Top Skill Players in Pac-12

Jason FrayCorrespondent IAugust 9, 2012

Top Skill Players in Pac-12

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    When looking at every major conference in America, there's no question that the most explosive and diverse offenses reside in the Pac-12.

    Each week, numerous playmakers and home-run threats are showcased in spectacular fashion. These sophisticated offenses are engineered in such a way that plenty of points are put up with regularity. 

    Let's take a look at the most dynamic skill players in the Pac-12...

     

    *Note: This list will exclude quarterbacks, and will focus on the top skill player for each team. There is an "honorable mention" page that includes members not initially listed.   

WR Keenan Allen

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    Keenan Allen does it all for the Golden Bears. 

    The 6'3" junior receiver is currently Cal's active career leader in receptions (144), receiving yards (1,833), all-purpose yards, touchdown catches (11) and points.

    Last season, he hooked up with his brother and starting quarterback Zach Maynard for 98 receptions totaling 1,343 yards. Allen's 98 receptions ranked him ninth overall in the nation for most catches in the 2011 season.

    Allen's physicality makes him extremely tough to defend against. He not only can use his explosiveness and attack the opposition vertically, but he's very able at catching screen passes and accelerating up the field—breaking tackles and making people miss in traffic with his impressive frame.

    Look for Allen to have a huge upcoming season in what likely is his last before he departs for the NFL. 

WR Dan Buckner

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    With Arizona losing four of its top five receivers from a year ago, Dan Buckner will be expected to be the primary receiving threat for the Wildcats.

    The former transfer from Texas has great jump-ball ability. At 6'4", he uses his height to pluck the ball out of the air with ease.

    He put up modest numbers last season with 42 catches for 606 yards, but he did have a 14.4 yards-per-catch average.

    Matt Scott will now be the starting quarterback for the Wildcats, and Buckner should be a prime target. He represents the best deep-threat option for Arizona and was recently named to the 2012 Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List—recognizing the nation's top wide receiver.

TE Joe Fauria

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    Amidst the Bruins' anemic pass offense of a year ago was the talented but underutilized tight end Joe Fauria. 

    The former transfer from Notre Dame was second on the team in both receptions (39) and receiving yards (481). On a team that struggled to throw the ball, Fauria was often targeted in goal-line situations and on patterns across the middle of the field.

    Fast forward to this year, and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is now in Westwood. With a player of Fauria's caliber, he should be targeted early and often with the new spread offense implemented. 

    At 6'7", he has surprising athleticism and speed. While not necessarily a good blocker, his value will come on passes exploiting seams down the heart of the field, and on jump balls—where Fauria has an advantage on virtually every play due to his height.

    Fauria was named to John Mackey Award watch list, which is the award given to the top tight end nationally. 

RB Cameron Marshall

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    Cameron Marshall will be one of the top returning running backs in the conference heading into the 2012 season.

    There's no question that Marshall is a load. At 5'11", 223 pounds, he runs with a very physical, downhill style that makes him hard to tackle. More than that, he also has really good speed for an athlete his size.

    Last season, he was second in the conference in rushing touchdowns (18), and led the Sun Devils in both touchdowns and yards of total offense (1,238). 

    In new head coach Todd Graham's run-first offense, Marshall should be in line for an even bigger year statistically. Look for him demonstrate why he's one of the most, if not the most complete back in the conference. 

RB Tony Jones

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    Truth be told, the cupboard is pretty bare when it comes to proven talent for the Colorado Buffaloes.

    Wide receiver Paul Richardson is the top skill athlete on the Colorado roster without a doubt. Unfortunately for Buffs, Richardson suffered a torn ACL and is questionable, at best, to play this season.

    With that in mind, tailback Tony Jones becomes the top proven skill player currently.

    The diminutive 5'7" back is the top returning rusher. In a reserve capacity, he had 297 yards and two touchdowns. His role on the team should be expanded—especially with the loss of Richardson and the overall lack of proven talent.

    Some names to watch out for include wide receiver Nelson Spruce and tight end Nick Kasa.

    Spruce redshirted as a freshman and has jumped to the top of the depth chart at the Z position. At 6'2", he has good size and physicality.

    Kasa just switched this offseason to the tight end position after being a defensive end the past three seasons. He has great athleticism and physical gifts, but is still somewhat raw at the position.   

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins

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    Austin Seferian-Jenkins came to Montlake with lots of hype, and he's definitely lived up to it thus far.

    As a freshman last season, he was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. The big tight end had 41 catches for 538 yards, including six touchdowns. His 538 yards receiving is the second highest total for a true freshman in Washington Husky history. 

    At 6'6" 266 pounds, he's a massive target to throw to. Despite his impressive size, he's very mobile. His value most certainly comes via crossing routes that focus on the center of the field. His jumping ability makes him a big-time target in the red zone as well.

    He's certainly a "freak" in the best sense of the word. As Washington's top returning receiver statistically, he'll look to build upon an impressive freshman campaign and have even more of an impact as a sophomore.  

    Seferian-Jenkins and Fauria make up perhaps the best TE tandem in any conference in the country.

RB Stepfan Taylor

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    With Andrew Luck taking the mantle from Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, Stanford will be relying heavily upon senior Stepfan Taylor.

    If anything, Taylor offers the offense a ton of stability in the wake of losing their all-everything signal-caller.

    The Texas native had a sensational junior year in which he rushed for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns. He helped to take pressure off Luck and gave the Cardinal an added dimension to an already potent offense.

    The second team All-Pac-12 selection should become the prominent option on offense in order to help out the winner of the quarterback derby between inexperienced members Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham.

    Taylor's comprehensive body of work over the course of his collegiate career is very impressive. He ranks fourth on Stanford's all-time career rushing list with 2,770 yards and is third all-time in rushing touchdowns with 27. 

    He was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list—which is an award signifying the nation's top running back.

RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas

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    Did you know a picture of De'Anthony Thomas appears in the dictionary twice? Go look up the words versatile and electric, and you'll see a snapshot of the former Crenshaw High School standout.

    LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner took many of the press clippings last year in Eugene (and rightfully so), but it was Thomas that took the conference by storm.

    Not only did the freshman run for 595 yards, but he also led the Ducks in receptions (46) and receiving yards (606). His 16 total touchdowns also ranked him second on the team.

    He's equally comfortable lining up in the backfield as he is in the slot. Thomas' quickness and agility resemble that of a rabbit, and he's just a nightmare to defend out in space.

    "Black Mamba" is truly a threat to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball. Head coach Chip Kelly has to be giddy just thinking about all the ways he can get the ball in Thomas' hands—whether it be on a hand-off, a bubble screen, a reverse or even in the return game.

WR Markus Wheaton

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    Much like Thomas is to the Ducks, Markus Wheaton is a very versatile athlete for the Oregon State Beavers. 

    The Chandler, Ariz. native is frequently utilized on reverses and screens—which allows for him to get in space and display his impressive top-end speed.

    In a pass-happy offense, Wheaton led the Beavers in both receptions (73) and receiving yards (986). He also had an impressive 13.5 yards-per-catch average as well.

    With quarterback Sean Mannion progressing as a player, expect Wheaton to be a big beneficiary of that development. He should be a All-Pac-12 performer at the end of the upcoming season.  

RB John White IV

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    When Utah brought John White IV from the junior college ranks, he was a bit of an unknown. After his 2011 campaign, he's become one of the more decorated running backs in the conference.

    White might be diminutive at only 5'8", 186 pounds, but the Torrance, Calif. native is supremely quick and surprisingly powerful.

    Last year, White regularly was able to get low and squeeze his way between the tackles for tough yards before bolting out and gashing opposing defenses for big gains.

    With the pass game a big question mark, the Utes often relied on White to carry them in games. Against UCLA in a snowy setting in Salt Lake City, White carried the ball 33 times for 167 yards. The onus was usually on White to control the clock and churn out yards.

    On the season, the second team All-Pac-12 member broke Utah records for most carries in a season (316) and for yards rushing in a single season (1,519). 

    If Utah can have a successful season, White might be a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

WR Marquess Wilson

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    Not many people outside of the West Coast have heard of Marquess Wilson, but they should take note.

    The wide out from Tulare, Calif. has developed into one of the best receivers in the entire country. At 6'4", he's got great length and is a very fluid route runner. His quickness in and out of breaks allow for him to have ample space to operate.

    One underrated aspect of his game is his willingness to go into traffic to make catches and evade defenders. He's not necessarily physical, but he's relatively tough for someone with a lanky and lean build. 

    Last season, he set Washington State single-season records for catches (82) and receiving yards (1,388) in a season. He also had an outstanding 12 touchdown grabs in 2011. 

    In Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense, there's no telling how many yards Wilson will put up. It's quite conceivable to believe that he'll shatter the records he set himself last season.

WR Robert Woods

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    Robert Woods had a season to remember in 2011.

    As a sophomore, he was fifth in the nation in receptions with 111 and tallied a ridiculous 1,292 yards receiving. Not only that, but he ranks fourth on USC's career kickoff return list with 1,364 yards. If he continues on this pace, he'll be the Trojans' all-time leader in both kickoff return yards and total receptions.

    This feat is made even more impressive by the fact that Woods played last season with a painful ankle injury.

    He had ankle surgery in December and was just recently cleared to participate in a limited capacity in fall camp. 

    Woods runs extremely precise routes and uses his separating skills to haul in passes from all spots on the field. He also has tremendous hands—something obvious accentuated by his 111 grabs last season.

    He, along with Marqise Lee, make up the best receiving tandem in the country.  

Honorable Mentions

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    Here's a look at some notable athletes that just missed the cut.

    Kenjon Barner

    DeVonte Christopher

    Zach Ertz

    Johnathan Franklin

    Josh Huff

    Marqise Lee

    Curtis McNeal

    Jamal Miles

    Isi Sofele

    Kasen Williams