Examining which Pac-12 players are poised for a breakout season
The Pac-12 has plenty of star power returning with Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault and Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin, but as expected with every year, new faces are set to emerge as breakout players in 2019. Selecting which players will have a breakout season is no easy assignment. The definition of a breakout player varies from each analyst to fanbase. However, with the start of the season less than 50 days away, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some names as breakout candidates around the Pac-12 this season.
Pac-12 Football Breakout Players for 2019
Quarterback – JT Daniels, USC
New play-caller Graham Harrell should help Daniels take a step forward after throwing for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Also, it doesn’t hurt USC returns one of the nation’s top receiving corps.
Quarterback – Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
Thompson-Robinson ranked as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2018 signing class and saw action in 10 games as a freshman last fall. The Las Vegas native completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns and added 68 on the ground. With another offseason to work under Chip Kelly, Thompson-Robinson should take a step forward in his development in 2019.
Running Back – Salvon Ahmed, Washington
Washington has a deep backfield, but Ahmed is likely to take over as the team’s No. 1 option with Myles Gaskin out of eligibility. He’s rushed for 996 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 34 passes for 247 yards over the last two years.
Running Back – Max Borghi, Washington State
Borghi is set to take over as the No. 1 back in Pullman with James Williams departing for the NFL. As a freshman in 2018, Borghi ran for 366 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 53 passes for 374 yards and four scores.
Wide Receiver – Osiris St. Brown/Connor Wedington/Michael Wilson, Stanford
Let’s cheat a bit and list three Stanford receivers here. The Cardinal have to replace their top three targets from last season, with Wilson, Wedington and St. Brown slated to step into prominent roles for quarterback K.J. Costello.
Wide Receiver – Juwan Johnson, Oregon
With Dillon Mitchell leaving for the NFL, Johnson’s decision to transfer to Oregon was a huge boost for coach Mario Cristobal’s team. The New Jersey native caught 54 passes for 701 yards for Penn State in 2017 and added 25 catches for 352 yards in ’18. Johnson showcased his talent in Eugene by catching three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
Wide Receiver – Bryan Thompson, Utah
Thompson has generated a lot of buzz in Salt Lake City and capped the spring by catching a 59-yard pass in the White vs. Red game. The California-native caught five passes as a freshman in 2017 but used a redshirt year after an injury last fall. He could be one of the top targets for quarterback Tyler Huntley in 2019.
Tight End – Devin Asiasi, UCLA
With Caleb Wilson off to the NFL, Asiasi should see his playing time increase in 2019. The Michigan transfer played in nine games last season, catching six passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Tight End – Cole Fotheringham/Brant Kuithe, Utah
Jared Pinkney emerged as one of the SEC’s top tight ends under Andy Ludwig’s play-calling at Vanderbilt, and the Utes have two interesting options to watch this season in Fotheringham and Kuithe. These two players combined for 37 catches and three scores as freshmen last fall.
Offensive Line – Will Craig, California
Craig ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2018 signing class and saw limited reps as a reserve in nine contests. With another offseason to develop, Craig looks poised to develop into a solid left tackle this year.
Offensive Line – Donovan Laie, Arizona
Laie will be a key cog in Arizona’s offensive line this fall after starting all 12 games at left tackle as a true freshman in 2018.
Offensive Line – Christaphany Murray, UCLA
Murray started all 12 games for UCLA as a true freshman last year and should continue to develop into an all-conference candidate in 2019.
Offensive Line – Foster Sarell, Stanford
Sarell was a five-star prospect in the 2017 signing class and seemed poised to play a key role in Stanford’s offensive line before a season-ending injury in ’18.
Offensive Line – William Sherman, Colorado
Sherman had a strong redshirt freshman season for the Buffaloes in 2018. The Texas native started the final nine games at left tackle and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
Defensive Line – Thomas Booker, Stanford
Booker is poised to take on a bigger role in the trenches for coach David Shaw’s team after recording 3.5 sacks, 28 tackles (four for a loss) and one interception as a freshman last season.
Defensive Line – Jalen Harris, Arizona
Harris ranked as Wildcats’ No. 2 prospect in the 2017 signing class and showcased some of that potential last fall. The Arizona native collected 27 tackles (four for a loss) and three sacks over 12 appearances.
Defensive Line – Isaac Hodgins, Oregon State
Hodgins – the brother of Oregon State receiver Isaiah Hodgins – looks like a player that coach Jonathan Smith can build around on defense over the next couple of years. The California native played in all 12 games as a freshman in 2018 and recorded 30 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and 2.5 sacks.
Defensive Line – Jermayne Lole, Arizona State
Arizona State’s defense has a few holes to plug up front, but Lole should emerge as one of the answers for coach Herm Edwards. The California native recorded 27 stops (five for a loss), three sacks and one forced fumble as a true freshman last fall.
Defensive Line – Lamonte McDougle, Washington State
After a solid freshman campaign at West Virginia (23 tackles and two sacks), McDougle departed Morgantown for Washington State. The Florida native should be an impact addition for Mike Leach’s defense.
Defensive Line – Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
Greg Gaines leaves big shoes to fill on Washington’s defensive line, but Onwuzurike looks like a player on the rise for coach Chris Petersen. The Texas native has recorded 50 tackles (10 for a loss) and five sacks as a reserve over the last two years.
Linebacker – Francis Bernard, Utah
Bernard – a transfer from BYU – recorded 38 stops (five for a loss) and one interception as a backup to All-Pac-12 linebacker Chase Hansen last season. Bernard previously recorded 79 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and three picks at BYU in 2016.
Linebacker – Cameron Goode, California
Injuries have derailed back-to-back seasons for Goode. But if he can stay healthy in 2019, he will be another difference-maker on defense for coach Justin Wilcox. Goode has recorded 49 tackles (5.5 for a loss), 1.5 sacks and two picks in 10 career games.
Linebacker – Palaie Gaoteote IV, USC
Gaoteote looks like the next star linebacker at USC. The Las Vegas native played in 10 games (with five starts) as a true freshman last season, recording 38 stops (4.5 for a loss) and two sacks.
Linebacker – Avery Roberts, Oregon State
Roberts sat out 2018 after transferring from Nebraska. The former four-star prospect should be an impact addition for coach Jonathan Smith’s defense.
Linebacker – Davion Taylor, Colorado
Taylor might be a tad overqualified for this list, but we think he can take his game even higher under new coach Mel Tucker. The junior college prospect finished his first year on campus with 10 tackles for a loss and 56 overall tackles in 12 appearances.
Cornerback – Elijah Molden/Keith Taylor, Washington
Replacing Taylor Rapp, Jordan Miller, JoJo McIntosh and Byron Murphy in Washington’s secondary won’t be easy. However, co-coordinator Jimmy Lake has talent waiting in the wings. Molden and Taylor played in all 14 games last fall, combining for 44 tackles and eight pass breakups. This duo should help to ensure the Huskies won’t slip too far on the stat sheet in 2019.
Safety – Aashari Crosswell, Arizona State
Crosswell emerged as a key cog in Arizona State’s secondary as a true freshman last fall. He played in all 13 games and recorded 43 stops and four interceptions for coach Herm Edwards. Another step forward should be within reach this season.
Safety – Talanoa Hufanga, USC
A broken collarbone derailed Hufanga’s freshman season, but the sophomore is poised to make plenty of noise in 2019. The Oregon native made the most of his snaps, recording 51 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and four pass breakups last fall.
Safety – Jevon Holland, Oregon
The Pac-12 isn’t hurting for talent in the secondary this season, but Holland should push for all-conference honors in his first year as a starter. The California native recorded 44 tackles, five interceptions and six pass breakups as a true freshman last fall.