The Best Pac-12 NFL Players: The Preseason Edition

The Best Pac-12 NFL Players: The Preseason Edition

The Best Pac-12 NFL Players by Team

Pac-12 Conference states

We know the ten Pac-12 players that could be first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. But, who are the best Pac-12 NFL players already in the league? Our list below compiled the best talent, on offense or defense, from each Pac-12 school.

Arizona

Nick Foles

Although he’s a few years removed from his Cinderella story Super Bowl run, Nick Foles is still a good quarterback. Though his play oscillates dramatically at times, he still has a ceiling fit for a championship ring. At the top of his game, he is up there with the elite quarterbacks.

With a solid defense around him in Jacksonville, Foles doesn’t have to revert back to his old Rams days. Instead, he can manage the game and come up with big plays when it’s clutch time. Foles has played well in playoffs in recent years. The Jaguars haven’t. That’s why they need Foles and its why he made our best Pac-12 NFL players list.

Arizona State

Lawrence Guy

Obviously a Super Bowl Ring helps illuminate players like Lawrence Guy. Nonetheless, his 2018 play is deserves a highlight. Guy made 30 defensive stops against the run last season. His run-stopping ability helped hold the Los Angeles Rams to just 62 yards rushing. 

But, he’s more than just a run-stopping big man. Guy was one of 11 interior defenders with 30-plus run stops and 20-plus pressures. In fact, he racked up four quarterback hurries in the Super Bowl, disrupting Jared Goff again and again. When an Arizona State player comes up big in the Super Bowl, he lands himself square on the best Pac-12 NFL players list.
No, Guy isn’t going to flash and dazzle like Aaron Donald, Von Miller or Fletcher Cox. But, as an interior defender, he’s brilliant and sound. It’s no wonder he posted an elite PFF grade of 91.1.

Cal

Cameron Jordan

Shocking as it may be, Cameron Jordan takes this spot from Aaron Rodgers. While many can argue against this, Jordan is currently performing better. Honestly, Cameron Jordan could be one of the best Pac-12 NFL players of all time when he’s done. First off, Jordan is extremely consistent. In his nine seasons in the NFL, he’s played every game. Get that. 128 straight games. He’s a machine.

Moreover, in those seasons he’s been a steady source of disruption. He’s totaled 409 tackles (98 for a loss), 143 quarterback hits, 71.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 9 fumble recoveries. In his last three seasons, he’s earned a PFF grade of 90.0-plus. For that reason, PFF ranked him 16th on their 2018 Top 101 and 16th in for their 2019 rankings. Additionally, Cameron Jordan is a top-5 edge in run-defense and pass-rushing ability. His 66 pressures in 2018 show that he continues to be a nightmare for quarterbacks. He’s reliable, well-rounded and elite. Offenses beware.

Colorado

David Bakhtiari

Other than Aaron Rodgers, the next best player on the Green Bay Packers in David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari is a staple of consistent, elite, pass protection. And in Green Bay, pass protection is gold.

In three straight seasons, Bakhtiari leads all offensive tackles in PFF’s pass-blocking grade. He’s earned pass-blocking grades of 93.0-plus in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He’s not only one of the best Pac-12 NFL players, he’s one of the best in the whole league. Per PFF, he is their highest-ranked offensive lineman for the 2019 PFF50. In 691 pass-blocking snaps in 2018, Bakhtiari only allowed 25 pressures. Of those, 18 were hurries, 3 were hits and only 4 were sacks. He protects his quarterback. 

Oregon

DeForest Buckner

At 6-foot-7, 291lbs with 84th-percentile arm length, DeForest Buckner is a large man. Combing that with a 112.4 (84th-percentile) Burst Score and an 11.98 (77th-percentile) Agility Score, Buckner is a difficult defended to stop. The defensive lineman performed quite well in back to back seasons. In 2018, Buckner totaled was tied for 14th in sacks and 10th in tackles for a loss. Also, Buckner added 53 pressures, 37 defensive stops and even 3 passes defended. Most of all, Buckner did all of this on a 4-12 San Francisco 49ers team. In 2019, he’ll hopefully have more opportunities to win.  

2019 should be a big year for Buckner and he can set himself apart from even the best Pac-12 NFL players. While not elite just yet, he’s entering his fourth season and has steadily risen. With Nick Bosa joining the pressure, Buckner has the chance to face easier blocking and schemes for his production. With more favorable opportunities, Buckner should wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks this season.

Oregon State

Brandin Cooks

Each of the last four seasons, on three separate teams, Brandin Cooks topped 1,000 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s a remarkable talent, gifted with raw athleticism. Athletically, Cooks is known best for his blazing 4.33 (99th-percentile) 40-Yard Dash speed and equally impressive 10.57 (99th-percentile) Agility Score. His raw speed and agility made him one of the best Pac-12 NFL players in the 2014 NFL draft. But more than that, Cooks has ball skills. Even in the deep quadrants of the football field, he posted a 87-percent (No. 25) True Catch Rate. Imagine what his catch rate would be closer to the line of scrimmage. 

But putting him closer isn’t optimal. Because no matter the opponent, Cooks is a threat to take the top of the defense. Because of this, he’s well-respected by opposing defenses. This allows his teammates to operate with greater success. Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Jared Goff owe a lot to Cooks and his powerful skill-set. 

Stanford

Christian McCaffrey

With the NFL evolving into a league that places more and more importance into pass-catching running backs, Christian McCaffrey emerged in 2018. He caught an otherwordly 107 passes for 867 yards, leading all backs in both categories. Additionally, he rushed for 1098 yards and tallied 13 total touchdowns. McCaffrey was electric in 2018.

Beyond the typical counting stats, McCaffrey had 57 Evaded Tackles, an 86.3-percent Catch Rate (No. 2), and only dropped 3 passes. His 2.4-percent Drop Rate was second-best for running backs in 2018. Also, per PFF, his receiving grade of 89.3 ranked first in the NFL of running backs with at least 60 targets. He makes his case to be on the best Pac-12 NFL players of all times list if he keeps this production. All in all, Christian McCaffrey is the most elite pass-catching back in the league and is primed to do so for years to come.

UCLA

Kenny Clark

In year three, Kenny Clark broke out in a big way. He’s currently one of the best defensive interiors in the NFL. Clark earned the No. 43 spot on PFF’s 2018 Top 101 and spot 37 on the 2019 PFF50. As a sophomore and a junior in the NFL, Clark was an excellent rush defender. Clark’s 9.9 run-stop percentage ranked 16th-best in run-stop percentage at the position. 

But, Clark’s pass-rushing growth is what made the biggest difference. Clark went from earning pass-rushing grades below 70 in his first two seasons to an amazing 88.8 in 2018. Clark ranked 11th in pass-rush win percentage and ninth in total pressure percentage. His year three proved he can win in all facets of the game and put himself square on our best Pac-12 NFL players list.

USC

JuJu Smith-Schuster

At just 22 years of age, JuJu Smith-Schuster battled (and arguably won) Antonio Brown for the top spot in the Pittsburg Steelers offense. His 22-year-old season included:

  • 111 Receptions (5th for wide receivers)
  • 1426 Receiving Yards (5th for wide receivers)
  • 587 Yards After the Catch (1st for wide receivers)
  • 7 Touchdowns (13th for wide receivers)
  • 839 Air Yards (10th for wide receivers)
  • 16 Redzone Receptions (2nd for wide receivers)

He’s so young. And abundantly talented. He’s already climbed above even the best Pac-12 NFL players. Smith-Schuster, now operating in an offense sans-Antonio Brown, now has his chance to truly shine as the number one. His elite career is just beginning.

Utah

Eric Weddle

Eric Weddle is entering his 13th year in the league. This veteran safety has been one of the best Pac-12 NFL players for a while. He’s 34-years-old, but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Rams from signing him to a two-year, $10.5 million contract. Despite his age, Weddle continues to play at a high level. 

Joining John Johnson, the Rams duo make for an elite safety tandem. The Rams secondary just got stingier. Though Weddle turned down larger offers from other teams, his eyes are set on the Super Bowl. Signing with the Rams is his best shot at that. Weddle is still a strong contributor and will add value to the Rams. Joining John Johnson, the Rams duo make for an elite safety tandem. The Rams secondary just got stingier. 

Washington

Desmond Trufant

Though Desmond Trufant is no Jaylen Ramsey, he’s certainly a good cornerback. Washington Huskies fans certainly remember why he’s one of the best Pac-12 NFL players around. Even with the Atlanta Falcons defense struggling last season, Trufant remained solid. He led his team with 12 passes defended and made a plethora of veteran plays. Moreover, Trufant was exceptional in deep coverage. Among 59 qualifying cornerbacks by PFF, Trufant ranked 9th in deep target coverage. On 12 targets 20-plus yards down the field, he allowed just 2 receptions. Of those 12 targets, he forced an incompletion on 25-percent of them. He made it difficult to go deep against him.

Overall, Trufant remains an above-average cornerback. He is one of three cornerbacks that have “allowed less than a yard per coverage snap for four consecutive seasons.” In his six seasons, he’s had a PFF grade above 70. No, he’s not elite. But he certainly is great.

Washington State

Joe Dahl

For the Detroit Lions, Joe Dahl gets his shots with versatility and availability. A converted left-tackle, Dahl played both guard spots, center and even fullback for the Lions. An injury here or there, and Dahl would slide into the five-man O-line.  Yes, it’s surprising for a spot-starting lineman to make it on the best Pac-12 NFL players list. But, he’s played well in his starts and has a promising future.

While Dahl hasn’t impressed enough to be a consistent starter yet, this year is his shot. 

“I think he’s really transformed his body over the last year,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said on Thursday. “He just looks bigger and stronger. He moves better.”

Matt Patricia

Dahl is vying for the starting left guard position for the Lions. With Matt Patricia’s (projected) run-heavy scheme in 2019, Dahl’s guard position is incredibly important. The WSU product needs to build chemistry with the other offensive lineman and cement his place in the starting five.

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