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Top 25 Pac-12 2017 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

JuJu Smith-Schuster

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Before they were NFL legends, pro football stars like John Elway, Marcus Allen, Dan Fouts and Tedy Bruschi dominated at universities in the present-day Pac-12 Conference. 

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Related: Early 2017 NFL Draft Prospect Top 50 Rankings

The next generation of Pac-12-produced NFL talent could get its professional start after being high picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. Which Pac-12 prospects are the ones to keep an eye on this fall? Here are the top 25 names that could wind up atop many draft boards a year from now.

Power Five Conference 2017 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch
ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC I Notre Dame

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC (Jr., 6-2, 215)

Strength, speed, agility: Smith-Schuster hits every mark necessary to be an elite wide receiver in the NFL. Smith-Schuster's a consummate possession receiver in the mold of Anquan Boldin.

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Smith-Schuster should be the first wide receiver taken in the 2017 draft, and perhaps one of the first five players selected overall.

2. Christian McCaffrey, RB/RS, Stanford (Jr., 6-0, 202)

The 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up matched a feat only achieved twice before in college football history, scoring touchdowns in five different ways: run, reception, pass, kickoff return and punt return.

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McCaffrey's rare blend of talents make him an intriguing prospect. While he may not have the size of a prototypical, every-down back, he's a proven commodity as a wide receiver.

3. Zach Banner, OT, USC (Sr., 6-9, 360)

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Banner opted to return to USC for his senior season, and his draft stock will be better for it. The son of former Pac-12 (Washington) and NFL standout Lincoln Kennedy, Banner's built to make the same kind of impact on Sundays.

Banner started at right tackle each of the last two seasons, but Chad Wheeler's suspension late in 2015 gave him the opportunity to move to the left side. Banner's proven ability to play on either side should make him a potential top 10 pick next spring.

4. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon (Jr., 5-11, 230)

The stigma that briefly plagued running back prospects in the draft has seemingly alleviated in recent years. Most recently, Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott went No. 4 in this year's draft.

Freeman is a back in the same mold as Elliott, combining punishing power with breakaway speed.

5. Adoree' Jackson, CB/RS, USC (Jr., 5-11, 185)

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Multi-talented may not be a strong enough adjective to describe Jackson's game. He's been as good on defense at cornerback as he is on special teams as a returner, and established himself as one of the USC offense's most explosive playmakers as a wide receiver.

No doubt an NFL franchise will find a way to make good use of Jackson's many skills. The only question is how.

6. Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah (Jr., 6-2, 310)

The brother of former first-round pick Star Lotulelei, Lowell Lotulelei is poised to turn draft weekend into a family tradition.

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Lotulelei's somewhat lighter than the prototypical pro defensive tackle, but more than compensates with his punch off the line and quick footwork. He'll grow into one of the top prospects for organizations seeking help on the interior of the defensive line.

7. Budda Baker, FS, Washington (Jr., 5-10, 184)

Baker made an impact from the first game he donned the Huskies' purple and gold. He should play a similar role from the moment he joins the NFL.

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Baker earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2015, one year removed from Freshman All-American recognition. He's one of the hardest hitting defensive backs in the conference, while simultaneously standing out as one of the speediest.

8. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA (Jr., 6-3, 305)

Part of Vanderdoes' intrigue as a draft prospect is his versatility. He can play end in a 3-4 base, or tackle in a 4-3. That alone should earn him plenty of attention from the pros.

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The most damaging knock on Vanderdoes, considered a slam-dunk prospect since his high school days, is his health. He missed all but Week 1 of the 2015 season due to a torn ACL.

9. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State (Jr., 6-4, 214)

The breakout player of Washington State's breakout season, Falk turned heads with his big arm and uncanny field vision. 

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Falk boasts the measurable attributes NFL organizations covet in a quarterback prospect. With Pac-12 counterpart Jared Goff going No. 1 overall this year, the stigma surrounding Air Raid-developed quarterbacks also seems to be relaxing. That's a benefit to Falk, whose stock should soar if he matches his 2015 production.

10. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington (Jr., 6-0, 180)

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The suspension that sidelined current Kansas City Chief Marcus Peters for most of the 2014 season forced Jones into a key role as a true freshman. He may be just a junior, but Jones heads into the 2016 campaign with plenty of experience at cornerback — and some hardware.

Jones was an All-Pac-12 selection in 2015, making opposing offenses pay for throwing in his direction with a conference-best 14 pass deflections. His nose for the ball makes Jones a top-level coverage corner prospect.

11. Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA (Sr., 6-9, 310)

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Moving McDermott from tight end in goal-line packages to tackle paid immediate dividends for UCLA in 2014. He has since established himself as the Bruins' premier blocker in pass protection, and could develop into one of the nation's top NFL prospects by this time next year.

McDermott should benefit from UCLA's implementation of an offensive scheme more reflective of those run in the NFL.

12. Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado (Sr., 6-0, 205)

The recent trend among NFL defenses is reliance on a bigger cornerback. Awuzie fits the bill at over 200 pounds, giving him the size and strength to jam opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage.

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A defense loses nothing with Awuzie in coverage, either, evident in his 10 pass breakups a season ago. He also can bring heat off the edge in blitz packages when called upon.

13. Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State (Sr., 6-0, 188)

Marks had an absolute monster season in 2015, and he's back for more after eschewing this year's draft.

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Marks proved his reliablity, hauling in 104 passes, 15 of which went for touchdowns. He shortens his road to the end zone with explosive speed, beating defensive backs to find pay dirt. Marks should be one of the faster wide receivers available in the 2017 draft class.

14. Tyree Robinson, FS, Oregon (Jr., 6-4, 205)

Robinson has only begun to scratch the surface of his lofty potential. He broke into the starting lineup a season ago and patrolled the secondary to the tune of three interceptions.

Because of his size, Robinson can be a unique safety. A big year should propel him up draft boards.

15. Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon (Jr., 6-2, 195)

In a loaded Oregon wide receiving corps, Carrington's the star. He was limited in 2015, which prevented him from putting up monster numbers, but look for Carrington to make up for lost time. 

As Carrington's statistics climb, so too will his draft stock. He's an excellent route runner with sure hands and an impressive vertical leap.

16. Deon Hollins, OLB, UCLA (Sr., 6-0, 230) 

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Hollins made an unexpected star turn as one of the Pac-12's elite pass rushers in 2014, but his production dipped a season ago.

He needs a return to 2014 form in his final go-around, but statisical output won't define Hollins' draft appeal. He's a tenacious and fast presence blitzing off the edge, and a tireless worker.

17. Kylie Fitts, DE, Utah (Jr., 6-4, 265) 

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Despite bouncing around early in his career, landing at UCLA for a brief run after decommitting from USC, Fitts found a home at Utah. He was excellent in his first season as a Ute, recording eight tackles for a loss and forcing a remarkable four fumbles.

Fitts has NFL-ready size, a contributing factor in the lofty expectations that followed him into college. According to some publications, he was the nation's top-rated defensive end in 2013. Fitts has finally begun to tap into that potential at Utah.

18. Randall Goforth, SS, UCLA (Sr., 5-10, 190) 

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If there's a turnover forced by the UCLA secondary, chances are Goforth's involved. He's an impressive playmaker with an uncanny nose for the ball, and an even more effective knack for dislodging it from offensive players.

19. Michael Rector, WR, Stanford (Sr., 6-1, 185)

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Last season, wide receiver Devon Cajuste and tight end Austin Hooper brought the thunder in Stanford's passing attack. Rector supplied the lightning. He was an essential piece in the Cardinal's offense, juxtaposing the big men nicely as the deep-ball threat.

His two-touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl could have been a stepping stone to this year's draft, but as Stanford's go-to guy in the fall, he should improve his stock for 2017.

20. Darreus Rogers, WR, USC (Sr., 6-1, 215) 

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Primed for a breakout fall, Rogers could be one of the conference's big climbers as far as NFL draft stock.

Rogers has good size at 215 pounds, helping him overpower smaller defensive backs. He's also surprisingly fast for his frame, positioning him to be one of the Trojans' vertical threats in 2016.

21. Paul Magloire, SS, Arizona (Sr., 6-1, 221)

Magloire offers inside linebacker size with the speed and coverage ability of a defensive back. As the Wildcats shift to a more traditional defense than the 3-3-5 scheme employed in recent seasons, Magloire should benefit.

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An increase in production and more time spent strictly in the secondary under new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates should bolster Magloire's draft profile.

22. Justin Davis, RB, USC (Sr., 6-1, 195)

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Head coach Clay Helton dubbed Davis the A-1 of USC's loaded backfield in 2016. That's a lofty vote of confidence for the talented senior, and an opportunity for him to show his stuff to NFL scouts.

USC's depth also means Davis won't have to rack up too much mileage, a plus for his draft stock.

23. Freddie Tagaloa, OT, Arizona (Sr., 6-8, 320)

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Few offensive tackles in the 2017 draft class can match Tagaloa's size. He's a massive body blocking on the quarterback's blind side.

But injuries across Arizona's front five a season ago forced Tagaloa into other roles. He played on the interior as well as on the outside, showing off versatility that could help his stock with NFL teams.

24. Evan Baylis, TE, Oregon (Sr., 6-6, 250)

Teams seeking the dangerous, pass-catching tight end that is all the rage in the present-day NFL just might have their guy in Baylis.

He'd been a reliable blocker earlier in his career, but stepped up as a target in 2015. He's primed for a big, final season. 

25. Max Browne, QB, USC (Jr., 6-5, 220)

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Something of a wild card, as Browne has yet to play a meaningful snap in his college career. However, he arrived at USC with 5-star billing, seemingly ready-made for the NFL with his size, arm strength and grasp of the pro-style offense. 

Few players in college football have as much room to rise up draft boards in 2016 as Browne. With a big year, he could play his way to the very top.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45