It was a huge year for underclassmen many thought were headed to the NFL coming back to school in the Pac-12. Here’s a ranking of the top underclassmen who could have declared early for the 2018 NFL Draft, who chose to come back to school. I’m only ranking players who I think are good enough prospects to have to make a “serious announcement” about returning to school.
- Bryce Love Jr. RB Stanford - One of the best junior prospects I can ever remember coming back in the Pac-12. He had major first round potential, was injured for about half of 2016 while carrying a heavy load and is a running back (the position most prone to declaring early), but he’s a different kind of guy, and is coming back for his final season. He was almost all of Stanford’s offense and the most-explosive player in the country in 2016 so his return could be the difference between going 8-5 and winning the Pac-12 for Stanford in 2018.
2. Myles Gaskin Jr. RB Washington - Another running back shocker that is a huge boost for his team. Gaskin makes much more sense than Love since he’s a light NFL prospect at 5’10 190, but he’s still a running back that I think most expected to leave. Already a 1,000-yard rusher three-straight years with 45 rushing touchdowns, he will crush Washington and Pac-12 records and his return may make the Huskies the preseason Pac-12 favorite.
3. Trey Adams Jr. T Washington - Was a likely Top 5 pick for 2018 before he injured his knee halfway through the season. He still may have been a first round pick had he declared, but he decided to come back, rehab, and make another run at the very top of the draft. The Huskies will get maybe the best offensive lineman in the country back in 2018 if he is 100 percent.
4. Greg Gaines Jr. DT Washington - The Huskies lost Vita Vea to a no brainer declaration, but Gaines was on the fence. The 6’2 320-pound defensive tackle is a rare breed these days an internal plugger who can also pressure the quarterback. He’s a huge anchor coming back for Washington.
5. Cameron Smith Jr. LB USC - The conference’s top inside linebacker is back. Smith probably wants to improve his coverage skills, because he has a shot at the first or second round if he can do that. It’s USC’s gain as he will almost assuredly be the conference’s top linebacker overall.
6. Marvell Tell Jr. S USC - He was quietly USC’s best defensive back in 2017 and had the chance to jump to the next level. Him coming back, along with Iman Marshall, gives USC one of the top secondaries returning in the Pac-12 in 2018.
7. Kaleb McGary Jr. T Washington - The All-Pac-12, 6’7 tackle is a nice NFL prospect, but is going to stay all four years and will form an amazing senior tackle duo in 2018 with Adams.
8. Iman Marshall Jr. CB USC - He’s an elite NFL prospect, but just hasn’t quite put it all together yet. He will be scary in 2018 if he does that and a guaranteed first round pick.