USC and Washington are the early favorites to claim the top spots in the Pac-12 next fall, so it should be no surprise both teams feature a good chunk of the conference’s individual talent. The Trojans take four spots in Athlon’s spring Pac-12 player rankings, while the Huskies have eight. Quarterbacks Sam Darnold (USC) and Jake Browning (Washington) are the top two players on this list, with two other signal-callers – Josh Rosen and Luke Falk – rounding out the top four.
With spring practice underway and plenty of position changes or depth chart movement coming, this list of best players in the Pac-12 could look a lot different by the time fall practice arrives. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2016 statistics, pro potential, positional importance, projection for 2017, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2017, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.
Here’s a quick primer on the top 25 players in the Pac-12 for next season, as well as a few names to watch.
Pac-12's Spring Top 25 Player Rankings for 2017
Just Missed: Ryan Nall, RB, Oregon State; James Looney, DL, California; Koron Crump, LB, Arizona State; Jeromy Irwin, OL, Colorado; Taylor Rapp, DB, Washington; Jaleel Wadood, DB, UCLA; Demetris Robertson, WR, California; Bryce Love, RB, Stanford; Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford; Rasheem Greene, DL, USC; Cole Madison, OL, Washington State
25. Shay Fields, WR, Colorado
Fields is the Pac-12’s top returning receiver in terms of yardage (883) from 2016. He grabbed 56 passes (15.8 ypc) and nine scores for the Buffaloes last season.
24. Quenton Meeks, CB, Stanford
Stanford’s secondary should be one of the best in the Pac-12 next season, and the San Diego native is the anchor for this unit after earning honorable mention all-conference honors in 2016. Meeks has 10 pass breakups over the last two years.
23. Iman Marshall, CB, USC
With Adoree’ Jackson off to the NFL, Marshall is slated to take over as the team’s No. 1 cover. After earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2016, Marshall is certainly up to the task.
22. Kylie Fitts, DE, Utah
Fitts was poised to emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top defensive linemen last year but had his season cut short after just two games. As a junior in 2015, Fitts led the Utes with seven sacks and recorded eight tackles for a loss.
21. Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
Pettis ranked second among Pac-12 receivers with 15 touchdown grabs last season and should see even more targets in his direction with the departure of John Ross to the NFL.
20. Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
Dye was one of the nation’s top freshmen on defense last fall and is a key piece of new coordinator Jim Leavitt’s quest to improve Oregon’s defense in 2017. Dye recorded 91 stops, 13 tackles for a loss and led the team with 6.5 sacks last season.
19. Coleman Shelton, C, Washington
Shelton started all 14 games for the Huskies and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season.
18. Scott Quessenberry, C, UCLA
UCLA’s line had its share of ups and downs last fall, but Quessenberry started all 12 games and center and was one of the bright spots for this group. He was selected as a first-team All-Pac-12 performer in 2016.
17. Cameron Smith, LB, USC
Smith showed no ill-effects from a season-ending knee injury in 2015, as he led the Trojans with 83 stops and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last fall.
16. Greg Gaines, DL, Washington
Gaines has earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in each of the last two seasons and helped to anchor a standout Washington line in 2016 by recording eight tackles for a loss.
15. Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado
Last season, Lindsay became the first Colorado running back to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season since Rodney Stewart posted 1,316 yards in 2010. In 14 games in 2016, Lindsay posted 1,252 yards and 16 scores and added 53 receptions for 493 yards.
14. Ronald Jones, RB, USC
Jones led the way for USC’s ground attack last fall and led the team with 1,082 yards and 12 scores. He should add another 1,000-yard campaign to his total in 2017.
13. Tyrell Crosby, OL, Oregon
Crosby had his 2016 cut short after just two games due to injury. The Nevada native has 23 career starts entering 2017 and was a 2016 preseason first-team All-Pac-12 selection by Athlon Sports.
12. Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Considering the firepower on the other side of the ball, Washington State’s defense is often overlooked. However, Mata’afa has emerged as one of the conference’s top linemen and led the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2016.
11. Vita Vea, DL, Washington
Vea played in all 14 games for the Huskies last season and dominated the line of scrimmage. En route to earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors, he recorded 6.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and one forced fumble.
10. Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah
Lotulelei has recorded 87 tackles and 8.5 sacks in his three seasons with the Utes, but the 317-pound tackle has an impact beyond the stat sheet for the defense. The Utah native is a key cog on the interior of the defense against opposing ground attacks and helps to occupy blockers to free up the pass rush off the edges.
9. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
Gaskin recorded 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman in 2015 and followed up his debut with another standout season in Seattle. In 14 games, Gaskin rushed for 1,373 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 137 yards and one score.
8. Trey Adams, OL, Washington
Adams started all 14 games for the Huskies last season and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He’s started 23 games over the last two years and should be one of the nation’s top linemen in 2017.
7. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Injuries derailed Freeman’s hopes of a third consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2016. Despite the injuries last fall, Freeman still managed 945 yards and nine touchdowns. He should contend for All-America honors under new coach Willie Taggart in 2017.
6. Cody O’Connell, OL, Washington State
O’Connell was the leader for Washington State’s offensive line last season and is among the nation’s top returning performers on the line of scrimmage for 2017. O’Connell was a first-team All-American by Athlon Sports last year.
5. Azeem Victor, LB, Washington
Victor’s season-ending leg injury in early November was a huge loss for Washington’s standout defense. Despite the injury, Victor still earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He’s on track to return to full strength for the opener and maintain his place among the top defenders in the Pac-12.
4. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen’s 2016 season was derailed by a shoulder injury suffered against Arizona State in early October. A full recovery is expected for 2017, which means Rosen should return to his 2015 form (3,669 yards and 23 scores) under new coordinator Jedd Fisch. However, Rosen needs more help from the supporting cast this fall, especially for a ground game that struggled mightily in 2016.
3. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
Falk led the way for Washington State’s prolific aerial attack and eclipsed 4,000 (4,468) passing yards for the second season in a row. Over the last two years, Falk has tossed 76 touchdown passes.
2. Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Browning delivered a breakout campaign in his second season as Washington’s starter, throwing for 3,430 yards and 43 scores. He also completed 62.1 percent of his throws and tossed only nine picks on 391 attempts.
1. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The insertion of Darnold into the starting lineup was a big reason why USC earned a trip to the Rose Bowl and begins 2017 as one of the favorites to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Darnold threw for 3,086 yards and 31 scores last season and rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns.