With the Pac-12 college football season cancelled, there’s a good chance we won’t get to see some very talented players suit up for those schools ever again. That’s a major bummer. On the bright side, some (many?) will declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, so we’ll be able to get a jumpstart on them as prospects before they enter the NFL.
While we don’t know who’s declaring and who’ll return for the 2021 college season, let’s dive into all the Pac-12 prospects eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft. And there’s loads of really good ones, especially at Oregon.
OT Penei Sewell
Sewell is bound for the generational label — which, in football years is around seven to 10 years — at the offensive tackle position. Regardless of what is asked of him, he moves like a tight end. His explosiveness and agility are not remotely close to normal for a left tackle. Then, you check Sewell’s size and see he’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 331 pounds, and you’re floored. With that much length and girth, the Oregon star — who’s not 20 until October, by the way — controls with his arms and immense/effortless power at the point of attack. He should receive legitimate No. 1 overall pick consideration.
S Jevon Holland
Holland began his Oregon career mostly as a free safety as a freshman in 2018 and intercepted five passes. As a sophomore in 2019, he played more as a slot defender and still loaded the stat sheet with 66 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, four picks, and four pass breakups. He didn’t look out of place covering slot receivers and tight ends at that inside alignment. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Holland boasts classic safety size, and he’s a smooth and dynamic athlete with lightning-quick play-recognition skills. In his two years with the Ducks, Holland has looked like a first-round talent.
CB Thomas Graham
All Graham has done in three seasons at Oregon is intercept eight passes with 32 pass breakups, 24 of which came over the past two years. The former No. 11 cornerback recruit in the class of 2017 per 247 Sports is twitched up at 5-11 and 180-ish pounds but he plays bigger because he’s unafraid to challenge larger pass catchers and has good leaping ability. He routinely finds the football and is equally as effective in man as he is in zone. And he got plenty of experience on an island in Oregon’s defense.
CB Deommodore Lenoir
Not quite as twitchy as Graham, the similarly sized Lenoir has 21 pass breakups and five picks in three seasons at Oregon. I don’t see as much natural man cover skills from Lenoir, and occasionally he was beaten down the field in college. But there are plenty of fast-reacting plays on the football at the intermediate range, and he flies up as a run defender on the outside.
Running back CJ Verdell scored 10 touchdowns on 202 carries at 5.0 yards per attempt in 2018 as a redshirt freshman and followed with a 6.2 yards-per-attempt campaign on 197 attempts last season. The 5-9, 205-pounder isn’t super elusive but runs with excellent vision between the tackles and an efficient North-South style with above-average wheels.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
Brother of Packers’ 2018 sixth-round pick Equanimeous, Amon-Ra is the next awesomely named St. Brown with NFL talent. And the younger of the two siblings is primed to go much earlier in the draft. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, St. Brown has the frame of a separation-based wideout, and while he’s not Davante Adams as a route runner just yet, he demonstrates serious wiggle off the line and when he tries to free himself from cornerbacks. Also, after the catch, he’s rather elusive, seemingly never complacent with just falling forward. Because of his suddenness and juice downfield, along with his YAC abilities, St. Brown should get some first-round buzz. He caught 77 passes for 1,042 and six touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore in 2019.
DT Jay Tufele
There’s a lot to like with Tufele’s game. His lateral movement is outstanding at 6-3 and 305 pounds, and his swim move can be deadly. He’s just not very consistent using his hands in other ways and doesn’t convert much quickness to bull rushing power. His athleticism should get him drafted within the first few rounds, and a strong combine showing could push him into Round 1.
iOL Alijah Vera-Tucker
Vera-Tucker was a top 15 offensive tackle recruit in the class of 2017 according to 247 Sports, and he’s shined at guard during his first two seasons for the Trojans. He actually looks like a tackle at his left guard position on film, with a long, athletic frame. And gliding across a gap is no issue for him when he’s penetrating three techniques. Vera-Tucker’s game is under control, and he plays with great balance, a combination that allows him to deal with power well on the inside. He just needs to fire his hands to the chest of defensive linemen more frequently, and his grip strength could improve.
More to watch
As a freshman in 2017, running back Stephen Carr looked a future star in Sam Darnold’s final season at USC. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and caught 17 passes for 188 yards. But in college, Carr’s been involved in a heavy running back rotation and, to date, has never received more than 81 carries in a single season. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year and has flashes of dynamic, one-cut ability with plus vision. Wideout Tyler Vaughns has been the staple of consistency with the Trojans, registering at least 50 grabs and 600 yards in each of his three seasons there. He actually plays larger than his 6-2 and 190-pound frame by way of rebounding the football down the field.
DT Levi Onwuzurike
If you only look at Onwuzurike’s stats, you’ll be fooled into thinking he’s not impactful. The Washington defensive lineman has just seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss over the past three seasons with the Huskies. But he’s incredibly disruptive. He reminds me of a sleeker, more laterally athletic version of Javon Kinlaw, who went inside the top 15 just a few months ago. At 6-3 and under 290 pounds, Onwuzurike has played up an down the Washington line and succeeded everywhere. He’s the full package as a prospect — burst, insane pop on contact, block-defeating skills, and some pass-rushing moves as he flies upfield. I love his sturdiness as a run defender too. His arms are like vacuums to running backs.
EDGE Joe Tryon
Being 6-5 and 262 pounds with speed to threaten the corner is going to get Tryon drafted. He could even add about 10 more pounds to his body without losing his burst. Somewhat bendy and exquisite on twists, Tryon logged eight sacks in 2019 as a sophomore. He’s far from a finished product, but scouts will fall in love with Tryon’s upside as a rushing specialist.
CB Elijah Molden
Molden was everywhere for the Huskies defense in 2019 with four picks, 12 pass breakups and 79 tackles at 5-10 and 191 pounds. Mostly a slot corner, Molden glides in coverage against those nimble slot receivers and excels running with them on intricate routes because of his loose hips and flexible ankles. Being able to stick to inside receivers is more valuable now than ever, and Molden can certainly do that.
More to watch
Offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland played right guard in his first two years with the Huskies but was set for a move to left tackle after the departure of Trey Adams. At 6-7 and 320-ish pounds, he has the frame for it. There’s twitch to his game, and he plays with good knee bend. He needs to rein in his at times sporadic movements and play with better balance. Kirkland does have NFL talent to work with though.
OT Walker Little
Little was lost for the season one game into the 2019 season, so there’ll be many questions about his overall body of work at the collegiate level if he decides to enter the 2021 draft. At 6-7 and a rock-solid 320 pounds, Little already looks like an NFL tackle, and he’s a controlled mover who sinks to help himself in the leverage battle. His kick slide could cover a little more ground, and he’s pushed to the limit by explosive outside rushers. But his length is a major advantage in those situations when he’s initially beaten around the corner, and he’s a bulldozer in the run game. If healthy, Little will be on the first-round radar. Little was a five-star recruit and the No. 3 offensive tackle in the country coming out of high school in 2017 according to 247 Sports.
CB Paulson Adebo
Adebo was dazzlingly disruptive with 17 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2018. While he had the same amount of picks in 2019 and defended another 10 throws, he wasn’t as reliable down the field in coverage and didn’t finish the season due to injury. At 6-1 and 192 pounds with long arms and impeccable zone-coverage skills, Adebo will be high on the boards of teams that utilize zone-heavy schemes. Man teams will be much lower on him because he doesn’t have the twitchiness to stay with receivers down the field.
CB Jack Jones
Jones is a fascinating prospect because of his journey in college. He started at USC after being a five-star recruit, then went the junior college route and ultimately landed at Arizona State. He’s only 5-9 and 170 pounds but primarily aligned on the outside in his first season with the Sun Devils and thrived with 13 pass breakups and three interceptions. There probably won’t be a twitchier cornerback in the 2020 class. Jones’ click-and-close skills are freaky. There are some inconsistencies to his game, but when he’s locked in, he has lockdown man-to-man cornerback ability and will find the football. Frequently.
S Aashari Crosswell
Crosswell is an intimidating presence at safety at a chiseled 6-0 and 205 pounds and followed a majorly impactful freshman season with two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Mostly roaming as an intermediate level robber safety who drifted into the box, Crosswell was a rangy thudder against the run and demonstrated flexibility when floating around the field in coverage. He was the No. 10 safety recruit in the 2018 class per 247 Sports, so it’s no major surprise Crosswell excelled early in his college career. He’s a tremendous tackler too.
WR Frank Darby
Not a high-volume target, Darby cruises downfield as a splash-play specialist. He had 31 receptions for 616 yards (19.9 yards per) in 2019 with eight scores. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Darby has good size for the role he’s bound to play in the NFL, and he’s not a stiff, linear-speed only target. Darby displayed the ability to beat press at the line with quickness and tracks it naturally downfield. He gave me John Hightower vibes while watching him.
Who else to watch
California: Defensive back Camryn Bynum has racked up 26 pass breakups in his first three years with the Bears and possesses starting NFL size at 6-0 and 195 pounds. Best as a nickel corner in zone, Bynum wins with football IQ and light feet. He’s not as inherently smooth in man, which will keep some teams away. Others, who prioritize route-recognition skills and click-and-close talent will like Bynum in the middle of the draft.
Oregon State: Hamilcar Rashed had an out-of-nowhere season in 2019 with 14 sacks after only recording two in 2018. The 6-4, 235-pound edge rusher wins with an impressive first step and surprisingly poppy hands for an outside rusher without a lot of weight on his frame. He’s a smooth athlete and respectably bendy too but does have problems dipping underneath blockers on his go-to speed rush, which could lead to him being pushed past the quarterback in the NFL. His hand work is decent, but Rashed needs to add a power element to his game. Running back Jermar Jefferson was unstoppable as a freshman in 2018 with nearly 1,400 yards on the ground and 5.8 yards per carry. His workload, production, and efficiency dipped in 2019, but there is plenty of bounce to his game at 5-10 and 214 pounds.
Utah: The Utes lost an unfathomable amount of talent to the NFL in the 2020 draft, as seven members of last year’s team were selected in April. But tight end Brant Kuithe is the lone standout with legitimate 2021 draftee potential. After 20 grabs as a true freshman, Kuthie erupted for 17.7 yards per grab in 2019 on 34 receptions in Utah’s run-obsessed offense. Listed at 6-2 and 235 pounds, Kuithe is an H-back hybrid more than a classic tight end, and I’m fine with that. He’s electric with the ball in his hands — he was a running back in high school and it shows — and explodes off the line and when making a cut in his route. His playing style is tailor-made for today’s NFL.
Colorado: Defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson didn’t have the second season at Colorado many — including myself — were envisioning with just 4.5 sacks and the same number of tackles for loss in eight games after he had 15.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 in his first year in Boulder. But there is some one-gap pass-rushing capabilities to his game.
Arizona: A blur of a linebacker, Tony Fields ranges from the middle of the field to the sideline in flash at 6-1 and 220 pounds. He moves like a fluid safety and does an admirable job sifting through the forest to find the ball carrier. There’s not much hesitation yet plenty of suddenness to his game. He had 94 tackles and three pass breakups last season at Arizona and fits the mold of a modern-day off-ball linebacker.
UCLA: Osa Odighizuwa is an athletic, refined wrecking ball on the interior of a defensive line. Listed at just 6-2 and 280 pounds, Odighizuwa plays with deceptive power due to his low center of gravity and long arms he deploys in a hurry after the snap. But he’s actually best getting his first step in a gap and exploding upfield. Odighizuwa has that dancing bear feel to his game and a non-stop motor. There are times when he’s overpowered inside, but he knows a variety of ways to get into the backfield and disrupt. Demetric Felton represents the future of added value at the running back position. He’s more receiver than he is he ball carrier, and he’s extraordinarily dangerous in the open field with the ball in his hands thanks to phenomenal jump cutting skills, acceleration, and running back-like vision. He moves different and looked more dynamic than 2020 fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley.
Washington State: Running back Max Borghi is basically a slot receiver, or at least he was in Mike Leach’s Washington State offense. He caught 86 passes last year and, according to Pro Football Focus, broke 28 tackles on those receptions. He has breakaway speed and solid contact balance. He’s a better wideout than he is a running back right now.