Utah DT Star Lotulelei is a projected top-five pick
As the college football season reaches the home stretch, it's time to look ahead to the offseason and the 2013 NFL draft.
The Pac-12 isn't stacked with professional recruits this year, but there are a number of players that could grace the first round, as well as a few sure bets.
As we move forward in these power rankings, it's important to keep the grading criteria in mind along the way. There are many key areas that professional scouts evaluate college prospects in, and three have been chosen for the purposes of this slideshow.
The three characteristics that will be accounted for are productivity, measurables and intangibles.
The first two are self-explanatory, as a player's on-field performance and physical standing are hugely important in projecting his success in the NFL. But the third category is a little more ambiguous.
Intangibles refer to a player's work ethic, intelligence, leadership and coachability, traits that are all important for the grind that is professional football.
With the rubric clearly outlined, let's take a look at the best NFL draft prospects coming out of the Conference of Champions in 2013.
LB Anthony Barr will return to play for UCLA in 2013
The following Pac-12 athletes just missed the cut for the top five, but each deserve a nod for their legitimacy as NFL-caliber players. Here are the honorable mentions for the Pac-12's best professional prospects.
LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Anthony Barr has been projected as a future first-round draft pick, but because of his recent decision to return to UCLA, we will have to wait another year to find out for sure.
Barr made a name for himself in 2012, racking up 74 tackles and 13.5 sacks in his first season on defense. Barr's primary asset is his speedy pass rush, but his ability to drop back in coverage has been improving steadily.
With another season of physical development, Barr should be able to exhibit the technique necessary to crack the top 10 of the 2014 NFL draft.
WR Marqise Lee, USC
Of all the players in this slideshow, WR Marqise Lee is the only one who is required to return to college ball for another season. Lee is only two years removed from high school, so he won't be eligible to enter the professional ranks until at least the 2014 NFL draft.
As a true sophomore in 2012, Lee established himself as the go-to playmaker in USC's high-flying offense, compiling 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 TDs.
The standout campaign earned Lee a trip to Disney World to accept the Biletnikoff Award, an annual distinction reserved for the best wide receiver in NCAA football.
With the early departure of Trojan counterpart Robert Woods, Lee figures to continue his tear in 2013 and build towards a high draft projection after next season.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
Unlike the others on this slide, Stepfan Taylor is a senior and is eligible for the 2013 NFL draft. After leading Stanford to its first Rose Bowl win since 1972, Taylor has garnered more attention from professional scouts.
At 5'11" and 215 pounds, Taylor has the perfect blend of size and power that should make him a productive back at the next level. Not only can he cut on a dime, but Taylor has the ability to run through defenders and break tackles.
Taylor rumbled for 1,530 yards and 13 TDs on 322 attempts in the Cardinal's pro-style offense, showcasing his durability as an every-down runner.
Some draft profiles have Taylor as the No. 7 overall RB prospect, and he could be taken as early as the third round.
After Southern Cal fell to 6-7 Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, second-leading receiver Robert Woods declared himself eligible for the 2013 NFL draft.
Woods had a breakout season in 2011, as the Trojans offense was moving like a well-oiled machine, but regressed slightly this year with the emergence of Marqise Lee and the struggles of Matt Barkley.
After posting 1,343 yards receiving and 15 TDs as a sophomore, Woods ended up with 846 yards and 11 TDs this past season. And while the stats from his final USC campaign are impressive, the drop-off in productivity has some NFL scouts concerned.
Measuring in at 6'1" and 190 pounds, Woods has the size necessary to compete at the next level, but his on-field performance has been marred by inconsistency.
Woods is often a victim of dropped passes and has a tendency to disappear at times. If he has exhibited those kind of struggles at the college level, it's unclear how he would translate to the NFL, where the game is much faster and more physical.
Nonetheless, Woods is a superb athletic specimen with a high football IQ, which should be enough to land him in either the first or second round. If he can work to improve upon his mental toughness, Woods could be even higher on this list.
After choosing to return to USC for the 2012 season, QB Matt Barkley was plagued by inconsistency and injury en route to a disappointing finish for the Trojans.
At the end of his junior season, Barkley was touted as a surefire top 10 NFL draft pick, but now, his status is entirely up in the air.
Barkley finished the 2012 season with 3,273 yards passing and 36 TDs, but also tossed 15 interceptions and took 14 sacks. Those numbers are indicative of Barkley's style as a pure pocket-passer, but the turnover numbers need to improve if he hopes to survive in the NFL.
At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Barkley doesn't have the ideal size of a professional quarterback, but his attention to detail and intelligence should still land him in the first round.
With the recent success stories of rookies like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, more NFL teams will be willing to go all-in on highly-rated prospects.
If Barkley can fully recover from a sprained shoulder sustained against UCLA while also proving that his accuracy woes are behind him, he could step into a starting role sooner rather than later. Barkley has proven productivity and desirable intangibles, both of which help offset his shortcomings in size.
Unlike the NFL prospects in the honorable mentions slide, Keenan Allen is a junior that decided to forgo his senior season with Cal and enter the 2013 draft pool.
Allen finished his final season in Berkeley with 61 receptions for 737 yards and six TDs, as well as a rushing TD. While those stats don't jump off the page, it's important to note that Allen battled injuries and inconsistency at the QB position all year.
Allen is an ultra-athletic wideout with good hands, though he lacks an elite top-end speed or acceleration. The 6'3", 210-pound junior has ideal size for the next level and should work his way into a No. 1 WR role after a few seasons in the professional ranks.
But what makes Allen such a high-value prospect are the weapons that he has upstairs. Allen is a cerebral player who knows his route responsibilities perfectly, and he can turn a broken play into a big gainer with his quick decision-making.
Because of his proven productivity and dedication to his craft, Allen has shot up the draft boards since declaring in early December. At this point, Allen is projected to be a first-round pick and could be the first wideout taken in 2013.
DE Dion Jordan (96) chases a loose ball versus Washington
In a surprising turn of events, the University of Oregon's top professional prospect comes from the defensive side of the ball.
DE Dion Jordan has had a stellar senior season in Eugene, notching 44 tackles, 10.5 TFL and five sacks. The insane productivity earned Jordan first-team All-Pac-12 honors, and has lifted him into the first-round discussion for the 2013 NFL draft.
Jordan, a 6'6", 243-pound bruiser, has showcased a quick burst off the line and an ability to penetrate the backfield with speed and agility. His run-stopping abilities and attention to technique will certainly need some work, but his raw talent and ideal frame make him a sure thing at the next level.
But what has NFL scouts most excited about Jordan's potential is his extreme motor, work ethic and toughness. Jordan has an innate desire for self-improvement, as well as a blue-collar approach to learning the intricacies of the game.
According to ESPN (Insider), Jordan is the fourth-best defensive end prospect in the 2013 class, and should be drafted in the first 15-20 selections. His production, size and elite intangibles are all reason to believe he will excel in the NFL.
At long last, it's time to take a look at the Pac-12's premier professional prospect, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
Lotulelei was tabbed as a top draft pick at the beginning of the season, and his status remains unchanged as the calendar turns to 2013.
Measuring in at 6'4", 320 pounds, Lotulelei is physically suited for play at the next level, and NFL scouts have taken notice.
After finishing the 2012 season with 42 tackles, including 11 TFL and five sacks, Lotulelei earned himself All-Conference and All-American honors. However, those stats don't account for the fact that Lotulelei often eats up double- and triple-teams, thereby opening up holes for his fellow defenders.
But it's not just a power rush that has lifted Lotulelei to the top of the draft boards, as the senior has shown versatility in other aspects of the game as well.
Lotulelei recorded four pass breakups as well as four fumble recoveries, highlighting his ability to get involved in a myriad of ways and make the big plays when necessary.
Some mock draft services have Lotulelei as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2013 class, and he is projected to go in the top five without question. Lotulelei has an NFL-ready body, as well as a track record of elite productivity, so he should be able to step into a major role immediately.