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Top 25 Pac-12 2020 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

Top 25 Pac-12 2020 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

Top 25 Pac-12 2020 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

A year ago at this time, the Pac-12 was looking at possibly producing the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft for the second time in three years. Two years removed from Cal product Jared Goff going first to the Los Angeles Rams, and changing the complexion of the NFC as a result, Oregon's Justin Herbert was a trendy choice atop early 2019 draft boards.

Flip the calendar, and Herbert's still a potential No. 1 overall pick. Only, he's a name to watch in the class of 2020.

After the Ducks signal-caller spurned the pros to pursue a Pac-12 (and possibly national) championship, he heads up a deep and diverse 2020 group for the conference.

1. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon (Sr., 6-6, 225)

Considered a prime candidate for a first-round selection for the 2019 draft, Herbert raised eyebrows when he opted to return to Oregon for another season. Captaining the likely preseason Pac-12 favorites doesn't necessarily bolster Herbert's pro prospects, but leading the Ducks to their first conference championship in five years wouldn't hurt his cause.

2. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado (Jr., 6-2, 225)

Despite Colorado's collapse last season, Shenault emerged as one of the most impressive individual performers in the Pac-12. The do-everything wide receiver has the skills and body type for any number of responsibilities, whether it's lining up outside, inside, the slot, blocking or even carrying out of the Wildcat formation.

3. Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah (Jr., 6-0, 190)

Utah's loaded 2019 defense features any number of potential 2020 NFL draft picks, and Johnson looks like the most likely first-round candidate. Johnson's a big, physical corner able to cover receivers with size, but he loses nothing against small, speedier targets. He intercepted four passes in 2018 and should be in store for another standout season in '19.

4. Walker Little, OT, Stanford (Jr., 6-7, 313)

The former high school All-American earned first-team All-Pac-12 recognition as a sophomore in 2018. With the Cardinal employing a more pass-heavy offense, Little's pass-protection blocking skills will again be on display in the season to come.

5. Trey Adams, OT, Washington (R-Sr., 6-7, 325)

Back surgery just before the 2018 season sidelined Adams for most of the campaign. He was considered a shoo-in first-round prospect before the procedure, and should he remain healthy for his final season at Washington, he'll remain a first-night selection in 2020.

6. Leki Fotu, DT, Utah (Sr., 6-5, 326)

The first-team All-Pac-12 honoree is a physical force on the interior, able to use his size to clog running holes, and his length to obfuscate opposing quarterbacks' views downfield. Fotu's nimble for his frame, which could vault him up draft boards as his senior season progresses.

7. Jacob Eason, QB, Washington (R-Jr., 6-6, 228)

The Georgia transfer returns to his home state in an ideal situation. Eason takes over the offense for the defending Pac-12 champions, with an outstanding offensive line in front of him; playmakers like Aaron Fuller, Salvon Ahmed and Hunter Bryant around him; and a full season learning the playbook. An impressive season by Montlake could make a coveted prospect, given his 5-star credentials and prototypical NFL quarterback frame -- assuming that's still the prototype, coming off a draft when 5-foot-10 Kyler Murray went No. 1.

8. Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC (Sr., 6-4, 225)

Pittman received a third-round grade before opting to withdraw his name from the 2019 NFL Draft. Another season as USC's presumptive No. 1 target, and playing in the new-look offense under coordinator Graham Harrell, could buoy Pittman's stock further for 2020.

9. K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford (Sr., 6-5, 215)

Costello quietly put up monster numbers in 2018 en route to second team All-Pac-12 honors. He'll be the focal point of Stanford's offense again in 2019, and his place in the spotlight will come with added NFL attention. Costello's athleticism makes him an intriguing prospect in the evolving pro game.

10. Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona (Sr., 6-2, 215)

A sudden change in coaching staff between Tate's breakout 2017 and an injury-plagued '18 begat a shift in the quarterback's role. Playing in Noel Mazzone's scheme showed Tate's passing ability, which improved exponentially over the course of last season. With one more season, the rocket-armed Tate has the potential to surprise scouts.

11. Jacob Breeland, TE, Oregon (Sr., 6-5, 247)

A year from now, Breeland could be the most coveted tight end prospect in the NFL draft pool. Breeland's a more-than-capable pass catcher but isn't one-dimensional. He aids in Oregon's run-blocking effectively.

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12. Calvin Throckmorton, OL, Oregon (Sr., 6-5, 318)

Throckmorton's ability to play at both tackle and on the interior without Oregon losing productivity speaks to his versatility. That will be an asset both to the Ducks in their pursuit of a Pac-12 championship, and for Throckmorton's NFL draft stock.

13. Christian Rector, DE, USC (R-Sr., 6-4, 276)

Rector burst onto the scene during USC's run to the 2017 Pac-12 championship, filling in all over the defense. He played linebacker, tackle, but did his best work at end. Rector's size and mobility make for a rare combination.

14. Troy Dye, LB, Oregon (Sr., 6-4, 220)

In much the same vein that teammate Justin Herbert's decision to return for 2019 surprised, so, too did Dye's choice to spurn the NFL. The soon-to-be four-year-starter is an outstanding run pursuer capable of dropping back into pass coverage.

15. Zack Moss, RB, Utah (Sr., 5-9, 215)

The season-ending injury Moss suffered late last season might hinder his NFL draft stock, given the typically short shelf life of running backs. Should he come back strong, however, Moss is the most intriguing potential pro of the Pac-12's many outstanding rushers coming back for the upcoming campaign.

16. Abe Lucas, OT, Washington State (R-So., 6-7, 320)

The Palouse has become something of a factory for standout offensive linemen in recent years, most recently producing first-round draft pick Andre Dillard. Coming off a surprise, All-Pac-12 campaign, Lucas may well be the next first-round lineman taking from Washington State. He heads into 2019 with three seasons of eligibility remaining, otherwise his ranking would probably be higher. It's more likely he's a 2021 prospect.

17. Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State (Jr., 5-10, 201)

The Pac-12's leading rusher in 2018, Benjamin barrels into his junior season with a ton of momentum. He could parlay that into NFL attention, especially given Benjamin will be a likely heavy focus of the offense while Arizona State integrates a new starting quarterback into the mix.

18. Julian Blackmon, DB, Utah (Sr., 6-1, 195)

A standout at cornerback in both 2017 and '18, Blackmon will show off his versatility this fall as he makes the move to safety for the Utes. Blackmon's speed and ball-hawking are impressive no matter where in the secondary he plays and should translate at the pro level.

19. Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah (Sr., 6-3, 265)

A tenacious pass rusher, Anae helped power the Pac-12's most fearsome blitzing defense in 2018. With the Utes' defensive line still intact, and another year under his belt, Anae could be an All-America-caliber performer in 2019. His NFL draft prospects could rise commensurately.

20. Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA (Jr., 5-10, 198)

Holmes made an impact right away as a freshman in 2017 and has remained a leading playmaker for the UCLA defense since. His quickness and ball-hawking instincts make him a constant threat to generate takeaways.

21. Shane Lemieux, OG, Oregon (Sr., 6-4, 317)

Oregon's offensive line for 2019 is among the very best in college football, and Lemieux's decision to return for his senior season is a big reason why. Lemieux opted for another season in Eugene after receiving an NFL draft evaluation grade. He's one of the best interior blockers in the nation, partially responsible for Oregon's prolific rushing attack.

22. Nick Harris, C, Washington (Sr., 6-1, 302)

Few players were as important to their team's success in 2018 as Harris. When Trey Adams went to the shelf after surgery, Harris stepped up as a de facto leader on the Huskies' line. He'll again be a leader for the defending Pac-12 champions in 2019.

23. Theo Howard, WR, UCLA (Sr., 6-0, 182)

A reliable target with steady hands, Howard projects to put up big numbers as the focus of UCLA's passing attack in 2019. Howard's renowned for his tireless work ethic, which could play a factor in elevating his draft status as the fall progresses.

24. Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford (Jr., 6-7, 240)

In case a four-touchdown performance last November wasn't convincing enough, Parkinson should be an absolute beast for Stanford this coming season. Parkinson's size makes him an uncanny red-zone weapon in the vein of former Cardinal tight end Levine Toilolo. Parkinson appears low here, but his stock could skyrocket commensurate with his production.

25. Kylan Wilborn, DE/LB, Arizona (Jr., 6-2, 248)

Wilborn, a Freshman All-American two seasons ago, is an outstanding edge rusher with intriguing potential as an NFL outside linebacker. Wilborn's sack production dipped as a sophomore, so his showing in his junior campaign will be central to determine whether he's a 2020 draft prospect, or 2021.

— 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.