There is a good chance that four or five of the players taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft will be from Pac-12 schools. With Dion Jordan, Star Lotulelei, Matt Barkley, Desmond Trufant, Keenan Allen and Datone Jones being heavily considered as first round prospects, there is sure to be a good crop of Pac-12 players with their name called on the first day of the draft.
But if you are much more of a college football fan than an NFL fan like me, you are much more interested in who the best players who will be coming back to the Pac-12 in 2013, than those that are headed off to the NFL. Over the next few months leading up to the 2013, we will see these returning Pac-12 stars ranked on a number of merits, but who would you rank them, if you took all of the players in the conference and could draft them regardless of class and position? Who would be the first 32 to go? And how would they go?
Note: This is based on college potential, not NFL potential. Also, this would be for just the 2013 season.
1. De'Anthony Thomas Jr. RB Oregon
There may be players who put up better numbers or have more accolades, but there is no bigger weapon in the Pac-12 who can do more things than Thomas. He can run inside and outside, catch passes out of the backfield and might be the most dangerous return man in the country. Thomas is simply the most dangerous player in the conference regardless of position.
2. Marqise Lee Jr. WR USC
I would say that Lee is the best pure player in the conference, but because he plays a position that isn't one of the most valuable on the field, he slips behind Thomas. With that said, Lee is maybe the best receiver I have ever seen in the conference, so it is tempting to put him at number one.
3. Brett Hundley So. QB UCLA
Hundley has far and away the best physical tools of any quarterback in the conference and with his body and skills, he would assuredly come off of the board very quickly since he plays maybe the most important position on the field. I would argue that Marcus Mariota might be the better quarterback in the bigger pictures, but Hundley is the better pure prospect.
4. Will Sutton Sr. DT Arizona State
The 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is a great prospect to build a defense around since he can play pretty much anywhere along the defensive line, can rush the passer and can stuff the run.
5. David Yankey Sr. T Stanford
The best offensive lineman in the conference is huge and would be a great cornerstone to form a running game around.
- Anthony Barr Sr. LB UCLA
Barr is a freak of nature and the kind of pass rusher that can destroy an opponent's passing game. He is in the mold hybrid type linebackers that are currently changing the way they play defense in the NFL and he can be that kind of player on the college level in 2013.
- Ka'Deem Carey Jr. RB Arizona
Carey might be the most productive returning player in the conference at any position, but he isn't a particularly dangerous playmaker and isn't a pure athletic specimen that is a proven commodity outside of an up-tempo offense.
- Marcus Mariota So. QB Oregon
From a statistical standpoint, Mariota might be the most valuable player in the conference, but Mariota has no experience playing in a traditional offense so he would probably slip a bit due to the fact that it's unknown how effective he could be in a standard, non-up-tempo offense. Still, his track record and incredible athleticism would keep him very close to the top.
- Scott Crichton Jr. DE Oregon State
A pass-rushing defensive end might be the most disruptive kind of player that you can have on a defense and Crichton is the best that the Pac-12 has to offer.
- Taylor Kelly Jr. QB Arizona State
Hundley, Mariota and Kelly are the only proven, consistent and talented quarterbacks in the conference, so I wouldn't expect them to stick around long. There are a good amount of players who are generally better than Kelly still on the board, but there's no way that the last elite quarterback left would stick around long.
- Bishop Sankey Jr. RB Washington
Sankey quietly ran for more than 1,400 yards and had 16 touchdowns in 2012. He is very similar to Carey in that he isn't too flashy, athletic or big but is a great straight forward running back that makes plays when they are available.
- Trent Murphy Sr. LB Stanford
Murphy is the best player on a Stanford defense that is loaded with very good players. He's a big, solid, intimidator that can be the centerpiece of a tough defense.
- Morgan Breslin Sr. DE USC
Breslin was one of the nation's leaders and sacks but is also a big strong defensive end that can also stand up against the run.
- Shayne Skov Sr. LB Stanford
Skov's return despite the opportunity to head to the NFL was a major boon for the Cardinal defense and he has as much talent as any linebacker in the conference. His measurables make him one of the most desirable players for a defense in the conference.
- Hroniss Grasu Jr. C Oregon
It is kind of a weak year for elite offensive linemen in the Pac-12, but Grasu is probably the best after Yankey and a guy who would be great to build a line around at center.
- Henry Anderson Sr. DE Stanford
Able to play a number of positions along the line, Anderson is kind of like a bigger but less explosive Sutton. Guys with his size and ability up front are invaluable.
- Ben Gardner Sr. DE Stanford
Gardner, like Anderson, is a big versatile defensive lineman who can shift around the line, rush the passer and stuff the run, making him a huge asset for any defense.
- Xavier Su'a-Filo Jr. T UCLA
A first team All-Pac-12, Su'a-Filo paved the way for Johnathan Franklin in 2012 and is the best tackle in the conference after Yankey and one of the few offensive linemen in the conference that you could build a unit around.
- Storm Woods So. RB Oregon State
Woods might be the most powerful running back in the Pac-12 and is the kind of back that a team can grind it out with and ride 30 to 35 times a game when he is healthy.
- Marion Grice Sr. RB Arizona State
There are a lot of really good running backs in the conference and Grice is the best that you maybe haven't heard of and is the best pass-catching back in the conference.
- Silas Redd Sr. RB USC
The fact that Redd would be the sixth running back taken is a testament to just how strong the crop of backs in the conference are this year. Like many too, Redd isn't flash, but is a great overall back who is big and strong.
- Kevin Danser Sr. G Stanford
Danser made second team All-Pac-12 in 2012 and is a key cog in Stanford's seemingly unstoppable ground game. He isn't as valuable as the other offensive linemen that are off the board, but he is the best of the next level of guys.
- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Jr. CB Oregon
Secondary is probably the weakest unit for talent for the conference this year, but Ekpre-Olomu is a ballhawk that has a knack for jumping routes and grabbing interceptions.
- Cameron Fleming Sr. T Stanford
Fleming is just as big and almost as talented as Yankey, but isn't quite the All-American candidate that he is yet. Still, he is one of the best linemen in the conference.
- Brandin Cooks Jr. WR Oregon State
Cooks is one the pure fastest players in the conference and his speed would assuredly get him off of the board sooner than his production would suggest.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins Jr. TE Washington
Seferian-Jenkins is likely a guaranteed first round draft pick after next year and as purely talented as pretty much any player in the conference. However, he plays the least important non-special teams position in football so he wouldn't go for a while.
- Wade Keliikipi Sr. DT Oregon
Keliikipi is maybe the best run stuffing defensive tackle in the conference and a very underrated asset that is invaluable at the same time.
- Taylor Hart Sr. DT Oregon
The other half of Oregon's vastly underrated defensive tackle tandem, Hart is a better pass rusher than Keliikipi but not quite the run stuffer.
- Ed Reynolds Sr. S Stanford
Reynolds is as good as anyone in the conference at picking off the ball and is the best safety in the conference.
- Dion Bailey Jr. LB USC
Bailey isn't at the level of the top linebackers, but is definitely an all-conference guy who might be the best pass defending linebacker in the conference.
- Jake Fischer Sr. LB Arizona
Fischer is a tackling machine that isn't a superstar but one of the most consistent defensive player in the conference.
- Kevin Hogan So. QB Stanford
Hogan is in his infancy as an emerging Pac-12 star, but he has just as good of tools as any quarterback in the conference and would assuredly get plucked early in the first round of a 32-pick Pac-12 draft.