The Pac 12 generated 30 total draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, with nearly half of them going off the board within the first two days. That finished 4th behind the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. The 2019 class has the potential to be even better than last year, but we’ll see how this turns out after 14 weeks of football. Until then, these are my top draft prospects to watch for in the Pac 12 this season.
DL Greg Gaines: With Vita Vea headed to the NFL, Greg Gaines now emerges as the anchor of UW’s defense. He was named 2nd Team All Pac 12 this past season and should rack up more accolades this year.
RB Myles Gaskin: Myles Gaskin burst onto the scene as freshman and hasn’t looked back since. To start his career he was named a freshman All American, then went on to be named 1st Team All Pac 12 as a sophomore and 2nd Team All Pac 12 as a junior. Gaskin has racked up 4,055 yards and 45 TDs in his three seasons at Washington. Expect him to have another big season on the ground, although his size is what people question on his way to the next level.
EDGE Porter Gustin: Last season Gustin was limited to just four games due to injury, but he made the most of his appearances as he logged three sacks. In his first year as the starter — his sophomore campaign — he had 5.5 sacks, 68 total tackles and 13 for a loss. If Gustin can stay healthy he will have a productive year on the edge, as he showcases exceptional bend.
CB Iman Marshall: After a strong first two seasons at USC , In Imam Marshall’s junior year he missed a couple games with a knee injury. He had 51 total tackles and he isn’t afraid to come up field and make the tackle. But he had 0 interceptions and 10 deflections for 2017. Marshall might not have the best ball skills, which can be a turn off to some teams, but he is very fluid and can play press man-to-man. His coverage ability is solid, as he does not allow a lot of separation when he is matched up. It’s not that he has bad ball skills — he has shown flashes where he makes plays — he just needs to reel them in and in 2018 I believe he will do just that.
LB Cameron Smith: The leader of this SC defense, Cameron Smith has the instincts and pre-snap reads which help him click-and-close with the best of them. In the run game he usually finds way to a clear lane as he has flashed the ability to capitalize and drag down the ball carrier. The numbers don’t show it, but Smith can be successful when it comes to blitzing upfield, too. He has shown flaws in coverage when matched up with a running back, but he is capable of dropping back into zone and scanning into the play. Returning for his senior year should pay off, as he should establish himself as a safe pick on day two.
TE Caleb Wilson: In his first season as the starter, Caleb Wilson had 38 catches for 490 yards and a score with Josh Rosen throwing him the rock. Wilson possesses strong hands, smooth route running skills at the position, and good size at 6’4”, 235 pounds. Wilson has the tools to be an exceptional tight end in today’s NFL. It’ll be interesting to see how he produces this season in a Chip Kelly-run offense, along with the introduction of the next era of Bruin football under center.
QB Khalil Tate: While it seems unlikely to see him declare, we can’t disregard Khalil Tate’s talent in this article. Tate enters the season as a legitimate Heisman candidate due to his extreme explosiveness and the ability to bust a long one at pretty much any time. He ripped Colorado for 324 yards on the ground and rushed for over 100 yards six times, accumulating 3,002 total yards. Of course we need to see him improve as a passer, which makes him hard to project at this point. However, you don’t see many players as dynamic as Tate.
LB Troy Dye: The last two seasons Troy Dye has been all over the field hunting for the Ducks. After totaling 107 tackles, four sacks and 14 tackles for a loss, he earned 2nd Team All Pac 12. If Dye continues to play on the inside he needs to bulk up a little, but nonetheless he possesses good range and plays well in space.
DL Jalen Jelks: The 6’6” defensive lineman had 6.5 sacks in 2017 as a junior. At his size I feel he projects better as an edge defender, but his development as a pass rusher is sure to be coveted on the inside. Even with his smaller frame at the position he was solid run stuffer in 2017 (35 run stops). Jalen Jelks is a long player who shows a good motor and doesn’t stop until the whistle blows.
10.) Julian Blackmon: (JR-DB) Had to do some digging on this guy but Julian Blackmon should be a huge riser in 2018 and people should start to get use of hearing this guys name. Blackmon put himself on the Pac 12 radar after a strong junior season, his 1st as a starter. Four interceptions and 10 deflections in 2017 earned him 2nd Team All Pac 12 Defense. His good size and instincts he has the ability to play S or CB, Utah has produced some solid DBs the last couple years, Blackmon is easily the next man up and is due for a huge season. Combining good ball skills with great instincts, look for 2018 to show that Blackmon, the under recruited DB coming out of HS, can play just as well as these top DBs.
9.) Marvell Tell: (SR-FS) The senior FS is coming into his 3rd straight season as the starter, Marvell Tell in 2017 was all over the field. 85 tackles was good for 3rd on that USC defense, adding 3 interceptions, 2 deflections and a fumble recovery. Tell has great range and was involved in pretty much every snap in 2017. This earned him 1st Team All Pac 12. Athleticism and ball skills are the name of the game for Tell. In 2018, I would like to see Tell bulk up, as NFL teams will probably question what position he can play at the next level. If he can get to 205-210 it won’t be questioned what safety slot he would play, because he is a capable of playing both. You look at Tell on film and he doesn’t look like a S, has more of a WR build, but there’s not much to complain about when he is flying to the ball.
8.) Kaleb McGary: (SR-OT) Kaleb McGary is another mammoth tackle from the University of Washington. The left and right side edge rush should be shut down this entire season with McGary and Trey Adams. McGary started every game in 2017 and showed that he was one of the best o-lineman in the Pac 12, earning first-team honors. He has been a rock at RT over the years for Washington. He’s, big, athletic, and has good footwork for a lineman of his size. Like Adams, he has the ability to get to the 2nd level and lead his RBs with gaping holes. He does a good job of being strong at the point of attack and slides his feet well in pass pro. In 2018 I would like to see McGary be less susceptible to the inside pass rusher. He can potentially move to the inside at the next level, but with a strong 2018 McGary should be a early Day 2 pick that can slide into round 1.
7.) Trey Adams: (SR-OT) Trey Adams was considered by some as a top offensive T if he declared for the draft last year, but after tearing his ACL in 2017 he decided to come back for his senior year. Coming off that ACL injury, I won’t put Adams in the 1st right now, as I would like to see if he can return to full strength. He’s a mammoth at 6’7″ and over 300 pounds. He didn’t face any big time pass rushers in 2017, but he showed that at such a big size he is still an athletic, big-bodied tackle who is quick and does a great job of playing in space. Adams has the ability, and has been successful, in the run game getting up to the second level. With such a big frame, Adams quick feet he can take care of speed rushers, but he struggles more with the power rushers. In 2018, look for Adams to lock down that left side of that Washington line and look like the top T that he should be.
6.) Christian Rector: (RS JR-DL) One of my favorite players in this Pac 12 class, Christian Rector as a sophomore, battling a broken hand, showed he can be a force. Rector appeared in 12 games and logged 7.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbled while playing the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. In 2018, I want to see Rector be an edge rusher. Not standing up, but hand in the dirt getting a solid rush off the edge. The 2nd Team All Pac 12 defensive player has the frame to bully offensive lineman, and with Uchenna Nwosu and Rasheem Green gone to the NFL, Rector is going to play even better than he did in 2017. In 2018, I need Rector to work on his pass rusher moves. He likes to use his power to get the backfield, but if he improves in this field and shows he can get to the QB with finesse and power, Rector will be up there as a early Day 2 pick.
5.) Taylor Rapp: (JR-DB) As freshman Taylor Rapp started 10 games and had 4 interceptions. He showed he could come up from the S spot and make tackles, earning himself a freshman All-America nod. In 2017, he earned a 1st Team All Pac 12 defense team spot. Rapp has the range and cover skills to be a great DB at the next level. Due to his great size and range, he wasn’t tested as much as he was his freshman year, and I look for the same thing to happen in 2018. Simply put, he cant make a play if you don’t throw it his way. Rapp had a pretty impressive day at the UW combine day, showing show how quick and explosive he really is. In 2018, I look to see Rapp continue to have the same success he’s been having. His ball skills and range are what I really really like about him. With strong 2018 season, Rapp can walk away as a top S prospect in this class.
4.) Nate Herbig (JR-G) The massive 6’4″ 348 pound guard earned All Pac 12 1st Team. You really don’t want to get in the way of Nate Herbig when he is pulling. He looks to finish and punish his defenders that meet him in the hole. I would love to see him be more consistent in 2018, as 2017 showed flashes where he blew you away picking up blocks, and then he goes missing. He is the next Stanford lineman up and a strong 2018 could put Herbig in the first round/early 2nd range. He can come in and be a force in the run game, and can hold his own on interior defensive linemen. For 348 pounds he moves really well and has great footwork.
3.) Bryce Love: (SR-RB): All Love had to do was replace Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey, and he did just that. Doak Walker Award, Lombardi Award, Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year, All American, 1st Team All Pac 12; Love got it all after rushing for 2,118 and 19 touchdowns. Love rushed for over 100 yards 12 times in 2017, showing that he has great speed. His vision/patience, and his ability to start and stop make him such a fun prospect to watch. His vision allows him to find cut back lanes, and he uses his speed to hit the seam. His long speed allowed him to bust so many long runs in 2017. He was nursing an ankle injury for majority of the season, but showed grit and toughness to fight through it and play — and have as much success as he did. I want to see Love get more involved in the pass game, this is going to be big for his stock. People question his size and if he will be able to be a 3-down back, it would be big if Love can make some catches out of the backfield this season.
2.) N’Keal Harry: (JR-WR) The 6’4″ WR uses all of his body and has made some pretty ridiculous catches with defenders all over him. N’Keal Harry is able to maintain good body control and makes the catch with his strong hands. He had a strong freshman year, but his sophomore year was great — even with the suspect ASU QB play. 82 Catches 1,142 yards, and 8 TDs later he was named 1st Team All Pac 12 Offense. Harry does a good job of boxing out defenders and is able to out muscle them at the point of attack. He adjusts to the ball effortlessly, and isn’t afraid to run with the ball in his hands. Harry is a force in the red-zone with his clean releases, and it’s easy to throw it up to him for a TD. It takes Harry a little bit to get into full “giddy-up”, and in 2018 I look for him to crisp up his route running so he can separate a little more so he isn’t always relying on these jump balls.
1.) Justin Herbert: (JR-QB) The big 6’6″ 231 pound quarterback is an athletic, big potential QB 1. Justin Herbert is pretty darn accurate on intermediate routes, and has the arm strength to really stretch the field. He missed 5 games in 2017 and only has 16 games played to his name. He has everything you look for in a QB: touch, anticipation, accuracy, and good velocity on the ball in case he needs to really fit it in there. He has the mobility to make plays on the ground and can elude the rush and escape with his speed. Baring another setback in 2018, look for Herbert to be well groomed in this Oregon offense. I really would like to see a full season be played before anointing him QB1, though.