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Ranking the Pac-12's Top 35 Players for 2016

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey

The Pac-12 is known for its high-scoring offenses and dynamic skill players, and with the likes of Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster returning, this league is going to have its share of fireworks on offense once again. However, the Pac-12 has a solid group of playmakers returning on defense, including Washington defensive backs Budda Baker (safety) and Sidney Jones (cornerback).

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With the season approaching, Athlon Sports is taking a look at some of the best players in the nation within each conference. Here’s a look at the top 35 players in the Pac-12 for 2016:

Ranking the Pac-12's Top 35 Players for 2016

35. Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State

Mata'afa is a rising star and is slated to anchor the Washington State defensive front after recording seven sacks as a freshman in 2015.

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Related: Ranking All 128 Quarterbacks for 2016

34. Johnny Caspers, OL, Stanford

Stanford’s offensive line must replace three starters, but there’s a solid foundation in place with Caspers and Casey Tucker returning. Caspers has played in 41 games and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year.

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33. Randall Goforth, S, UCLA

UCLA’s secondary returns three starters and regains cornerback Fabian Moreau from injury, making this unit one of the stingiest in the Pac-12. Goforth recorded 70 tackles, broke up six passes and intercepted two last year.

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32. Chris Borrayo, OL, California

California’s offensive line is quietly one of the best in the Pac-12. Borrayo is the headliner for coach Sonny Dykes and enters 2016 with 29 career starts under his belt.

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Related: College Football's Top 50 Running Back Units for 2016

31. Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

If Wilson returns to full strength after missing a chunk of time due to injuries last year, he should easily exceed this ranking in December. After rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 scores in 2014, Wilson was limited to 725 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.

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30. Hunter Dimick, DE, Utah

The Utes boast one of the nation’s best defensive end tandems with the return of Dimick and Kylie Fitts. Dimick missed six games due to injury last year but ranked second on the team with 10 sacks in 2014.

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29. Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon

The Ducks are loaded with talent and potential gamebreakers in the receiving corps. Carrington leads the way in this unit for coach Mark Helfrich after averaging 19.03 yards per reception in seven games last year.

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28. Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State

Richard had an impressive debut in his first year as the go-to back for Arizona State. He led the team with 1,104 yards and seven scores and was a major factor in the passing attack with 31 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns.

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Related: Ranking the Pac-12's Running Back Tandems for 2016

27. Cameron Smith, LB, USC

Smith is recovering from a season-ending knee injury but is on track to return to full strength for the opener against Alabama. In 10 games last year, Smith recorded 78 stops, three interceptions and three pass breakups.