College football is littered with talent, both established and unheralded. Perhaps nowhere is the latter better illustrated than the Pac 12, where late start times hinder the nation’s ability to view some of the nation’s very best athletes. With USC slowly back on the upswing and UCLA establishing itself a national force, the conference’s outlook is looking up.
Paul Perkins, RB UCLA Bruins
Paul Perkins gets overlooked nationally, yet he is one of the nation’s more reliable runners and stabilized the Bruins’ offense as it went through a mercurial 2014 campaign. With elite balance and enough juice to press a defense at every level, Perkins should press a defense at every level, Perkins should be owned in deep leagues.
Jordan Villamin, WR Oregon State Beavers
A torrid midseason stretch entrenched Jordan Villamin on the devy radar, and large men that move well and can make plays after the catch are rare commodities. He’s still a work in progress, and likely has two more years in school, but the upside is matched by few receivers in college football.
Royce Freeman, RB Oregon Ducks
It did not take long for Royce Freeman to assume lead backfield duties in Eugene. Between Byron Marshall’s switch to wide receiver and Thomas Tyner’s stagnated development, there was a wide open door for a workhorse in a high yield offense, and Freeman pounced and never looked back, drawing the natural comparisons to former Duck Jonathan Stewart. Ultimately, at this point, Freeman lacks the natural burst and premier athleticism of Stewart. He’s got a well-rounded skill-set, yet it is fair to wonder which area he really excels in. That is why I am tempering my expectations at this point and passing at his current ADP of 16.
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Juju Smith-Schuster, WR USC Trojans
Whether you know him by his new hyphenated surname or just as “Juju”, there’s little doubt Juju Smith-Schuster has seen his stock soar over the course of the off-season. As is often the case with Pac 12 players, it took people time to get on board. Once they did, they were all in on this brutish specimen with strong hands and acrobatic mid-air gesticulations. Having just turned 18 this past November, he’s physically advanced; the lingering question remains just how dynamic of an athlete he is. Early production at a very young age indicates there’s plenty of room for him to grow beyond just a menacing possession receiver.
Thomas Tyner, RB Oregon Ducks
The Thomas Tyner hype train was out of control following an impressive freshman campaign, with many including yours truly labeling Tyner as one of the elite devy assets during the 2014 offseason. A sophomore season that exposed him as a very straight line athlete with little dynamism to his game caused his stock to plummet prior to a brief resurgence during a playoff run in which he ran with power and authority. Most recently, he has succumbed to a shoulder injury that will wipe away his entire 2015 campaign. There’s still plenty to like about Tyner, but his stock has taken a major tumble in the past year and it appears he is a day three prospect with 2017 being his earliest entry date. That is a hard pass.
Nick Wilson, RB Arizona Wildcats
It is easy to develop a bias against running backs in Rich Rodriguez’s system, given the massive running lanes they’re normally given and the video game numbers the offense posts. Watch Nick Wilson more closely, however, and you’ll see a runner with subtle moves at the line of scrimmage that has burst to the second level and fights for every yard. He may not be dynamic or large enough to emerge as a truly elite prospect, but he’s a really good player that deserves more love.
D.J. Foster, WR Arizona State Sun Devils
One of the more unique weapons in college football, D.J. Foster is a year behind Byron Marshall in his transition to wide receiver but he will nonetheless slap the official tag next to his name in 2015. An extremely fluid athlete that showcases natural hands, I’m much more bullish on Foster sticking as a receiver at the next level than I am Marshall. With an ADP of 62, his next to nothing cost makes him an ideal investment in deep devy leagues.
Devontae Booker, RB Utah Utes
Devontae Booker is currently sitting at 41 in devy ADP, which is a spot I am comfortable taking him at only if you add a “zero” to the end of it. A productive college runner, Booker emanates that pedestrian, day three back vibe that assumes his rightful spot as a roster clogger.
Byron Marshall, WR Oregon Ducks
After two years starring as one of the Pac 12’s better runners and posting a 1,000 yard rushing season as a sophomore, Byron Marshall shimmied his way on outside and became a 1,000 yard receiver, cementing himself as the answer to future television trivia questions. As a receiver, Marshall has slot receiver appeal but he’ll need to demonstrate the unfathomable toughness that is the hallmark of many successful slot receivers. I have little doubt that Marshall has a role at the next level; I just worry he is solely a niche player.
Cody Kessler, QB USC Trojans
On the small side with limited athleticism and merely adequate physical tools, Cody Kessler is not going to dazzle anyone on the football field. However, he showcases excellent ball placement and limits turnovers without becoming afraid of taking shots down the field. For all he lacks, he has some of that moxie that has no tangible definition yet jumps off the screen. He could settle in as a day two pick and is worth a look in 2QB/Superflex leagues.
Demario Richard, RB Arizona State Sun Devils
Part of what precipitated D.J. Foster’s move to receiver is the emergence of Demario Richard, a true freshman contributor despite being unable to vote for the first three months of the season. One of the hallmarks of this year’s crop of Pac 12 runners is balance, and Richard has it in spades. While not yet dynamic in any one area, there’s reason to believe he really takes off as he matures both physically and mentally.
Pharaoh Brown, TE Oregon Ducks
Pharaoh Brown had the look of day two, mismatch tight end prior to a devastating leg injury that ended his 2014 campaign. The real question around Brown at the moment is obviously health. Even modest contributions in 2015 would be a step in the right direction.
Daniel Lasco, RB California Golden Bears
Quietly one of college football’s best runners, Daniel Lasco is a unique combination of athleticism and pure willpower. He gets small when he needs to and runs large when he needs to, finding the smallest seams to dart through before finishing runs with authority. With a slippery running style and plus athleticism that should show during off-season testing, Lasco’s an overlooked back that could slide right into day two of next year’s draft.
Ready To Emerge
Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford Cardinal
With elite football bloodlines and plus athleticism, there are few more intriguing unknowns than Christian McCaffrey. It is rare for true freshman to avoid a redshirt at Stanford, let alone contribute. McCaffrey did both and shined despite limited playing time. A smooth athlete with a solid frame and versatile skills, expect Ed’s son to emerge as Stanford’s lead back in 2015.
Isaac Whitney, WR USC Trojans
The JUCO ranks have been kind to wide receivers in recent years, with numerous transfers making an immediate or long-term impact. Isaac Whitney has all the tools to become the next in line, with a long, lean frame and an ability to do everything at full speed and effortlessly. Even with a relatively talented depth chart already in place at USC, Whitney could challenge to be the lead dog in the Trojans’ passing offense.
Kirk Merritt, WR Oregon Ducks
A SPARQ freak with elite burst, Kirk Merritt and Oregon seem like a perfect marriage. Given his frame and natural explosion with the ball in his hands, his best long-term fit for owners may be at running back; however, he’s about as safe a bet as a true freshman can be, and the opportunity for early playing time is plush with Thomas Tyner on the shelf.
For all his early accolades, I’m hesitant to invest heavily in Royce Freeman. While he has power back potential, I do not see premier explosive ability or a hellacious running style that leaves defenders hopeless in his wake. He’s shown enough to warrant a roster spot; I’m just not buying at the price tag.
In a strange turn of events, USC players have become underrated in the wake of serious sanctions that have crippled their program. As such, an intriguing back like Justin Davis – a guy with elite burst and long speed – has become an afterthought. His frame is atypical, and he has yet to really lead the Trojans backfield, but a huge season could vault this supremely gifted back into the day two conversation.
Pac 12 Top 10
- Jordan Villamin, WR Oregon State Beavers
- Juju Smith-Schuster, WR USC Trojans
- Daniel Lasco, RB Cal Golden Bears
- Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford Cardinal
- Royce Freeman, RB Oregon Ducks
- Paul Perkins, RB UCLA Bruins
- Kirk Merritt, WR Oregon Ducks
- Nick Wilson, RB Arizona Wildcats
- Isaac Whitney, WR USC Trojans
- D.J. Foster, WR Arizona State Wildcats