In terms of draft-eligible talent, it is far from a banner year for the Pac-12. While there is a good deal of underclassmen talent, only two players from the conference made the first round of PFF’s way-too-early 2023 mock draft. Six months from now, 2021 tape will have very little bearing on how prospects are viewed. Let’s dive into the prospects most likely to be rising up boards this fall.
Check out even more in-depth prospect coverage in PFF's 2022 College Football Preview Magazine.
1. QB Tanner McKee, Stanford (RS Sophomore)
Even though he has just one year of starting experience under his belt, McKee is arguably the most polished quarterback in the 2023 class. His ball-handling, footwork and timing all scream NFL-ready. Now, he just needs to play more consistent football in Year 2.
If I were a betting man, I’d say we’ll see just that from McKee. A member of the 2018 recruiting class, he took a two-year LDS mission in Brazil prior to arriving at Stanford and was admittedly behind the eight-ball from a developmental standpoint. At 6-foot-6 and 226 pounds with easy arm talent and some athleticism added in for a man that size, McKee ticks a lot of NFL boxes. He just wasn’t helped out by a slightly archaic Stanford passing attack last season.
…Tanner McKee is a big, smooth operator for Stanford. Game feels slowed down for him – uses eyes to move/hold defenders often to create lanes. Easy arm and good pocket mover. One of the most intriguing QBs in CFB
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) July 27, 2022
2. WR Jordan Addison, USC (Junior)
The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, Addison made waves when he transferred from Pittsburgh to USC. Of course, what receiver wouldn’t want to play for Lincoln Riley after he stockpiled high NFL draft picks at the position in his time at Oklahoma? Addison looks like a lock to be the next one.
He’s exactly the type of receiver the NFL game is trending toward. He’s far skinnier than what’s been traditionally coveted, at 6-foot and 175 pounds, but gets by because of his suddenness. If you don’t have your hands on Addison, you’re not sticking with him. It’s why he racked up 100 catches for 1,593 yards and 17 scores last year. We’d just like to see him eliminate some drops after having 21 passes on 181 catchable targets slip through his hands at Pittsburgh.
ridiculous catch from Jordan Addison pic.twitter.com/DMpizdwHWk
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) December 5, 2021
3. LB Noah Sewell, Oregon (Junior)
The younger brother of 2021 No. 7 overall pick Penei Sewell, Noah plays linebacker the same way Penei does offensive tackle. Both are out for blood when they approach contact and have the physicality to move you against your will. For Noah, that shows up mostly as a tackler and a blitzer. The 6-foot-3, 251-pounder isn’t going backward on contact. He’s not your modern hybrid backer, but he can still chase down running backs easily in space. We just need to see some more plays in coverage this season, but that’s not why you’re drafting him highly.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 11, 2021
4. IOL Andrew Vorhees, USC (Sixth-Year Senior)
Vorhees is arguably the cleanest offensive line prospect in the country. That’s because 1) We’ve seen him play a lot, and 2) We’ve seen him play at an elite level. He’s been starting for the Trojans since he was a true freshman in 2017! He’s started at left tackle, left guard and right guard over the course of his career and earned a 90.1 overall grade a season ago. He would have easily been a 2021 Day 2 pick had he declared. At 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, Vorhees has the frame to play pretty much anywhere along the offensive line.
5. TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah (RS Senior)
Kincaid is still more wide receiver than actual tight end, but that’s the part that gets coveted at the NFL level. The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder has that uncoachable fluidity as a route-runner that all the best at the position in the NFL possess. He’s clean out of his breaks, and you see him run a downfield route tree effectively on tape. He’s had a bit of a winding road to get to top prospect status after spending his first two seasons at the University of San Diego before transferring to Utah in 2020. He broke out in a big way last season with 36 catches for 510 yards, eight scores and not a single drop.
I like Utah TE Dalton Kincaid – he's got some burst and catches everything, they line him up all over pic.twitter.com/Z0D47dweui
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) December 8, 2021
6. CB Clark Phillips III, Utah (Junior)
Phillips is one of the most competitive cornerbacks in the country. He has a very short memory and doesn’t let a bad rep impact future ones. He had a slow start to his first season as a full-time starter in 2021 but finished on a tear with an 83.1 coverage grade over his final six games. While undersized at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Phillips has the play style to overcome it.
Utah Clark Phillips III just might be everyone’s favorite CB for next season and it’s not hard to see why he has many fans. He’s competitive, smooth, trusts his eyes, confidence in his game, sticky coverage, high IQ, and is super talented! pic.twitter.com/xDJxfg73bd
— Robert Cardona (@CARDONAFAM29) April 12, 2022
7. EDGE Tuli Tuipulotu, USC (Junior)
The younger brother of Eagles defensive tackle Marlon, Tuli is already the more explosive athlete of the two. At 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, he possesses inside-outside versatility that USC already has taken advantage of. Tuipulotu split his snaps almost evenly inside and outside the tackles last season. In doing so, he earned an 82.6 overall grade while collecting 29 pressures on 289 pass-rushing snaps. At his size already as a rising junior, odds are he keeps bulking up to play on the interior in the NFL.
TULI TUIPULOTU With the SACK❕????
Trojans Lead 14-7 ???? pic.twitter.com/fgHSMEtElA
— Scott Schrader (@Scott_Schrader) October 30, 2021
8. LB Justin Flowe, Oregon (RS Sophomore)
Flowe is more projection than anyone else on this list. That’s because he’s played only 67 collegiate snaps. If you watch them, though, it doesn’t take long to see he's a special athlete for the linebacker position. The former No. 1 linebacker recruit in the 2020 class missed his freshman year with a torn meniscus and sophomore year with a broken foot. If he stays healthy, he could end up much higher on this list by season’s end.
This is Justin Flowe pic.twitter.com/QH1SPgT1u0
— Coach Byrd (@CoachByrd_EAT) August 23, 2019
9. EDGE Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington (RS Senior)
Tupuola-Fetui is another player who has had his career derailed by injuries. ZTF should already be balling out in the NFL, but COVID-19 and a torn Achilles last offseason altered those plans. He’s a power rusher at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds who routinely plays through opposing offensive tackles. While he returned for 130 snaps last year, he clearly wasn’t himself on them, as his pass-rushing grade went from 91.8 in 2020 to 72.1 last year.
So good to see #Washington DE/LB Zion Tupuola-Fetui (#58) back on the field Saturday after tearing his Achilles only 6 months ago.
Still a dude. pic.twitter.com/kn5VgQn7PM
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 18, 2021
10. CB Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford (Senior)
Kelly is a fluid-moving cornerback with three years of starting experience already under his belt. Many of his best plays in coverage come with his eyes on the quarterback, as he’s ultra-quick to read and react from an off alignment. That may even make him a fit in the slot for some, a position where he played 105 snaps a year ago. If there’s any tape to flip on, it’s the USC game against Drake London. He may have given up 112 yards, but it was because he was targeted 16 (!) times. He picked off a pass while breaking up two others in that contest.
Kyu Blu Kelly’s tape is impressive.
Against Drake London & his physicality, KBK plays through contact & attacks the catch point with aggression! His coverage is sticky, fluid, and confident! pic.twitter.com/miCXioSS3q
— Full-Time Dame ???? (@DP_NFL) June 3, 2022
11. RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA (Senior)
Charbonnet is one of the cleanest running back prospects in the country. He ticks pretty much every box you could want at the position, although I’m not certain there's anything in particular he does exceptionally well. He’s 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds with tremendous balance for a taller back. He broke 69 tackles on 204 attempts last season in a breakout year after transferring from Michigan.
UCLA has a really diverse run game with a few under center runs. Here, Kelly called the windback play with a WR lead that the Rams popularized.
Charbonnet can’t get outside because the end shed his block but finds the cutback lane for a big gain pic.twitter.com/a1fi98rHZ5
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) September 5, 2021
12. TE Luke Musgrave, Oregon State (Senior)
Musgrave has the uncoachable parts of the tight end position — size and athleticism — down pat. Not a lot of 6-foot-6, 252-pound men on this planet move as swiftly as Musgrave can. What he is not is a polished receiver, headlined by an 18.2% career drop rate and only 36 career receptions. NFL teams are going to bet on that being fixable while banking on his established traits.
Players I’m most excited to see in CFB – Pt 27
Luke Musgrave – TE – Oregon St@Luke_Musgrave19 will be a feature in the @BeaverFootball play action attack. Luke shows good body control on film at 6’6. If OSU targets him as I expect – it’ll be a big year.
Breakout Candidate ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/EUxHwtAeTW
— Adam Breneman (@AdamBreneman81) June 23, 2022
13. IOL Braeden Daniels, Utah (RS Senior)
Daniels is one of the most explosive returning offensive linemen in the country. He may be listed at only 300 pounds, but he will pancake defenders 20-plus pounds heavier when he gets underneath them. He racked up nine big-time blocks and an 89.1 run-blocking grade a season ago while splitting time between left guard and right tackle. He’s still fairly raw in pass protection, but it’s not because he lacks the physical tools to do so.
14. OT Jaxson Kirkland, Washington (6th-Year Senior)
Kirkland played much of 2021 on a bum ankle and put up late Day 3 tape because of it. He was much better back in 2020 when he earned an 86.6 pass-blocking grade (albeit across four games), and if he gets back to that form, he can get into the Day 2 mix. He’s nimble on his feet for a 6-foot-7 tackle and has the mirroring ability to stay on the left side in the NFL.
Alright Jaxson Kirkland (LT #51)… I can get down with that. pic.twitter.com/SstlHsVejq
— Ryan Roberts (@RiseNDraft) January 13, 2022
15. WR Jacob Cowing, Arizona (Senior)
Cowing spent his first three seasons at UTEP before transferring this offseason. There he led the Miners with 69 catches for 1,361 yards and seven scores last season. He’s an undersized speedster at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds and may be thought of as more of a slot receiver in the NFL. That’s where he spent 75.9% of his snaps last season. Now, he’ll have a much higher level of competition on a weekly basis to prove that production was no fluke.
Dirty spin move by @UTEPAthletics Jacob Cowing
5 rec. for 158 yards & 1 TD w/ a 91.4 PFF Grade – not a bad way to start the season pic.twitter.com/RJalZRRipz
— Matt Stopsky (@MStopsky) August 30, 2021
16. TE Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford (Junior)
One of Tanner McKee’s favorite targets last season, Yurosek went from not having a single catch in 2020 to bringing in 42 catches for 655 yards in 2021. The big question will be whether he can put on weight and maintain his athleticism. At 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, he is 20 pounds away from seeing the field in the NFL.
TE Benjamin Yurosek has some juice!
True junior (6'5 231lbs) has a Dennis Pitta, Mike Geisicki, Tyler Eifert vibe to him as a flex TE that is a weapon in pass game. Good hands, length, strides, vertical speed & getting better w/ his route running!
Excited for his '22 campaign pic.twitter.com/eyQrRqJZFi
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) July 24, 2022
17. DI Brandon Dorlus, Oregon (RS Junior)
Dorlus is one of the most productive returning defensive tackles in the country. He enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2021 that saw him rack up 42 pressures and a 79.2 overall grade on 665 snaps. When Dorlus first started seeing playing time, his weight was in the 270s, but he'll be playing the upcoming year in the 290s. If he can stay productive at that weight, he will end up much higher on this list.
I really like Oregon DE/DT Brandon Dorlus and his quickness off the ball – can win cross-facing and getting skinny upfield (and then that last clip he fakes it – beautiful rep)
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) July 19, 2022
18. WR Elijah Higgins, Stanford (Senior)
Higgins is quite the enigma as a prospect. You won’t find too many 6-foot-3, 235-pound wide receivers. And you'll find even fewer whose biggest selling point at that size is their speed:
.@StanfordFball staff told us WR Elijah Higgins hit 21.5 mph GPS on this 56-yard TD last year. Only offensive players faster than that at last year’s @seniorbowl were third-round WRs Danny Gray (22.0) & Velus Jones (21.7). Stupid speed considering @ehigggz is around 240 lbs. ???? pic.twitter.com/ml4d6F8vb7
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) July 27, 2022
With all that speed, though, he’s still very much a work in progress, as shown by only 44 catches for 502 yards last year. He has to get better at avoiding contact along his routes and developing more ways to win, but explosiveness will always be in demand at the NFL level.
19. RB E.J. Smith, Stanford (Junior)
If No. 22 and the running style look familiar, it’s because E.J.’s full name is Emmitt James Smith IV and he’s the son of the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. He handled just 26 carries a season ago amid a string of injuries that kept sidelining him. On those 26 carries, though, he broke 14 tackles and earned an 81.2 rushing grade. He figures to take on an expanded role this upcoming fall.
E.J. Smith (Emmitt Smith’s son) has a natural feel for the game like his pops!
His cutting ability & patience caught my eye! Better believe I’m locked in on him for his junior season! pic.twitter.com/7ILKRqEA8P
— Full-Time Dame ???? (@DP_NFL) July 8, 2022
20. LB Mohamoud Diabate, Utah (Senior)
Diabate doesn’t make this list based on performance. He earned 56.5 and 57.9 overall grades the past two seasons at Florida before transferring to Utah this offseason. With speed at a premium for linebackers in the NFL, though, Diabate is going to get every chance possible to develop in the league. That’s because at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, he’s one of the fastest linebackers in the country. He clocked in at 43rd on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List last year, and it shows on tape.
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 2, 2021
21. LB Darius Muasau, UCLA (Senior)
Chip Kelly was so impressed by what he saw from the former Hawaii linebacker in Week 0 last year that he added him as a transfer this offseason. Muasau is decidedly not the guy you want to see coming downhill if you’re a running back in blitz pickup. He earned a 91.5 pass-rushing grade last season because he comes into blocks with bad intentions. He’s an agile and powerful 6-foot-1, 230-pounder who will set the tone for a defense. Muasau just has to get better at finishing plays after missing 25 tackles a season ago (18.4% miss rate).
FUMBLE!!!! Darius Muasau with the big play to start the third quarter! pic.twitter.com/HMjzWv9ylX
— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) November 21, 2021
22. RB Tavion Thomas, Utah (RS Senior)
Thomas is exactly what you’d expect a 6-foot-2, 221-pounder to be. He is a north-south, run-behind-his-pads type of back. He broke out in a big way last year with 1,106 yards on 204 carries with 21 scores and 62 broken tackles. To be that kind of back in the NFL, though, he must fix his fumbling problem. Thomas has coughed up the ball eight times on only 334 career carries between Utah and Cincinnati, where he started his career.
One player I’m excited to watch more of this year is Tavion Thomas (RB 9) for Utah. Junior RB listed at 6-2 238 lbs – ran over 1100 yards & had 21 TDs last season. Per @PFF_College, he had 62 forced missed tackles last season (2nd most in the Pac-12). pic.twitter.com/lzhzEvgusy
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) July 27, 2022
23. IOL Jarrett Kingston, Washington State (RS Senior)
Washington State’s offense was not particularly conducive to producing NFL-ready offensive linemen due to its egregiously wide splits and pass-happy play calling. That showed in Kingston’s 53.0 run-blocking grade a season ago. What Kingston has that every NFL evaluator is looking for, though, is foot quickness. He can get out and move as well as any guard in the country. He’s still a project, but that’s the starting point you want for an offensive lineman.
24. EDGE Bradyn Swinson, Oregon (Junior)
Swinson has gone the opposite direction of teammate Brandon Dorlus. He showed up to Oregon 280 pounds but has lost a good deal of weight to play around the 250 range off the edge. He flashed plus length and bend as a sub-package player last season with a 66.8 pass-rushing grade on 152 pass-rushing snaps. He’s in store for a bigger role in 2022 following Kayvon Thibodeaux’s departure.
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) September 13, 2021
25. IOL T.J. Bass, Oregon (RS Senior)
Bass is a thickly built guard at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds — ideal for a gap scheme. While he filled in at tackle down the stretch last season, he lacks the foot quickness to likely stay there in the NFL. He earned a 90.5 run-blocking grade a season ago in only his second as a starter, but only a 74.0 pass-blocking grade.