2022 NFL Draft prospects from the Pac-12 are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to NFL evaluation — there are players on this list whose entire 2020 season consisted of just four games, which is simply not enough tape to garner a strong opinion about most players.
NFL scouts have to think that with full seasons, players like Washington edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd would be at training camp right now. Instead, we’ll hopefully be seeing them on football fields this fall, as the Pac-12 is looking fairly deep on talent ahead of 2021.
EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon (Junior)
The No. 3 player on PFF’s preseason draft board, Thibodeaux has the goods for the edge position. He has everything from bend, burst, length and strength — all the tools are there. The scary thing is that he’s put together games like his 12-pressure performance against USC with a fairly limited pass-rushing toolbox. At the moment, he is an edge-bender/bull-rusher who gets by on that massive physical advantage. But boy, is that physical advantage something to behold.
My goodness. Kayvon Thibodeaux is a freak of nature. pic.twitter.com/do99CjtxYi
— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) December 7, 2019
He is just a different caliber of athlete than you normally see from a 6-foot-5, 250-pound edge defender. His ability to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage is second to none in college football.
Trapped in an Oregon defense that gave him little in the way of freedom last year — and even had him lining up over the tackles at times — Thibodeaux will be let loose far more this season under new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.
CB Trent McDuffie, Washington (Junior)
There may not be a more aesthetically pleasing cornerback to watch in the country. The way he moves across the field with such ease and grace is a joy for any film-watcher. Of course, one can move swiftly while getting toasted, but that’s not the case with McDuffie. He allowed only 52 yards in four games last season and earned an 80.6 overall grade.
That comes after he earned an 85.4 overall grade on 752 snaps as a true freshman in 2019. But, maybe the most impressive of all McDuffie’s stats is how well he’s tackled in his career — he’s missed only two tackles on 64 career attempts.
Amazing play on the back side from Washington CB Trent McDuffie to strip this ball pic.twitter.com/NnV1lsKKA0
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) December 5, 2020
Listed at 5-foot-11, he may be on the shorter side to stick on the outside, but he’s not small. And at 195 pounds, McDuffie can play a physical brand of football that will be perfect for zone-heavy teams.
OT Jaxson Kirkland, Washington (Redshirt Senior)
After starting for two seasons at right guard, Kirkland finally got his shot at left tackle in 2020. He passed that test with flying colors, as he allowed all of two hurries in four games. At 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, Kirkland is a far more natural fit on the outside at tackle than he was at guard.
The Washington offensive lineman possesses some of the best feet of any tackle prospect in the country, which shows up routinely in space. Tracking down opposing defenders comes naturally to him, and that’s a great starting point to have at the position.
WA LT Jaxson Kirkland is a solid LT who plays strong. Not elite athlete but doesn't give up edge easily, putting hands on #, using 6'6" frame to move DL around pocket. Latches on 2nd-level targets, finish plays. Gets out of stance well to crash the edge in run game. #SnapScout22 pic.twitter.com/8NMvn8sVBx
— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) June 2, 2021
The biggest area for improvement for Kirkland will simply be play strength. He earned a 69.9 run-blocking grade last season and won’t be a great fit for pure gap schemes in the NFL.
QB Kedon Slovis, USC (Junior)
Slovis had one of the best true freshman seasons we’ve ever seen filling in for the injured J.T. Daniels in 2019. His 80.8 passing grade that year was good enough to send the former five-star Daniels packing for good. However, Slovis was much the same guy this past season when he earned an 80.1 passing grade.
He’s poised beyond his years in the pocket and fully capable of getting to second and third reads as well as checkdowns. In terms of intermediate accuracy, he’s been the best of any returning quarterback in the FBS over the past two seasons.
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) November 7, 2020
That said, he is still very limited from a tools perspective. He’s not a playmaker outside the pocket by any means, and he struggles attacking deep downfield. The fact Slovis has more turnover-worthy plays in his career (34) than big-time throws perfectly explains where he lies as a prospect right now. Seeing him take better chances with the football down the field will be a massive step in his development.
WR Drake London, USC (Junior)
Big-bodied, contested–catch specialists are decidedly not PFF's type. We gravitate toward separators at the receiver position 99 times out of 100. After pouring through London’s tape, though, he just might be that one outlier. Currently WR3 in our preseason rankings, London gets that spot because of how physically imposing he is. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, London combines elite body control with a mean streak. It’s a big reason why he broke an absurd 14 tackles on only 33 catches last season.
Yeah I like Drake London’s fight. He’s fasho a dog. pic.twitter.com/7SI7S8nsr4
— Big CROCKY⚡️ (@eric_crocker) December 19, 2020
We shy away from guys who only produce at the catch point because it’s a difficult skill to translate consistently against the larger, more physical corners in the NFL. However, London might be freakishly athletic enough to continue his dominance in the league. Just check out what he was doing on the basketball court back in high school (and still has been doing as a member of USC’s basketball team).
With only two drops on 74 catchable opportunities in his career, London will easily fill any “security blanket” role at the next level.
DI Jermayne Lole, Arizona State (Senior)
In a fairly weak defensive tackle class at this point, Lole is firmly in the mix for DT1 on PFF’s draft board. He’s shown a very steady upward trajectory over his career, going from a 60.5 overall grade as a freshman to 75.3 as a sophomore in 2019 to 85.9 this past season.
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) May 23, 2021
Lole also earned that grade in 2020 by seldom coming off the field. He played 258 snaps in only four games, an average of 64.5 per game. While he’s on the shorter side for the position at 6-foot-1, the now-senior uses that to his advantage. He plays with exceptional leverage and won’t cede an inch one-on-one. He also possesses one of the best first steps you’ll see from a 300-plus pound defensive tackle and will be a problem this upcoming fall.
EDGE Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington (Redshirt Junior)
Tupuola-Fetui got arguably the rawest deal from having a limited schedule of any prospect last season. He was nothing short of dominant in his first season as a full-time starter. In Washington’s four games last season, he earned a 91.8 pass-rushing grade and racked up 20 pressures. He was the most physical bull-rusher in the country at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds.
Zion Tupuola-Fetui gets called for roughing the passer but he makes this one look easy. pic.twitter.com/7Z32iloWjH
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) November 29, 2020
But it was only four games, and he had only played 384 snaps in his career by season's end. So, the edge rusher returned to Washington to up his stock even more, only to tear his Achilles in April. With a 6-10 month estimated recovery period, ZTF may not get that chance to raise his stock until 2022.
EDGE Drake Jackson, USC (Junior)
Jackson flashed more promise than any true freshman defensive lineman in the country back in 2019 when he collected 26 pressures and earned a 69.6 overall grade. In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, however, he failed to take any sort of meaningful next step.
The flashes from Jackson are undeniable. He’s got a flexible body type that you rarely see at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds. And when you do see it, it’s starting on NFL football fields. With a full offseason to develop, I expect a big leap from Jackson in 2021.
USC DE Drake Jackson is going to be getting lots of buzz/attention this fall #2022NFLDraft
Trimmed down to 255lbs in 2020, after coming to USC & playing 2019 at nearly 275lbs
Can win in a variety ways as a rusher – love the inside moves (spin/rip) & then a 3-tech win 1on1 vs OG pic.twitter.com/ueNVwehHd2
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) May 16, 2021
LB Devin Lloyd, Utah (Redshirt Senior)
Lloyd was everywhere for the Utes as the last remaining impact-maker from their dominant 2019 squad. He posted a ridiculous 27 stops in only five games, meaning he was on pace for over 70 in a full 13-game season. He is one of the most adept linebackers in the country at taking on blocks and has even shown that ability walked up on the line of scrimmage.
Now, we’d just like to see more plays from him in coverage, as he’s managed only one pick and two pass breakups in his year and a half as a starter.
Blocking UT LB Devin Lloyd with TE? Forget it. Too strong at POA, gets down line fast. Also gets off OL blocks. Lines up stack and on edge, not asked to rush often but is effective. Covers zone, secure tackler that limits YAC. Tracks down ballcarriers when needed. #SnapScout22 pic.twitter.com/lVUO67ruoA
— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) June 1, 2021
CB Mykael Wright, Oregon (Junior)
Wright has been balling for the Ducks since Day 1. As a freshman nickel corner who often moonlighted out wide, Wright allowed only eight catches from 23 targets for 85 yards with a pick and three pass breakups. As an encore, he allowed only 18 catches from 34 targets for 228 yards, with eight pass breakups this past season as a starter. He’s well-versed in NFL-style coverage concepts and took nearly 40% of his coverage snaps from a press alignment last year.
Mykael Wright will be terrorizing NFL QBs like this one day pic.twitter.com/3BUC5cZcij
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) November 8, 2020
Wright’s biggest worry at the moment is his size — he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds. You won’t find an outside cornerback in the NFL playing at that size. Only a true junior, Wright is obviously in prime muscle-building years, but we just need to see it first. If he maintains his elite speed with added mass, he could challenge the early rounds.