Miller: 2020 Pac-12 NFL Draft Preview & Analysis

The selection ceremony will be held remotely this year, due to the COVID-19 crisis

Posted on April 22, 2020

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

T

he 2020 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 23rd, and a number of Pac-12 players will accomplish a lifelong dream when they hear their names called. 

Though it will be held remotely this year, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the selection ceremony itself is the light at the end of a long tunnel, the fruitful reward for years of work, trials, and tribulation. 

In many ways, the Draft marks the end of one aspect of their athletic careers and the start of a new one. The transition from college to professional life is challenging for anyone, both inside and outside of sports, making draft night the final party before work at the next level begins.

In the end, it’s one thing to get drafted and sign your first contract. It’s another to hunker down, stay hungry, and work to improve your skills in the first few seasons. If done properly, the second contract is three or four times bigger than the first.

The following list is comprised of 16 Pac-12 players whose name you may hear called during the three-day draft, in no particular order. It includes a synopsis of what they bring to the table, along with their projected draft stock. 

While some will undoubtedly have better pro careers than others, the impact they made in college won’t be forgotten, nor will their accomplishments with their respective teams. 

 

* * *

Justin Herbert, Oregon

Justin Herbert  took UO from a 4-8 season to 12-2 in his 4 years. | goducks.com

 

 

PositionQuarterback
Size: 6-6, 236
Draft Stock: Early First Round

 

 

 

As the driving force behind the resurgence in Eugene, Herbert is primed to take his leadership to the next level. Compared to Marcus Mariota, Herbert appears to have a more adept passing game, which could ensure the Rose Bowl champion a more successful professional career than the last Duck quarterback to be drafted. 

And while some data-focused analytics may point to other quarterbacks who could be a better choice, those statistical analysis don’t take into account leadership. 

Herbert has been through it all in college, providing him an X-Factor that players like Jordan Love, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jake Fromm arguably don’t have. Regardless, Herbert will almost certainly be drafted in the early-First Round; it’s just a matter of when. 

 

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State

Brandon Aiyuk’s blazing speed makes him an attractive pick. | ASU Athletic

 

 

PositionWide Receiver
Size: 6-0, 205
Draft Stock: First or Second Round






The star wide receiver from Arizona State has a chance to start in his rookie season. Aiyuk’s speed alone sets himself apart from some of the talented wide receivers he is competing with, having run a 4.5 40-Yard Dash at the Combine. 

And while some statistical analytics have shown he didn’t perform as well against stronger defenses, he is one of the best players at his position in this year’s draft.

As a Top 5 wide receiver, any team that has the chance to pick him will likely utilize him heavily his rookie season. As such, Aiyuk has a significant opportunity to make a name for himself in his first two years.

Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado

CU’s Laviska Shenault Jr. could surprise in NFL. | Pro-Motion via cubuffs.com

 

 

PositionWide Receiver
Size: 6-1, 227
Draft Stock: Second Round






Most of the draft prognosticators and media have a heavy East Coast and notably SEC bias, leaving a player like Shenault not as highly valued as he should be. However, most Pac-12 fans know the prolific wide receiver is one of the best players in the Conference of Champions—mostly because he has torched their favorite team on more than one occasion. 

With great speed and hands, the only legitimate question holding Shenault back is his health. That injury bug from college is a cause for concern for some teams, otherwise he may well have been considered the best player in the draft at his position. 

Fortunately, his strength and power make up for some of those concerns, which should help in positioning Shenault as a Second Round pick.

Michael Pittman Jr., USC

Michael Pittman Jr. the latest in long line of great USC wideouts. | USC Athletics

 

 

PositionWide Receiver
Size: 6-4, 223
Draft Stock: Second Round






Over the years, USC has produced outstanding pro wide receivers and Pittman is the apparent heir to the throne. He has the size, speed, and strength to be a star in the NFL, and he may end up as the best wide receiver out of the Pac-12 in this year’s draft.  

At 6-4, his height advantage will be deadly against NFL corners, while his strength gives him a further advantage over the speedy defenders who are able to keep up with him. Given that, he may feel slighted if he winds up as a late-Second or even a Third Round pick, and rightly so. Such a slight would likely motivate him to achieve an even more successful career than his peers. 

In the end, it’s not a stretch to predict that Pittman could have the best rookie season out of the wide receivers selected from the Conference of Champions.

Jacob Eason, Washington

UW’s Jacob Eason has prototypical size and arm strength. | gohuskies.com

 

 

PositionQuarterback
Size: 6-6, 231
Draft Stock: Second Round





There was so much hype around Eason in his single year in Seattle, and his performance on the field didn’t live up to those expectations, creating deserved hesitancy from NFL scouts. His arm strength is obvious, but at times his decision-making left something to be desired. That being said, it’s clear that he has a chance to succeed in the NFL. 

Eason’s body-type is that of a prototypical quarterback, and he is mobile enough to escape pressure as a last resort—he notched a 4.89 40-Yard Dash at the Combine. If placed into the correct system with a year or two to learn behind a seasoned quarterback, it’s entirely possible that Eason winds up having a more successful professional career than his college performance would indicate. 

Troy Dye, Oregon

Oregon’s Troy Dye could be first Pac-12 linebacker taken. | goducks.com

 

 

PositionLinebacker
Size: 6-3, 231
Draft Stock: Second or Third Round




As a borderline Top 5 linebacker in this year’s draft, Dye has the potential to be picked as early as the Second Round. His abilities in pass coverage set him above many of his peers, and he possesses a knack for getting to the ball to make tackles.

Even so, Dye may not start his rookie season, but the experience he gains in his first year will go far in developing his game for what’s required in the NFL. Ideally, he will gain even more strength and increase his already apparent proficiency in reading offensive systems. Either way, Dye likely winds up as the first linebacker selected from the Pac-12. 

Zack Moss, Utah

Utah’s Zack Moss is a scoring machine near the end zone. | utahutes.com







PositionRunning Back
Size: 5-9, 223
Draft Stock: Second or Third Round







 

An absolute workhorse, Moss has worked harder, taken more hits, and powered through more adversity than perhaps any other player in the Conference of Champions. In the process, he set records at Utah, and likely made himself the first running back selected from the Pac-12 in this year’s draft.

His upside goes without saying: size and strength. In college, he bulldozed his way over players and had enough quickness and agility to bust big runs. The NFL is a much stronger and faster league, but his power should make him an easy choice for whichever team gets the opportunity to select him. 

As such, Moss has potential to be an every-down back, but his true strength will be in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as one of the touchdown leaders among rookie running backs.



Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

ASU’s Eno Benjamin uses his speed well in space. Arizona State Athletics





PositionRunning Back
Size: 5-9, 207
Draft Stock: Fourth Round









A prolific Arizona State running back, Benjamin utilized his speed and agility to take advantage of defenses throughout his college career. Those skills should translate well to the NFL, but he isn’t likely to be used as an every-down back.


Realistically, he would fit well into a system that takes advantage of his speed against linebackers in open space. Perhaps a team like the Lions would select him, using him out of the backfield as a receiver in the passing game. 


As a Top 10 player at his position, he is more of a situational back who would shine in the right system. If he lands with the a team that knows how to utilize his skills, he could be near the top of the rookie charts when it comes to catches and receiving yards out of the backfield.

Joshua Kelley, UCLA

UCLA’s Joshua Kelley has terrific agility. | UCLA Athletics







PositionRunning Back
Size: 5-11, 212
Draft Stock: Fifth Round











More of a power-runner, Kelley is another running back who can get short-yardage plays when needed. Not only that, but he also has the potential to bust medium-range runs, which makes him an appealing option late in the draft.  

Capping it off, his performance at the Combine pushed up his stock enough that he should end up getting drafted. Kelley’s Three Cone Drill was the best of any running back, while his 40-Yard Dash was 4.49 seconds. And though his role on his future team is less clear, he at least has potential to be used in certain situations or on special teams. 

Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State

Isaiah Hodgings could be a breakout NFL receiver. | Karl Maasdam/OSU Athletics









PositionWide Receiver
Size: 6-4, 210
Draft Stock: Fifth Round
















The premier receiver in Corvallis, Hodgins’ size will do wonders for him at the next level. Unfortunately, he is another victim of the East Coast and SEC bias; Not enough scouts back east know about his prolific skills. That unknown factor makes him a late pick in the draft, even if his skill-levels are more of a Third Round quality. Ideally, that should motivate him to prove his worth in training camp. 

Objectively, Hodgins’ speed, route-running, and possession-skills should ensure a place on a roster come Week One. And if everything goes right, he could be an occasional contributor for whichever team takes him. If Hodgins continues to improve his game, gets stronger, and increases his conditioning, it’s entirely possible he breaks out in the latter half of his rookie season. 

Anthony Gordon, Washington State

Anthony Gordon has a knack for making the right throws. | wsucougars.com




PositionQuarterback
Size: 6-2, 205
Draft Stock: Sixth Round







Lacking prototypical size, Gordon’s experience in Mike Leach’s system sets him apart from some of the other quarterbacks in the draft. That system has proven to translate well to the NFL, with Gardner Minshew providing the latest example. 

As such, Gordon’s ability to read the field and make the right throw is his strong suit, though most of his bread-and-butter passes were short yardage plays. At best, he is a back-up in the NFL that’s only used in emergencies, assuming he manages to stay on a roster after training camp. 

But while it may be an uphill battle for him, his prolific passing experience at Wazzu should give him a leg up on whoever he ends up competing with for a roster spot.

Evan Weaver, California

Cal’s Evan Weaver has an instinct for making tackles. | calbears.com





PositionLinebacker
Size: 6-2, 237
Draft Stock: Fourth or Fifth Round














There may not have been another linebacker in the Pac-12 with superior instincts than Weaver. His uncanny ability to wind up tackling the ball carrier was unmatched, even if his speed wasn’t extraordinary. 

Realistically, elite instincts alone aren’t enough to make it in the NFL, however, especially if the speed isn’t there. That’s a problem for Weaver, who may end up falling in the draft further than expected. 

Surprisingly, there is even a possibility that the Cal strongman goes as late as the Sixth Round. But even if that happens, Weaver’s raw tackling ability certainly gives him a chance to make a roster come Week One.

J.J. Taylor, Arizona

Arizona’s J.J. Taylor is difficult to tackle. | Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics





PositionRunning Back
Size: 5-5, 185
Draft Stock: Sixth Round or Undrafted Free Agent











Easily comparable to Darren Sproles, Taylor has the slipperiness, burst, and field vision to be successful in the NFL. His size is the primary challenge, though for a smaller running back he is able to deliver surprising powerful blows. At the same time, he uses his low center of gravity to make himself difficult to tackle. 

Still, it’s impossible to get around questions of durability and the inability to pass protect. That being said, he could be used in the passing game out of the backfield with effectiveness, or in draw-play situations when the defense is expecting a pass. Possessing undeniable skill, Taylor will certainly be signed as a Free Agent if he doesn’t wind up getting drafted. 

Austin Jackson, USC

USC’s Austin Jackson brings versatility to his position. | USC Athletics




Position: Tackle
Size: 6-5, 322
Draft Stock: First Round










On a purely size basis, Jackson is a future starter in the NFL. For having such a large frame, he is fairly quick, which allows him to be used in screen plays, pulls, and in scramble situations. Such versatility provides an added bonus for coaches fond of multifaceted offenses. On top of that, he has a high ceiling, with plenty of room to grow and improve his technique over the years. 

The combination of potential upside and raw talent makes Jackson an appealing First-Round option for teams seeking to bulk up their offensive line. On almost every level, he is everything a GM could ask for in a rookie tackle. 

 

 

Jaylon Johnson, Utah

Utah’s Jaylon Johnson has good instincts and a high football IQ. | utahutes.com




PositionCornerback
Size: 6-0, 193
Draft Stock: First or Second Round









With instincts that can match or better any other corner in the Draft, Johnson will likely make a splash in his rookie season. Possessing great physicality and speed to go along with a high football IQ, there aren’t many weaknesses in his game. In addition, his aggressive style is conducive to the league, which makes him a legitimate First-Round option. 

As the best corner from the Pac-12 in this year’s Draft, Johnson could be one of the more successful players from the Conference over the next few seasons. Don’t be surprised if he winds up starting more than a few NFL games next season. 

Ashtyn Davis, California

 

 

PositionSafety
Size: 6-1, 202
Draft Stock: Second Round




Slightly undersized for an NFL safety, Davis will undoubtedly benefit from a professional strength program. As a former track athlete, his speed is off the charts, but his experience is not as deep as some other safeties in the Draft. Even so, his athleticism puts him above many at his position and should catapult him above those who may have better instincts. 

Importantly, Davis could be used on Special Teams as a returner, giving him an added advantage worth at least a few spots on the Big Board. When it comes right down to it, his responsiveness to elite coaching could eventually make him one of the better ball-hawking safeties in the league. 



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