Super Bowl LII has been in the books for several weeks and everybody from the reigning champion Philadelphia Eagles to the previously winless Cleveland Browns are moving on to the 2018 NFL season and the pursuit of the next Lombardi Trophy. The first big step in that process comes in Indianapolis where more than 300 future NFL players will be poked, prodded, questioned, tested and analyzed by every team at the Scouting Combine.
From out West, the Pac-12 is sending 45 players to the marquee event at Lucas Oil Stadium and there are a ton of big names among the list looking to showcase their skills in front of scouts, coaches and front office executives. USC and potential No. 1 overall pick Sam Darnold will draw most of the attention but the conference of champions has several others who will be under the microscope just as much.
Who’s under the most pressure to test well and ace their interviews? Here are 10 Pac-12 players to keep an eye on at the Combine:
1. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Will Darnold (above, right) throw or not at the Combine? That will be one of the bigger questions when the lights turn on in Indy as the Trojan signal-caller is probably still the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 overall. Things like hand size will be big to some teams given his fumbling issues and it wouldn’t hurt to show off a more compact motion if he does wind up throwing. Still, a good showing will keep people talking about him going first in the draft while if he fails to meet expectations, the buzz could go to somebody else.
2. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Given his concussion and shoulder injuries, a full all-clear from the medical folks will be the first big step for Rosen when he arrives at the Combine but there will be plenty more to this even than that for the former Bruins star. Only Baker Mayfield is going to get as much scrutiny off the field as Rosen so calming fears in meetings will be big for him as well as showcasing that arm and processing power during throwing drills. He can fly home with momentum rising up draft boards or continue to sink further depending on how he does in a number of different areas.
3. Vita Vea, DL, Washington
Everybody is going to be excited to see what kind of freakish numbers Vea is going to put up at the Combine, starting at weigh in and progressing from there. He’s just a monster of an athlete and despite being one of the biggest players at the event, he has so much strength and athleticism that he doesn’t really have a peer in this draft. Given his potential, he might be able to move from a likely first-rounder into the conversation of going top 10 if he maxes out at Lucas Oil Stadium.
4. Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Mata’afa was phenomenal for the Cougars in college but his role in the NFL is still very much open for interpretation. While he excelled as a defensive tackle for the past few years, it’s doubtful teams see him there at the next level given his size and finding a true position is a, well, herculean task for Mata’afa over the coming weeks. He’s going to get a very diverse set of grades from teams but running, jumping and testing out of the building will certainly help his case and showing that he can drop in coverage will be particularly key.
5. Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
Pettis (right) is going to make some team really happy in the middle rounds but he could be off the board faster than most with some good numbers at the Combine. His 40-yard dash time will be closely monitored by teams and he could turn heads when going through agility drills as well. He’s a record-setting return man as well and positive marks leaving the Combine could help him rise up boards faster than he runs.
6. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Everybody is wondering who is going to join Saquon Barkley in the first round at the running back position and the “Texas Tesla” is quickly trending in that direction. His style of running really suits the NFL game and his ability to stay on the field for all three downs only enhances his value. He should test very well and if he runs and jumps close to what somebody like Barkley does, Jones could be the next Trojan back to go on day one of the draft.
7. Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
If you’re looking for a name that not a ton of folks outside the scouting/Pac-12 know but could be a Combine star, Ballage (right) might be the one. His size alone is going to be very intriguing to some teams and because of that he has a chance to turn heads with the types of numbers he is capable of posting. The Sun Devils tailback could almost be seen as an H-back given how well he can catch the ball but he will be on a lot of folks’ radars if all goes well on the turf.
8. Kolton Miller, OL, UCLA
The Bruins’ offensive line has not been great the past few years but Miller was one of the few bright spots out at tackle. He might be better suited to flipping back to the right side but teams will have to determine that starting at the Combine. He’s certainly got the size that makes you take notice but this event will be a big test of how athletic he is (or isn’t). If he proves to be more flexible than most teams thought, he could wind up seeing his stock take off.
9. Uchenna Nwosu, LB, USC
Every team in the league is looking for pass rushers and Nwosu is one of those players who certainly has the potential to be a disruptive force at the next level. He has the frame to pack on a few more pounds but he will probably wait until after his trip to Indianapolis to so because he can put up some eye-opening numbers for a linebacker based on what he flashed at USC off the edge. He’s still raw so posting good numbers will only help his stock as teams project what he can be in a few years.
10. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
There are a ton of teams hoping to find the next great corner out of the Pac-12 and Oliver may well wind up in the first round as the next in the line of Richard Sherman and Marcus Peters. He’s got the right size and speed you want in a defensive back nowadays and is comfortable enough in just about any type of coverage. If he can run fast enough to confirm what scouts saw on tape, Oliver will be a fast riser and may be able to solidify a first-round grade.
Don’t sleep on: Luke Falk (QB, Washington State); Lavon Coleman (RB, Washington); Royce Freeman (RB, Oregon); Ryan Nall (RB, Oregon State); Deontay Burnett (WR, USC); Darren Carrington (WR, Utah); Will Dissly (TE, Washington); Dalton Schultz (TE, Stanford); Tyrell Crosby (OT, Oregon); Cole Madison (OL, Washington State); Kylie Fitts (DL, Utah); Rasheem Green (DL, USC); Lowell Lotulelei (DL, Utah); Harrison Phillips (DL, Stanford); Kenny Young (LB, UCLA); Azeem Victor (LB, Washington); Quenton Meeks (DB, Stanford); Justin Reid (DB, Stanford)
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.