Posted on September 1, 2020
Here are the top players from the California Region (Cal, Stanford, UCLA & USC) that I think are going to have big decisions to make among those eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft as to what they’re going to do from here.
I’ve underlined my prediction for what I think they do at the end of each player’s write up.
Luc Bequette, Senior Defensive End
Bequette’s been a good player for the Bears the past two years and now is in search of a new home through the transfer portal. Add him to the list of players whom I think are hoping to ball out in 2020, if they can, so they can get taken in the 2021 Draft.
Christopher Brown, Junior Running Back
Brown is huge and broke out in 2019, so missing 2020 would really hurt. I feel like he’s a guy who stays at Cal but at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, with the production he flashed in 2019, he might want to look at the NFL, if he knows he can run a 40 under 4.6 seconds.
Camryn Bynum, Senior Cornerback
I thought Bynum might jump to the NFL in 2020. However, he didn’t have quite the 2019 season I think many expected him to have, even though he was quite good. I think he now goes to the NFL, given that he should have a pretty good spot on 2021 draft boards, even though he would have benefited from showing some progression in a 2020 season. [Update: Bynum declared for Draft on 9/6]
Jake Curhan, Senior Offensive Tackle
A 6-6, 335, three-year starter at right tackle who cracked All-Pac-12 mentions last year, Curhan is a guy who might be able to get drafted in 2021 without playing another season. For offensive linemen, it’s a major crapshoot, though I think he returns for the 2021 season in hopes that he can put in a First-Team All-Pac-12-level campaign, giving him a better shot at the NFL.
Kuony Deng, Senior Linebacker
A 6-6, 250, tackling machine with great athletic tools and a sky-high ceiling, Deng could even have thought about going into the 2020 Draft, though I think he made the right choice coming back. Now the door is open again and I think he should start to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft where he can rocket up boards if he tests well.
Cameron Goode, Senior Linebacker
Goode has the second-most sacks and tackles for loss of any returning player in the Pac-12, and has good linebacker size at 6-3, 235. A season leading the way for Cal’s linebacker group with Evan Weaver in the NFL would have been great for him, but even without it I think he’s a good enough prospect to just start preparing for the 2021 Draft.
Elijah Hicks, Senior Safety
Hicks has quietly balled out in a great secondary for three years now and seemed like he could be one of those guys who would finally get some more honors and attention in 2020. Tough decision for him in 2020 as I think he has a lot of good tape, though not enough to lock in a draft spot. He will come back for a 2021 season.
Paulson Adebo, Senior Cornerback
Adebo is actually a redshirt junior, so he would be declaring early, and he could have been a second—maybe first—round pick in 2020, if he left, so I think he should be a lock to leave for the 2021 Draft now.
Drew Dalman, Senior Center
Dalman is also a redshirt junior, and the best returning Pac-12 center. I don’t think he leaves for the NFL as he could use another year to improve his stock and guarantee a selection.
Walker Little, Senior Offensive Tackle
Little is a very hard prospect to predict as he’s regularly regarded as a first-round pick for 2021, but he hasn’t been healthy since 2017, and really needs to show he can stay healthy for season. For that reason, I think he returns. [Little declared for NFL Draft on 9/10.]
While UCLA has a number of quality proven players and upperclassmen who had a great opportunity to show that they were worthy of 2021 NFL Draft consideration, they don’t currently have players who seem like serious candidates for this list.
Palaie Gaoteote, Junior Linebacker
Gaoteote might be the most-talented linebacker in the conference. He just hasn’t put it all together yet. He was a player I could have seen do that in 2020 and then go to the NFL. Without that opportunity now I think he returns for 2021.
Olaijah Griffin, Junior Cornerback
A 6-foot standout cornerback who emerged as USC’s top corner in 2019, he has major NFL potential. Like Gaoteote, a breakout season in 2020 would have helped him jump, and without it, he should return for 2021.
Talanoa Hufanga, Junior Safety
Hufanga has first round potential, and has shown a lot in two years. I think Hufanga declares for the 2021 Draft, even though his position—and that he hasn’t quite maxed out yet—might limit his Draft stock.
Isaiah Pola-Mao, Junior Safety
IPM might quietly be a better NFL prospect than Hufanga. He’s long and athletic at 6-4, 205, and a ballhawk who grabs interceptions. I don’t think he jumps to the 2021 Draft, though I think he has to think about it a little bit.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Junior Wide Receiver
The Pac-12’s best returning receiver had more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2019, and seemed like one of the slam dunk prospects to leave for the 2021 Draft, when we had a season. I still think that’s the case as he will now just declare for the 2021 Draft.
Jay Tufele, Junior Defensive Tackle
The talented DT could have declared for the 2020 draft and has already declared for 2021.
Tyler Vaughns, Senior Wide Receiver
He isn’t the big time NFL prospect St. Brown is so I didn’t think he was a major candidate to declare for 2020. Things have changed now that there is no 2020 season, and as a player who has been in college for five years now, having redshirted, I think he will declare for the 2021 Draft to get his pro career started.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, Junior Offensive Guard
AVT is the Pac-12’s best returning interior offensive lineman, and the national class for the 2021 Draft is pretty shallow, so I think he probably declares and heads for the Draft and doesn’t play in 2021. [Vera-Tucker declared for the Draft on 9/9.]
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