But as we examine the personnel in 2022, it’s clear the majority of the conference’s best players are on defense — and not in the secondary.
A quality case could be made that the defensive front, long one of the weaker position groups, has the highest concentration of talent.
The Hotline’s ranking of the top 10 players ignores position value, either in the college game or the NFL Draft, and takes a pound-for-pound approach to talent.
Also considered: Oregon OG TJ Bass, USC CB Mekhi Blackmon, Oregon OL Alex Forsyth, Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez, ASU OG LaDarius Henderson, Washington OT Jaxson Kirkland, Utah TE Dalton Kincaid, Stanford QB Tanner McKee, ASU LB Merlin Robertson, Utah DL Mika Tafua, Utah TB Tavion Thomas, UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, USC DT Tuli Tuipulotu
1. Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell: He doesn’t play one of the vital perimeter spots (edge rusher, cornerback), but Sewell will be the best player at any position on the field this fall, dominating from the center as Utah’s Devin Lloyd did last season.
2. USC receiver Jordan Addison: The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner could very well close the season as the best player in the league, and the land. But we wonder about the adjustment to a new quarterback, new scheme, new head coach, new conference — and all the hype.
3. Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III: Phillips has been on the path to stardom since he became one of the highest-ranked signees in Utah history. His man-to-man coverage skills give the Utes loads of flexibility with their schemes. A future high-round draft pick.
4. Cal defensive tackle Brett Johnson: The best under-the-radar player in the conference is an unblockable bull on the interior. If you’re unfamiliar, that’s because Johnson didn’t play in 2021 due to injuries sustained in an offseason car accident. Assuming he’s healthy, destruction will follow.
5. Washington edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui: The pocket-crusher would be higher on the list — perhaps No. 1 — if not for the Achilles tear suffered in the spring of 2021. If he’s back to pre-injury form, Tupuola-Fetui will be one of the nation’s best edge rushers.
6. Utah quarterback Cameron Rising: It’s so perfectly Utah that a returning quarterback, toting a conference title and first-team all-league honors, would be nudged off the preseason stage. USC’s Caleb Williams has gobbled up the attention, but we expect Rising to have another stellar year.
7. UCLA tailback Zach Charbonnet: The best ballcarrier in the conference (by a slim margin over Utah’s Tavion Thomas). Charbonnet, whose career began at Michigan, runs with power and elusiveness and is adept in the passing game. One of the best all-around tailbacks in the country.
8. Washington State edge Ron Stone Jr.: The son of the former Pro Bowler recorded 11.5 tackles-for-loss last year in what was, technically, his sophomore season. We expect him to improve on that number as the primary playmaker for what should be a stout front seven.
9. Oregon defensive end Brandon Dorlus: After three seasons in Kayvon Thibodeaux’s shadow, Dorlus moves into the spotlight. He’s athletic, versatile, requires double-teams in passing situations and is destined for the top half of the NFL Draft whenever he declares.
10. USC quarterback Caleb Williams: While not the Pac-12’s best pro prospect at the position — that would be Stanford’s Tanner McKee — the Oklahoma transfer is an elite playmaker who should have a major impact. That said, he has only attempted 211 career passes, and many came against third-rate defenses.
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