The early-entry date has come and gone for the 2017 NFL Draft and a wealth of draft-eligible, very talented Pac-12 players turned down the NFL this year. Now that the dust has settled, here are the best Pac-12 players who could have bolted for the NFL, but who you will see suiting up in the Pac-12 in 2017.
eishawn Bierria Sr. LB Washington, Shay Fields Sr. WR Colorado, Kylie Fitts Sr. DE Utah, Jeromy Irwin Sr. T Colorado, Hercules Mata’afa Jr. DE Washington State
12. Lowell Lotulelei Sr. DT Utah - Lotulelei was dinged up and didn’t have as good of a junior year as he did senior year and it brought him back to Salt Lake City for another season. If he is healthy and playing at his best, he could easily be the best defensive player in the Pac-12 in 2017. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 4-5
11. Koron Crump Sr. LB Arizona State - Just another Sun Devil linebacker who is rangy and skilled at making plays in the backfield. He is one of the best attacking linebackers in the conference. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 5-6
10. Coleman Shelton Sr. C Washington - Shelton broke out as a second-team All-Pac-12 player and is a versatile lineman who has started at every position on the line. He has emerged as a true center and is among the best in the nation coming back in 2017. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 5-6
9. Royce Freeman Sr. RB Oregon - Freeman is hard to peg right now. He was on track to become of the Pac-12’s greatest running backs of all-time before a tough 2016 where he was injured and running behind a line with four freshman starters. He shocked everyone by coming back for another year and has endless potential if he is playing at full steam. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 3-4
8. Cody O’Connell Sr. G Washington State - O’Connell is hard to peg. He was an All-American and got a ton of national accolades, but not much Pac-12 love as some saw him as a bit of a system offensive line. No matter what you think, he could not be more valuable for the Cougars and is one of the best offensive linemen in the conference.
7. Kenny Young Sr. LB UCLA - Steps up as UCLA’s best linebacker with Jayon Brown graduated after a big 2016. He had nearly 100 tackles in 2016 with 8.5 tackles for-loss and five sacks. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 4-5
6. Dante Pettis Sr. WR Washington - The Huskies lost John Ross early to the draft, but they get their other weapon at receiver back. Pettis had 15 touchdown receptions (and one passing) in 2016 as a number two receiver in 2016 and could see even more in 2017. He is also the conference’s best returning punt returner, taking two back for scores in 2016. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 4-5
5. Scott Quessenberry Sr. C UCLA - A first-team All-Pac-12 selection as a junior, Quessenberry was a lone bright spot on a UCLA offensive line which struggled in 2016. He returns as one of the best centers in the nation. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 5-6
4. Vita Vea Jr. DT Washington - Anyone who watched the Peach Bowl know what this guy can do. Vea appeared close to declaring for the 2017 Draft because he has top half of the first round potential, but is back for another year as a 6’5 335 defensive tackle who can move like a linebacker. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 2-3
3. Phillip Lindsay Sr. RB Colorado - The versatile speedster is an every down and big play back at the same time for the Buffs and held off testing the NFL for a year. He had more than 1,200 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in 2016 with more than 50 receptions and nearly 500 yards receiving. He is the best running back in the Pac-12 coming back in 2017 in my opinion. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 5-6
2. Luke Falk Sr. QB Washington State - Falk surprised a lot of people when he decided to come back for his senior year despite a history of injuries and speculation by some that he was as high as a third-round prospect. He’s back for another in Pullman though, commanding Mike Leach’s offense as well as any quarterback ever has. Where would he have been drafted in 2017? Round 4-5
- Azeem Victor Sr. LB Washington - Victor was likely on his way to a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honor and second round draft selection before he suffered a leg injury in November and was lost for the season. Now, he is taking time to recover to come back for a senior season to go after the same honors.