Projecting the Pac-12: Week 8
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
At the halfway point of the college football season, the Pac-12 has already been eliminated from the College Football Playoff conversation.
Washington and Stanford have two losses, while Oregon is the highest-ranked team at No. 12, but has a terrible resume for playoff consideration. And the South is absent from the rankings.
The North is where the power lies, with four teams — Oregon, Stanford, Washington State, Washington all having a reasonable paths to winning the division title and a spot in the conference championship game, while the South has been the weaker side of the spectrum and it remains up for grabs.
But, we aren't here to evaluate the teams in the Pac-12 and how the standings might shake out, we are here to find out who has what it takes to be a decent NFL prospect within the conference going into the upcoming draft.
Without further ado, here is the second installment of Projecting the Pac-12.
No. 1 | Bradlee Anae | DE | Junior | Utah
Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae is one of the most valuable defensive players for the Utes. The 6-foot-3 and 260 pound junior has been the leader among the defensive line in sacks and quarterback pressure. Utah’s pass-rush has heavily relied on the ability on him to win one-on-one match ups.
Coming off a year where Anae had 39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks all while fighting through numerous injuries, he has looked phenomenal in 2018 by amassing 17 tackles, six tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and three passes defensed. The stat sheet isn't what matters, though. It's how Anae constantly lives in the backfield.
Anae is a solid overall athlete that has flashes of very good quickness coming off of the snap. As a pass-rusher, Anae flashes impressive first step quickness coming off the edge, but he needs to work on consistently timing his jump to fully take advantage of his explosiveness. He has an arsenal of counters (Chop, Rip, Swim, Club) that he will use to beat offensive tackles. Anae turns his speed into power on a consistent basis and can generate serious push with his bull rush, although he does struggle at times against double teams. He doesn't show the ability to bend the edge, but he has enough ankle mobility to be able to corner and win with his outside shoulder.
He is a powerful player that can win with his pure upper body strength as a run defender. He needs to continue to develop as a run defender, but he has impressive flashes. He is able to stack and shed and quickly burst off blocks at times, but he struggles to do so on a consistent basis and sometimes allows offensive lineman to control him to easily at the point-of-attack. His anchor leaves a bit to be desired and he is prone to getting blown back by combo blocks.
I currently have a mid-fifth round grade on Anae. I can see him being drafted somewhere Day 3, but he isn't going to light up the tests that will have his stock rise if he does indeed declare for the 2019 NFL draft.
No. 2 | Evan Worthington | S | Senior | Colorado
Colorado has been an interesting team this season, who has been surprising many until they were faced with reality after last weekend's loss to USC. Their defense is loaded with young talent, but there are few upperclassmen players that are proven. Safety Evan Worthington is among those who may be the best safety that no one is talking about right now.
In 2017, Worthington was an essential player. After missing 2016 due to a suspension, Worthington came back to the team matured and focused. He was always physically gifted, but he learned that he couldn’t get by on that alone. He was everywhere last season and he consistently made plays at both the line of scrimmage and playing the single-high role. He had a phenomenal statline of 87 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 6 passes defensed and 3 interceptions.
Towering at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Worthington is a jack of all trades for Colorado's defense. I have seen them ask him to play deep safety, box linebacker, and nickel corner manning up on tight ends and slot receivers. The Buffaloes were confident that whatever they asked him to do he was capable of doing thanks to his football intelligence and athletic ability. Worthington, as a player is a fluid mover in man coverage, but lacks in zone a bit.
In man coverage, he is comfortable in his pedal and does a nice job staying square and mirroring receivers releases in press and also mirroring them with his weave pedal in off man, his flexibility in his lower half allows him to easily open and run with players when he opens up and he shows the top end speed to stay in phase on deep routes.
In single-high assignments, Worthington reads route combinations well and reacts properly. Once he makes a decision, he shows off impressive closing speed to make a play at the catch point. He has the agility to flow in and out of route breaks, as well as the speed to keep up down the field. Worthington knows his way around the catch point well enough to consistently negate catch opportunities by demonstrating great ball skills.
In zone coverage, he is very instinctive sometime to a fault he does a very good job of reading the quarterback's eyes and makes positive breaks on the ball covering a lot of ground out of his breaks and showing the speed to close windows quickly and make plays on the ball while in the air. Worthington has gotten in trouble with his eyes in zone and has a tendency to anticipate routes to quickly leaving him susceptible to double moves and pump fakes.
As a run defender, he triggers quickly and is a technician tackler and gets ball carriers on the ground by wrapping up properly and not having the tendency to take their heads off like a lot of other players that play the position. As a blitzer, Worthington disguises his run from depth, accelerating through both B and C gaps to rapidly close on the quarterback with force.
NFL scouts have to be drooling over the defensive backs that Colorado has produced in previous years, and Worthington is only the latest to be among that crop. I currently have an late-second round grade on Worthington, and this should be around his range.
No. 3 | Patrick Laird | RB | Senior | California
California running back Patrick Laird was named to the preseason watch lists for multiple national awards, including the Doak Walker and Maxwell, which honor the top running back and top player, respectively, in college football. Laid rushed for 1,192 yards in 2017 to become Cal’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014. He also tied for No. 3 in single-season school history with 45 receptions by a RB. He isn’t quite on pace to achieve this milestone in 2018 but he will likely come close to reaching 1,000 rushing and passing combined yards.
Laird is a quick, elusive runner with great bend and lateral control. The Cal product is at his best at the second level, where he can contort and make defenders miss with great anticipation and plant-and-go burst with space. He keeps his lower half wide when approaching contact, and does a great job eluding big hits and working through arm or poorly position tacklers on a consistent basis. He works through contact with good balance and body control, and is able to adjust with confidence and smooth acceleration as he exchanges laterally. He's a quality pass catcher with smooth movements as he works to the perimeter. He can be too proactive in bouncing to the perimeter, where he works best, and needs to play with a bit more patience and lower center of gravity as an inside runner. His in-hole vision can sometimes be off, especially, and needs to read rather than anticipate better, especially on early downs.
At best, Laird could be a late-Day 3 selection by a team that is looking to add some depth in their backfield or as a return specialist. But he is likely going to end up as an undrafted free agent in this emerging running back class and could be a practice squad candidate.
Underclassman To Watch For
Amon Ra-St. Brown | WR | Freshman | USC
USC may not be playing to the level that most people are used to in previous years. And that's primarily due to the young roster that the Trojans possess. Quarterback Sam Darnold decided to leave early and was drafted by the New York Jets, leaving 18-year old true freshman J.T. Daniels under center.
There are bright spots and signs of the future that should excite anyone. One of the brightest is at wide receiver, where true freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown has looked like the real deal right away by amassing 29 receptions for 427 yards and two touchdowns. St. Brown and Daniels were teammates at Mater Dei High School, and the connection between the two pops off when you watch USC on offense.
Standing at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, St. Brown possesses traits that aren't commonly seen a freshman receiver. St. Brown lines up primarily in the slot. He has very good speed and can flat out fly in the open field. He has a second gear and has good wiggle when the ball is in his hands, but he is prone to dance around and becomes an east-west runner. He sees the ball all the way through and possesses soft hands, but he can let the ball get into his pads at times.
He has a big catch radius for a smaller guy. St. Brown runs a wide margin of routes and has really impressive juice in and out of his breaks. He is a precise route runner that has the quickness to separate at the top of his routes. He has a finesse release against press coverage and needs to work on using his hands to more effectively get separation. St. Brown has questionable functional strength and has struggles as a blocker but the effort is there. Overall, he is a speedster that has the burners to stretch the middle of the field from the slot position.
Next up, I will be in the press box for Stanford and Arizona State, and here are the prospects and non-draft eligible players on display in Tempe on Thursday that I will be watching for:
Stanford WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside vs. ASU CB Chase Lucas
Stanford TE Kaden Smith vs. ASU S Demonte King
Stanford CB Alijah Holder vs. ASU WR N'Keal Harry
Stanford OC Jesse Burkett vs. ASU DT Renell Wren
Stanford DT Michael Williams vs. ASU OC Cohl Cabral
Stanford LB Bobby Okereke vs. ASU RB Eno Benjamin***
Stanford RB Bryce Love vs. ASU LB Merlin Robertson***
*** not draft-eligible