The Huskies led the Pac-12 conference with eight selections, which was more than the L.A. schools combined and third only to Alabama and Ohio State. Jon Wilner takes a look at the winners and losers for the Pac-12 in the 2019 NFL draft.
Pac-12 first rounders: Three players went in the top 32, the lowest total for the conference since 2014. But the three-man group brought atypical backstories for Day One selections: Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard was a 2-star prospect who had only one major college scholarship offer; Arizona State receiver N’Keal Harry came to the United States from the Caribbean as a child looking for a better life; and Washington tackle Kaleb McGary has overcome a heart arrhythmia and a home badly damaged by fire. They’re easy to root for.
Washington: Led the conference with eight draft picks (only Alabama and Ohio State had more). That brings UW’s total to 18 selections over the past three years — all based on recruiting classes that were outside the top 25 in the early years of Chris Petersen’s tenure. The total this year isn’t a school record; in fact, it’s not even close. Nor does the ’19 class set a school standard for the number of selections in seven rounds. In ’98, the Huskies had 10 players picked from a group that stuck around despite the sanctions handed down by the Pac-12 and the NCAA.
Utah: The Utes machine just keeps churning out victories and draft picks (five this year, 14 in the past three) at rates that exceed what you’d expect from the recruiting ratings. The player development in SLC is first class, but that’s only one piece of Kyle Whittingham’s success. No program in the conference better meshes scheme and philosophy of the head coach with the natural recruiting pipeline. Washington State, Washington and Stanford are on Utah’s level in that regard, and several other programs — Arizona State and Cal come to mind — are on the correct trajectory.
Mike Leach: Washington State produced just two draft picks, which serves to underscore the continued fine work by Leach and his staff. The Cougars have a grand total of five draft picks in the past three years but have won 28 games in that span. Contrast those numbers to Stanford (28 wins, 11 draft picks), USC (26 wins, 13 picks) and others, and Leach has done more with less — if the draft is our measuring stick — than any coach in the conference.
Defensive backs: Of the 30 non-specialist selected, seven were cornerbacks and safeties. Washington continued its success as DBU with three picks from the back line (Taylor Rapp, Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller), but Oregon, Utah, USC contributed to the haul. For context, the conference had three DBs picked last year … Then again, it had 13 selected two years ago.
Pac-12: The 33 draft picks was in line with recent history and ranked third among the Power Five conferences. The Pac-12 had 2.75 picks per team, which was third behind the SEC (4.6), Big Ten (2.9) and ahead of the Big 12 (2.6) and ACC (2.0). The position breakdown was interesting, particularly in this regard: The conference had three specialists drafted (two kickers/one punter) and only one quarterback (WSU’s Gardner Minshew).
Undrafted players: The list of players not selected includes three quarterbacks (UCLA’s Wilton Speight, Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins and Washington’s Jake Browning) plus Cal running back Patrick Laird, Utah linebacker Chase Hansen, Colorado safety Evan Worthington and Washington safety JoJo McIntosh.
The Los Angeles schools: The lagging performance by USC and UCLA last season was a central reason for the Pac-12’s trouble on the national landscape; their poor production in the draft (five combined selections) underscored the issue: For the first time in the Super Bowl era, the schools failed to produce a first- or second-round pick (per Sam Farmer of the LAT). If the Trojans and Bruins don’t return to their historical level of success in the next few years — especially USC — the Pac-12 will have trouble maximizing its brand potential in the next round of media right negotiations.
UCLA: The Bruins had one player drafted, tight end Caleb Wilson, who went to Arizona with the last pick of the last round. This, from a school whose recruiting classes were ranked No. 18, 12 and 13 nationally from 2014-16. (And Wilson, if you’ll recall, was a walk-on who transferred to Westwood from USC.) Put another way: Utah had more specialists drafted this week than UCLA had total players selected. Underperformance of that magnitude cannot be attributed to one factor: The recruiting ratings aren’t always accurate, and the player development under Jim Mora was clearly lacking.
USC: Yep, another entry on the SoCal situation, which should indicate the level of seriousness with which the Hotline view this issue. The Trojans had only four picks — one less than Utah and Stanford and half Washington’s total — and didn’t produce a first or second rounder for the first time since the 2003 draft. Obviously, plenty has gone wrong at USC (the athletic director himself identified culture, discipline, scheme, staff and personnel), and the Trojans are sucking the entire conference into their tailspin. On the bright side, USC’s resources and recruiting base make a swift turnaround possible, if the right people are in charge.
Defensive linemen: Four tackles/end were selected out of the conference’s 33 total picks. That’s a telling lack of NFL-level talent in one of the most important areas. By contrast, the SEC had 10 defensive linemen selected; the Big Ten had seven; and Clemson alone had four. For the conference to compete against the powerhouses across the land, it must upgrade the size and talent on the defensive front.
Arizona: Had one player picked, defensive lineman P.J. Johnson. That makes two selections for the Wildcats in the past three years and just four in the past five years. Yep, four picks in five years for a program that produced multiple picks annually for decades. Rich Rodriguez could scheme with the best of them, but recruiting wasn’t up to Arizona’s standard. Put another way: Utah produced more draft picks this year than Arizona has in five years.
Porter Gustin: USC’s oft-injured edge rusher failed a drug test and wasn’t selected.
Undrafted underclassmen: UCLA offensive tackle Andre James, Washington State running back James Williams and Stanford guard Nate Herbig were the conference’s only early-entry prospects who weren’t selected. It’s one thing to take the undrafted free agent route mentioned previously; it’s quite another to do that without a degree. Going back to school is a more difficult move than staying in school.
Bryce Love: I saved the Stanford tailback for last because his situation is stocked with nuance. Had he turned pro last year after averaging eight yards per carry, Love assuredly would have been a Day Two selection, perhaps a high Day Two selection. Instead, he returned to school, tore up his knee and went in the fourth round to a dysfunctional franchise (Washington) with a detestable owner. In general, we’re not about to ding Love for choosing his degree (in human biology) over an early start to his pro career. But this isn’t a commentary on life choices; it’s an assessment of draft results. From that admittedly narrow lens, Love lost out financially — perhaps multiple millions in his signing bonus — by returning to school. And if the knee injury prevents him from regaining top-end speed, the decision could prove even more costly to his football career.