All-American tackle Penei Sewell will be a coveted NFL prospect in 2021
The Pac-12 has long been known for producing skill-position talent, and 2020 continued the trend with offensive playmakers like Justin Herbert, Michael Pittman Jr., and Laviska Shenault Jr. among the players selected. Initial forecasts for the Pac-12's place in the 2021 NFL Draft landscape, however, illuminates some of the shift in emphasis in the league.
With programs like Stanford, Washington and Oregon emerging as the standard-bearers, combining for four of the last five Pac-12 titles, the conference is now built on defense and line play. That's reflected at the top of the 2021 draft class, which includes perhaps the best offensive tackle in the draft.
1. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon (Sr., 6-6, 330)
A prospective top-three pick, Sewell has ascended to a level of stardom rarely achieved for a player in the trenches. He's the face of the defending Pac-12 champions on offense and the cornerstone for what could be a College Football Playoff push in 2020.
2. Walker Little, OT, Stanford (Jr., 6-7, 313)
An early-season injury in 2019 contributed to Stanford's worst finish in more than a decade, and perhaps kept Little from being a draftee in 2020. Returning to Stanford for another season, however, the Cardinal have an important building block up front — and NFL front offices have another Pac-12 offensive lineman to track closely.
3. Thomas Graham Jr., CB, Oregon (Sr., 5-11, 193)
Graham heads into his fourth season as a starter in the consistently improving Oregon defense. The cornerback from Rancho Cucamonga has been integral to the Ducks' turnaround and has the potential to be the best cover corner in the Pac-12 this season.
4. Hamilcar Rashed Jr., OLB, Oregon State (R-Sr., 6-4, 238)
Rashed roared into 2019 to lead the Pac-12 in sacks. He's a pass-rushing demon and perhaps the most unsung star in the Pac-12. Rashed's productivity will not hide in obscurity to those outside of the Pac footprint for long, however. He's among the best outside linebacker prospects for the 2021 class.
5. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford (R-Jr., 6-1, 192)
Adebo has the ideal body type for an NFL cornerback. His pro forecast isn't based just on measurable attributes, however. He's an elite coverage corner, combining savvy instincts with anticipation and physicality. Adebo was a breakout star as a freshman, earning All-American honors. After a solid 2019, he could shoot up draft boards with a junior campaign more in line with his '18 production.
6. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC (Jr., 6-1, 195)
St. Brown looked the part of USC's next NFL-bound wide receiver from the moment he came into the program. A star at prep football factory Mater Dei, he emerged as USC's No. 2 receiver from Day 1 as a freshman. In his junior campaign, St. Brown is likely to be the man in Graham Harrell's air-raid offense. Expect big production and plenty of NFL chatter.
7. Jevon Holland, S, Oregon (Jr., 6-1, 196)
One of the most dangerous playmakers on the backline in all of college football, another season akin to his 2019 could push Holland all the way into 2021 first-round talk. Holland is a ball hawk both in defending the pass and converging on ball carriers.
8. Jay Tufele, DT, USC (R-Jr., 6-3, 315)
One might not expect the kind of speed and athleticism with which Tufele plays at his size. But his quick burst off the line does more than attract blockers for others to do damage in the pass rush; Tufele can get into the backfield himself. His skill set has to be attractive to NFL front offices.
9. Abe Lucas, OT, Washington State (R-Jr., 6-7, 324)
Washington State's emergence as an offensive juggernaut last decade was built on the foundation of excellent line play. In Nick Rolovich's first season as head coach, the run-and-shoot will chug along as effectively as the former air raid, thanks largely to Lucas' presence at tackle. The massive Lucas moves deftly and could climb up draft boards as 2020 progresses. He has the potential to follow predecessor Andre Dillard as an early-round selection.
10. Tyler Vaughns, WR, USC (R-Sr., 6-2, 190)
Outside of rising Heisman hopeful quarterback Kedon Slovis, Vaughns may have been the single biggest beneficiary of USC's change in offensive philosophy. Vaughns proved as critical to the attack in 2019 as second-round draftee Michael Pittman Jr. and super-sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown, and began generating some draft buzz before opting to return for his final year of eligibility.
11. Max Borghi, RB, Washington State (Jr., 5-9, 195)
Mike Leach's version of the air-raid offense relied on the running back rather sparingly, and while Rolovich's run-and-shoot might make more use of Borghi, it's still primarily a passing scheme. But that may be to his benefit as a draft prospect. He's shown versatility in his game, flourishing both as a pass catcher and as a blocker, without piling up too much mileage. What's more, when given the opportunity to tote the ball, Borghi has shown his explosiveness and big-play ability.
12. Elijah Molden, CB, Washington (Sr., 5-10, 186)
The highly coveted high school prospect has steadily grown into roles of increasing responsibility in his time at Washington. His senior year, Molden will be looked on to captain the Huskies' secondary. Washington has had a knack for sending defensive backs to the pros since Jimmy Lake came along with Chris Petersen's staff; Molden should be the latest addition to that fraternity in 2021.
13. Merlin Robertson, LB, Arizona State (Jr., 6-2, 235)
Robertson burst onto the scene with a monster freshman year. He heads into his third season as an anchor of an improving Arizona State defense, and will likely leave Tempe a career-long starter. Robertson plays with a controlled chaos, descending on ball-carriers aggressively and hitting with ferocity.
14. Nate Landman, LB, Colorado (Sr., 6-3, 230)
When it comes to having a linebacker involved with any play, few do it quite as well as Landman. Entering his fourth season as a starter, Landman's been among the most active linebackers in the Pac-12 throughout his time in Colorado.
15. Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State (Jr., 5-9, 215)
Oregon State's experienced an offensive resurgence in Jonathan Smith's time as Beavers head coach. Front and center to this effort is Jefferson, a Day 1 start and one of the hidden gems of college football. Jefferson effectively combines his strength with keen field vision, traits thought could make him an attractive early- to middle-round prospect in 2021.