The Pac-10 has traditionally been a major player on NFL Draft day. Since 2001, the Pac-10 has had a player taken in the top 10 every year except 2007 (when Cal running back, Marshawn Lynch went 12th). Because of this continued wealth of talent, NFL scouts constantly flock to Pac-10 campuses looking for the future faces of their franchises.
This year is no different as players from nearly every team are starting to generate a buzz about their futures of playing on Sunday.
With the college football season more than a quarter of the way through, let's take a look at some of the names making noise so far.
Jake Locker, QB - Washington
Locker is skyrocketing up NFL Draft boards as he continues to display leadership, arm strength, accuracy, and a penchant for coming up with big plays. A phenomenal athlete, Locker was even drafted by the Anaheim Angels in the 10th round of the MLB Draft, despite not playing organized baseball since high school.
On the football field, Locker has shown tremendous growth under the guidance of former USC offensive coordinator, and new Huskie head coach, Steve Sarkisian.
Locker has long been regarded as a good runner and a very mobile quarterback, however, this year he has been making more plays with his arm. After six games, Locker has thrown for 1423 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Factoring out a poor performance against Stanford, Locker has yet to have game in which his quarterback rating dipped below 80.
Recently, Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's resident NFL Draft Guru, moved Locker up to fourth on his "Big Board." This puts Locker ahead of Heisman Trophy candidates Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen.
Locker's continuing development as a passer will ultimately determine where he lands on draft day. Considering how he has played so far this season, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that he goes in the top 15.
Jahvid Best, RB - Cal
Cal has produced its fair share of talented skill position players this decade. Come April, Jahvid Best should be able to put his name alongside them when he is surely a first-round pick.
Best started the year with an explosion, scoring eight touchdowns in his first three games. This culminated in a 26-carry, 131-yard, five-touchdown evisceration of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Unfortunately for Best (and for Cal), he has struggled mightly the last two games, totalling only 102 yards on 30 carries with zero scores. In fact, Cal, as a team, has only managed a field goal each against its last two opponents, Oregon and USC.
Despite his struggles, Best has the merit of his 1580, yard, 15 touchdown sophomore season which saw him rush for an astounding 8.1 yards per carry.
Blessed with gamebreaking speed, NFL scouts will drool over Best on Draft Day as he seems born to fill the "Change of Pace" role on a team with a more bruising runner. He's going to have to get this season back on track first though. However, after facing the two toughest defenses he'll see all year in the last two weeks, I think it's safe to say Best should return to putting up eye-popping numbers very soon.
Taylor Mays, S - USC
Taylor Mays virtually needs no explanation. The man is 6'3", 235 pounds and defines the term "prototypical" when one is talking about an NFL safety.
A four year starter at USC, Mays has displayed the athleticism and talent that is sure to make him a high first round pick.
Despite missing a game due to injury this year, and playing hurt in several others, Mays is averaging seven tackles a game and makes countless other plays that don't show up on a stat sheet.
The only knock on Mays right now is his lack of interceptions. After recording three his freshman year, he has just two (including the one he had in his most recent game, Oct. 3 against Cal) since then. It's hard to imagine this scaring away an NFL team however, and it would be shocking if Mays were to fall out of the top 10 next April.
Joe McKnight, RB - USC
After two seasons in which McKnight was only able to show glimpses of his talent, the Trojans feature back is finally able to showcase his abilities on an every-game basis.
McKnight has shown the type of consistency that NFL scouts look for so far this season, scoring in ever game this besides the week two slugfest with Ohio State. His 7.1 yards per carry is an accurate representation of his big-play ability as well. Some of his moves even conjure up memories of a former Trojan back (one who is now more famous for the girl he's dating than the stats he's putting up).
With Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley still learning the ropes at USC, much of the Trojans' offensive success can be attributed to McKnight's ability to make plays out of the backfield. Also, with senior leader Stefan Johnson sidelined with an injury, even more of the work load has, and will, be placed on McKnight's shoulders.
Toby Gerhart, RB - Stanford
Gerhart has continued to turn heads this season with his consistent and stellar play. The Cardinal's impressive 4-2 start has been in large part due to Gerhart and his contributions to the offense.
With a true Freshman quarterback, Andrew Luck, the Cardinal have turned to Gerhart to carry the load and he has answered the call in a big way. Coming off a season in which he ran for 1136 yards and 15 touchdowns, Gerhart has already rushed for 746 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Gerhart's 746 yards rushing are good for first in the country so far. He has also scored in each game this season besides Stanford's week two loss to Wake Forest, including four games in which he has multiple touchdowns.
Gerhart is currently the third ranked senior running back (according to Kiper) but it is likely that he could slip a bit on draft day. However, if he continues to perform at this current level his numbers, and his talent, will be something that scouts will not be able to ignore. It'll be very interesting to track his progress and his draft stock from now until April.
James Rodgers, WR - Oregon State
Rob Gronkowski, TE - Arizona (injured, but very talented)
Damian Williams, WR - USC
Give 'Em A Year or Two
Matt Barkley, QB - USC
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB - Oregon State
LaMichael James, RB - Oregon
Andrew Luck, QB - Stanford