assumed. But the Huskies could have lost all-conference slot corner Myles Bryant, too.
Instead, he’s coming back — as the lone returning starter in UW’s secondary.
NFL Draft damage is best assessed in surgical, impersonal fashion:
Were the teams with the best chance of competing at a high level in the upcoming season punished by draft defections, or grazed?
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If 75 percent of the attrition comes from rosters with no hope of contending for a College Football Playoff/New Year’s Six berth, that’s a victory for the conference at large.
If 75 percent comes from your CFP/NY6 aspirants, that’s trouble.
In that regard, the conference recorded a significant victory in the early-entry process.
In the Hotline’s view, Oregon and Utah had the best chance of producing top-10 seasons if the draft decisions broke favorably. And they did, in both cases.
Washington’s losing too much; Stanford’s schedule is too tough; Washington State doesn’t have a proven quarterback (at the moment); USC’s a mess; UCLA’s two years away …
The conference’s best hopes for ’19, based on what we know right now, reside in Eugene and Salt Lake City. And neither program got hammered by the draft.