Early entries for the 2018 NFL Draft are officially over so we now know who is coming back and who isn’t in the Pac-12. Early entries are actually more important for a program in the now than recruiting is, so I thought I would analyze this year’s early entries in the same format we do recruits. The higher a players star ranking is, the more valuable he is.
Let’s start with the one stars…
Larry Tharpe Jr. Jr. DT Arizona - Tharpe played quite a bit in 2017 and is heading early to the NFL, but he didn’t play enough to leave much of a hole in Arizona’s defense.
Austin Roberts Jr. TE UCLA - The least-expected NFL early entry of the year, but it could have to do with the coaching change at UCLA. He’s talented, but had just 500 yards receiving in three years and three scores and doesn’t have NFL tight end size. The Bruins should have Caleb Wilson back next year from injury, so this isn’t a huge loss for them.
Sam Jones Jr. G Arizona State - Jones declaring was a bit of a surprise given he isn’t a great draft prospect, but I’m thinking he was ready to go after the coaching change. He was probably ASU’s best offensive lineman though in 2017 and will be a tough loss for them.
Tavares Martin Jr. Jr. WR Washington State - Tough to decide where to put Martin, because he was transferring anyway, but decided to just jump to the NFL. Either way, he was an ultra-productive receiver for the Cougars the past couple of years, but they have a wealth of other receivers on the roster who should be able to step up.
Christian Sam Jr. LB Arizona State - Part of a trio of very talented linebackers, Sam was a veteran asset for the Sun Devil defense. He missed all of 2016 due to injury, so it makes sense for him to jump after proving himself in 2017. Still, this stings for the Sun Devils as they also lost linebackers D.J. Calhoun and Alani Latu to graduation.
Jordan Lasley Jr. WR UCLA - Lasley exploded in 2017 with more than 1,200 yards and nine tds with great size at 6’1 210 pounds. He’s the kind of guy who may have come back had their not been a coaching change, but either way, he’s a very good NFL prospect and the Bruins will be hard pressed to find a new big play receiver to replace him.
Ryan Nall Jr. RB Oregon State - He was Mr. Everything for Oregon State for a while, but wasn’t as effective in 2017 as he was in 2016, and with a coaching change, it makes sense that he heads to the next level. The Beavers will be starting from scratch at running back now.
Dalton Schultz Sr. TE Stanford - Schultz never turned into the massive blue chip recruit he was supposed to be, but he was a more than solid blocker and pass catcher. The good news for Stanford is they have more talented tight ends waiting in the wings than any other Pac-12 program.
JoJo Wicker Jr. DE Arizona State - He was quietly one of the best defensive ends in the conference as a tough player on the edge. He seemed like 50/50 decision to me going into the off-season and will be tough to replace in run defense and pass rushing.
Deontay Burnett Jr. WR USC - He was one of the conference’s most-productive receivers with more than 80 receptions, 1,100 yards and nine TDs in 2017. He doesn’t have great size for the next level, but his jump makes sense given Darnold moving on and with him proving just about all he can in college. The Trojans have a lot of big time receiver recruits, so one will need to step up as a consistent, go-to receiver in 2018 to replace Burnett.
Sam Darnold So. QB USC - This one stings because Darnold is just a sophomore and redshirt sophomore QBs rarely declare. The Trojans also don’t have as-talented of a QB stable as they traditionally have to replace him.
Rasheem Green Jr. DE USC - He came into his own this season and would have arguably been the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman coming back, but he’s headed to the NFL. The Trojans have some talent waiting in the wings and get a huge boost in getting Porter Gustin back, but they still lack some depth up front and replacing Green will be a challenge.
Ronald Jones II Jr. RB USC - Jones had nothing left to prove at the collegiate level as one of the conference’s best running backs in back-to-back years. He should be a third round choice at worst. Jones’ exit means the scary-talented Stephen Carr, will see more action in 2018, and that might be bad news for the rest of the Pac-12.
Hercules Mata’afa Jr. DE Washington State - The conference’s best pass rusher and arguably best defensive player wasn’t a slam dunk to leave early because he played a lot of defensive tackle at WSU and will have to turn into an OLB in the NFL. His exit leaves a massive hole in the front of WSU’s defense as he’s a player so impactful, you can’t really replace him and he’s the kind of talent there isn’t a ton of in Pullman.
Quenton Meeks Jr. CB Stanford - 6’2 200, with a track record for locking down receivers, Meeks is an NFL dream. I thought there was a chance he comes back because he has yet to quite fulfill his potential, but he jumped to the next level. Meeks is a tough loss, but he won’t be as tough if senior Alijah Holder comes back healthy and with senior Alameen Murphy coming back.
Kolton Miller Jr. T UCLA - He turned into a franchise left tackle for UCLA and has turned himself into a borderline first round pick so it makes sense he declared, especially considering the coaching change. The Bruins have a lot of talent on the offensive line, but it’s really underachieved in recent years, so finding a new franchise left tackle will be a challenge for Chip Kelly and co.
Isaiah Oliver Jr. CB Colorado - He was the conference’s top lockdown corner in 2017 and a potential first round pick. The Buffs have been loaded at corner the past two seasons, but they might have ran out of NFL players back there this time to step in for the early-departing Oliver.
Harrison Phillips Sr. DT Stanford - Phillips was as good of a defensive player as there was in the conference in 2017, but he isn’t a knockout NFL prospect so I thought he might come back. He doesn’t have much left to prove, so I’m not shocked that he left though. It’s a big blow for the Cardinal as he was a one-man wrecking crew up front for them all season and a lot of the defensive front struggled around him last season.
Justin Reid Jr. S Stanford - He emerged as the conference’s best safety in 2017 and has NFL written all over him (his brother is already in the league), so no surprise here. The Cardinal have other solid safeties coming back, but none that will likely be as good as Reid was in 2017.
Josh Rosen Jr. QB UCLA - Rosen could be the top player taken overall in 2018 so no surprise that he left early. Freshman Devon Modster might actually be a better fit for Chip Kelly’s system anyway, so it might not be a massive loss for UCLA.
Vita Vea Jr. DT Washington - The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year has basically been ready for the NFL all season so no surprise. A player like Vea simply cannot be replaced, but the Huskies got a huge score in getting junior All-Pac-12 DT Greg Gaines to return for his senior season.