10 Most NFL-Ready Players in the Pac-12
The level of talent in the Pac-12 may be at an all-time high, but which players are destined to stand out in the NFL? Or rather, which players could jog out on a Sunday and produce against a professional opponent right now?
There aren't more than a handful of guys in all of college football who could actually start at the next level, but the Pac-12 is filled with guys who have a future on Sundays.
If the NFL were to hold a draft based on players who were needed for games that took place tomorrow—in other words, eliminating the "potential" element—who would be selected?
Here at the 10 most NFL-ready players in the Pac-12.
10) C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
With a whopping 40 starts to his name, Oregon center Hroniss Grasu kicks off the list of the most NFL-ready players in the conference. After using a redshirt in 2010, Grasu has started every single game the Ducks have played in, which makes him one of the most experienced players in the country.
But simply having games under your belt won't make you ready for the NFL. Grasu has a resume that sparkles on every line, from his back-to-back Pac-12 first-team All-Conference honors to his selection as a first-team All-American in 2013.
At 6'3", 300 pounds, Grasu has the ideal size to hold his own up front while remaining mobile enough to get down the field in a hurry, should the Ducks need delayed blocking on a screen play. Look for Grasu to follow in the footsteps of current Seattle Seahawks center Max Unger and flourish as a professional after hearing his name called early in the 2015 NFL draft.
9) LB Myles Jack, UCLA
The only reason Myles Jack isn't higher on this list is because he's a true sophomore, but it's a testament to his talent that he looks NFL-ready even at the age of 19. As a freshman in 2013, Jack burst on the scene with an exciting blend of speed and athleticism that led to 76 tackles and a pair of interceptions on defense.
His first step is as good as there is in the game, and his level of awareness and ability to identify where the ball is headed would have you believe he's been playing college football for several years. Tack on the experiment of the Bruins using him on offense, and you have a player who can truly do it all.
That experiment, by the way, resulted in 267 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground at more than seven yards per attempt. If Jack continues to develop both on the field and in the weight room, he could find himself as a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL draft—just three years out of high school.
8) QB Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Through the first two years of Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion's career, it was unclear how or even if he would traverse the path to the NFL. He had racked up 31 touchdowns and 31 interceptions, and despite throwing for a fair amount of yards, he didn't seem consistent enough to have a future in the pros.
Then came the 2013 season, when Mannion won the starting job and passed for nearly 4,700 yards and 37 touchdowns. Granted, his 15 interceptions were still a blemish on an otherwise good-looking season, but the Beavers' signal-caller officially took the next step and became a name that the national media were aware of.
Working in Mannion's favor here are three years of experience and a strong arm. He completed more than 66 percent of his throws last fall, and though having Brandin Cooks undoubtedly helped his numbers, Mannion has the physical tools to play in an NFL game right now.
7) WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
From Ty Montgomery to Nelson Agholor to Vince Mayle, the Pac-12 is stocked with talent at the wide receiver position. But if we're picking one guy to go up against an NFL defense, it has to be Arizona State's Jaelen Strong.
Keep in mind that 2013 was Strong's first year as a Sun Devil, yet the sophomore had 75 catches for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging nearly 15 yards per grab. He had a five-game streak early in the season in which he topped the 100-yard mark and then tacked on two more such games in November, including a 142-yard effort against Arizona.
What we're looking for here is someone who can physically compete with professional athletes. At 6'4", 210 pounds, Strong has the presence to hang with physical defensive backs and gazelle-like linebackers. It's crazy to think about what he might have in store for an encore in 2014, and regardless of when he enters the NFL, Strong will be more than ready from Day 1.
6) CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
Despite the fact that Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu may find himself as a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, he checks in at No. 6 on the list of the Pac-12's most NFL-ready players. As with most positions in football, speed and agility are important traits, and Ekpre-Olomu has them.
But what separates him from so many other corners in college is that he isn't afraid to step up and help out in the run game or make the big hit and stop a receiver before he gets started. All of the NFL's best corners—Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Patrick Peterson, just to name a few—are aggressive players who value toughness just as much as athleticism.
In 2013, Ekpre-Olomu had three interceptions but also racked up 84 tackles, with five for a loss of yards. In short, the stud senior corner makes this list because you could put him in the NFL today and there wouldn't be too many receivers with a major advantage one-on-one.
5) OT Andrus Peat, Stanford
Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat is next in line to continue the tradition of paving the way for David Shaw's hard-nosed, physical attack. Over the last five years, the Cardinal have boasted perhaps the best collection of offensive linemen in the country, but Peat could someday top them all.
In fact, Shaw—normally a coach with quiet confidence in his players—went as far as to say Peat could be the best tackle since Jonathan Ogden. Being compared to the recent Hall of Fame inductee is one thing, but now Peat must go out on the field and prove it.
At this point in the list, you can pretty much assume that the player has the physical tools necessary to be the best of the best at his position. Peat, at 6'7", 320 pounds, goes beyond that description. If he can continue to develop, he'll become an immovable object up front for the Cardinal and potentially a top-five pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
4) DE Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
As the dust settled on the 2013 college football season, there weren't many folks talking about Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha. Upon further examination of the five-month whirlwind on the gridiron, it became clear that Kikaha was deserving of everyone's attention.
Not only did the 6'3", 250-pound junior account for 70 tackles, but he had 15.5 for loss to go along with 13 sacks, which put him fourth in the nation and ahead of players like Jackson Jeffcoat, Aaron Donald, Dee Ford and Khalil Mack.
After an offseason of buzz, Kikaha now has the pressure of performing when everyone knows his name. That wasn't the case last year, but it should hardly matter. You can expect the Huskies' defensive star to be a high pick when he enters the NFL draft.
3) DE Leonard Williams, USC
Based on statistics alone, USC defensive end Leonard Williams shouldn't be the highest player on the list at his position. But while it's true that mere potential isn't considered much for this exercise, Williams has tons of it and has already shown the ability to realize more and more of it with each game.
Five sacks aren't going to wow anyone, but Williams' size at 6'5", 290 pounds might, as you often see tackles carrying around the same weight.
Did he make as many plays as Kikaha in 2013? No.
Did he affect the games as much? Absolutely, and one could argue that the Trojans defense would be in worse shape without him than the Huskies would be without Kikaha.
This isn't meant to be a comparison, however, and fans of each team would take their own guy every day. You really can't go wrong, but Williams has the size and strength to dominate the Pac-12 in 2014. That means his impact on an NFL game would be noticeable as well, thus earning him the No. 3 spot.
2) QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
When it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, there are certain traits that you must have to be successful. Noodle arms will not cut it, you can't crumple like a house of cards under pressure from the defensive line, and leadership ability is a must.
Brett Hundley has exceptional arm strength, a strong upper body to brush off defenders while also being able to elude them with his legs and, finally, a charisma that makes everyone around him better. He likely would have been a top-10 pick in this past NFL draft had he declared, but we get to watch his talents on display on Saturdays for another season.
If they were being showcased on Sundays, however, you can bet that Hundley would be more than ready. He's thrown for 53 touchdowns in two seasons and has more than 1,000 yards rushing and 20 scores on the ground to his name. You might even find a few non-UCLA fans who think he's more NFL-ready than the next guy on our list.
1) QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Surprise, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is at the top of another list, but he isn't here without good reason. In two years, Mariota has amassed 77 total touchdowns to go along with just 10 interceptions.
He has improved his arm strength to the point where the zip on the ball could be coming off Tom Brady's hand, and his speed in the open field is second to none at quarterback. Mariota's eyes are constantly looking downfield, even when he's under pressure, and his grasp of the offense is unparalleled.
Whichever system he ends up in as a pro, Mariota will have an excellent chance to be successful. Had he declared for the draft and put up a good showing at the combine this past February, Mariota might be starting for the Houston Texans in a month's time. Instead, Oregon fans are counting their blessings as the dual-threat dynamo will be back to dazzle us all once again.
All stats via cfbstats.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.