By Mark Dulgerian
This week we highlight the Pac 12’s top senior NFL prospects going into the season. It’s no surprise that three of the nation’s top ranked teams are well-represented here in Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA. It’s also worth noting that 7 of the 10 top prospects are players that specialize in making an impact in the pass game, a phase that’s dominant within the conference as well as the NFL.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is in a tier of his own here but there are also some not-so-big names who can skyrocket up draft boards for various reasons as the season progresses. Some guys are getting comfortable in new roles/positions while others hope to make full recovery from injuries.
1. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon – 1st Round
There isn’t a better draft-eligible corner in the country. In a pass-happy conference that consistently pumps out blue-chip NFL receivers, IEO has been nothing short of dominant over the past couple seasons. He is so difficult to beat because he can attack you with his physicality at the line or he can match you step for step downfield. Aside from his technical versatility, IEO is outstanding at “becoming the receiver” when the ball is in the air and knows how to use his frame and athleticism to go get it. And by the way, he loves run support.
2. Hroniss Grasu, OC, Oregon – 2nd Round
Grasu surprisingly surpassed the 2014 NFL draft in a year he would have likely been the first center selected. With little left to prove as a prospect, Grasu returns to Eugene as the prototype for the position. Superior intangibles aside, the soon to be 4-year starter is equally dominant in the run and pass game. With his athleticism and use of leverage, Grasu consistently attacks beneath opponents’ pads and has outstanding latch and drive ability. He also displays the speed and agility to lead the charge on pulls or slide into space in pass protection.
3. Danny Shelton, DT, Washington – 2nd-3rd Round
Base 34 NFL teams will be watching Shelton very closely this year. Strictly a 0/1 technique, he played last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery in January and still managed to provide interior disruption as the Huskies’ defensive anchor. Shelton is a classic “1-gapper” with his broad shoulders and base strength, but he also has surprisingly nimble feet and balance for his size.
4. Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford – 2nd-3rd Round
What’s often overlooked with Montgomery is his development since he arrived at Stanford. He was primarily a standout kick returner during his first two years and he’s finally been able to harness his size and speed into becoming one of top prospects in the country. He’ll need to cut down on the focus drops, but his run after catch ability and deep speed make him a home run threat from anywhere on the field.
5. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA – 2nd-3rd Round
The pass rush specialist was primed for a huge year in ’13 before a hip injury sidelined him even before the season began. Now, coming off surgery, Odighizuwa is already turning heads around Westwood after an impressive spring. At his size, length, and downhill explosiveness, his best fit is as a 5-technique, which is usually a DE/OLB hybrid in UCLA’s scheme. The problem is he doesn’t have much experience in pass coverage or without his hand in the dirt.
6. Jordan Richards, S, Stanford – 3rd-4th Round
Richards is a physical safety who enjoys contact and shows above average range in the deep half. He is undersized and can play a little out of control near the line but because of his anticipation and closing ability he’s always around the ball. Stanford safeties typically don’t match up in man coverage often but Richards possesses the hips and quickness to play hip pockets if needed. Quarterbacks must exercise flawless eye discipline when attacking Richards downfield.
7. Tony Washington, OLB, Oregon – 3rd-4th Round
Washington will be a more recognizable name by midseason, but defensive coordinators are already familiar with Oregon’s sack leader. He converted from defensive end last year and he had his share of growing pains, but he is a very smooth athlete who is an ideal pass defender. He’s plenty coordinated enough to drop into short to intermediate coverage, and he can provide edge pressure with his first step quickness and burst out of the loop. He’s a work in progress vs. the run, as he stacks exceptionally well but is still learning to use his hands to untangle himself.
8. Kasen Williams, WR, Washington – 4th-5th Round
The former Parade All America National POY hasn’t quite lived up to that billing, even when healthy. He’ll be coming off a broken leg and foot injury, which is no small task. Williams was never a speed merchant to begin with but he’s on this list because of his projected ceiling, which may be as high as any senior receiver. Williams makes a living in the intermediate game, using his size and strength to beat physical coverage outside and the strong hands to make tough grabs in traffic. He flashes exceptional body control.
9. Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA – 5th Round
Like his brother Mychal, who now plays for the Eagles, Kendricks is an undersized tackling machine. Kendricks has been overshadowed by teammates like Datone Jones, Anthony Barr, and now Myles Jack, but he’s arguably been the most consistent of anyone on the Bruins’ defense the past couple seasons. He’s highly instinctive and uses his speed and explosiveness to track down runners sideline to sideline as well as in coverage. He plays much stronger than his size would indicate.
10. Dres Anderson, WR, Utah – 5th-6th Round
The son of long-time NFL receiver Willie “Flipper” Anderson, Dres was quietly one of the conference’s biggest playmakers. He isn’t impressive on paper and his lanky frame may concern some, but he has a knack for getting behind defenses and is extremely competitive when the ball is in the air. Anderson overcomes size and strength limitations with suddenness and sound route running. He’ll really impress scouts if he can consistently beat the extra attention he’s likely to receive this year.