After a 2021 college football season and 2022 NFL Draft in which the Pac-12 produced one of the most highly touted prospects (Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux), a uniquely talented newcomer who went in the first round despite injury (USC's Drake London), and a breakout star (Utah's Devin Lloyd), next year's draft class faces more uncertainty.
The crop of likely draft prospects coming out of the Pac-12 after the 2022 season lacks a clear leader a la Thibodeaux last year, or even a fast-rising future on par with Lloyd (Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said the linebacker could have been a 2021 first-round selection, but Lloyd's contributions to Utah's historic Rose Bowl run no doubt bolstered his stock).
The mystery adds undeniable excitement, however. Someone will step up, perhaps from obscurity, to be the conference's next big-time NFL pick.
Note: Players below are listed in alphabetical order.
Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA (Jr., 6-1, 220)
Bursting out of the Bruins backfield upon his transfer from Michigan, Zach Charbonnet was among the Pac-12's most exciting offensive players last season. His combination of size and speed should make him a valuable target at a position that has lost some clout in the pro game over recent years.
Justin Flowe, LB, Oregon (Jr., 6-2, 246)
Injuries have limited Flowe's contributions through the first two seasons at Oregon, but the former blue-chip recruit out of Southern California has a sky-high ceiling he should start to meet in 2022. Flowe will need this season to put his game on tape for scouts, which is the missing piece for his stock to soar given the other boxes he checks.
Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford (Sr., 6-1, 190)
Fast, physical and with the size to match opposite bigger possession receivers, Kelly is a potential NFL draft gem. Kelly has been solid even in disappointing times for Stanford, and his part as a team leader in what the Cardinal hope will be a resurgent 2022 could see him make moves as a pro prospect.
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah (Sr., 6-4, 242)
Kincaid has shared a position with teammates who have perhaps put up bigger numbers or made flashier plays, but flying under the radar is nothing new for the Utah tight end: He came into the program as a transfer from non-scholarship FCS program San Diego. From the Pioneer League to the Pac-12, Kincaid does everything a team wants from its tight end including providing excellent blocking.
Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford (Jr., 6-6, 226)
In an otherwise dreary 2021 campaign for Stanford, McKee's play provided some rays of light. He heads into 2022 with plenty on which to build, and could parlay his experience into an early NFL draft selection. While McKee's placement in the 2023 class is debatable, there's no doubt he brings similar qualities that have kept Cardinal predecessors Kevin Hogan and Davis Mills in the NFL.
Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah (So., 5-10, 184)
Phillips is the next man to follow in Utah's long-running tradition of sending defensive players to opening-round selections in the NFL draft. Phillips is a lightning-quick ball hawk with great instincts and physicality that belies his size. A potential All-American in 2022, Phillips could ride such success into a first-round pick.
Merlin Robertson, LB, Arizona State (Sr., 6-3, 240)
Robertson broke into Arizona State's starting rotation as soon as he arrived in Tempe, and is now headed into his fifth year as a leader of the Sun Devil defense. In his career, Robertson's shown remarkable versatility rushing off the edge, in ball pursuit, and dropping back into pass coverage. His ability to do it all should make Robertson a middle-round steal next spring.
Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon (Jr., 6-3, 251)
Immediately upon arriving in Eugene, Sewell made an impact. He'll head into 2022 the undisputed linchpin of the Ducks' defense, and could be the top defender in the entire Pac-12. Sewell's all-around game and elite playmaking may well have him taken on the first night of the 2023 draft.
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Edge, Washington (Jr., 6-4, 241)
After missing most of the 2021 season, Tupuola-Fetui returns ready to make an impact. He is arguably the Pac-12's best pass rusher, a menace capable of lining up at linebacker or with a hand in the dirt on the line. His versatility and explosiveness will make him a coveted NFL prospect.
Andrew Voorhees, OT, USC (Sr., 6-6, 325)
One of the positions at which the Pac-12 is deepest in 2022 is offensive tackle. Among that group, Voorhees may be the most promising NFL prospect. He combines agility with size, as he's one of the biggest linemen the conference has to offer, and few boast as much experience as the fifth-year Trojan.
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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break.