The bad news is the good news for the Pac-12 this week at the NFL scouting combine, with on-field workouts beginning Thursday and wall-to-wall coverage on the NFL Network.
(If you aren’t eagerly awaiting the three-cone drill, it’s high time to reconsider your life priorities.)
The conference is sending just 31 players to Indianapolis for the event, fewer than any Power Five league (by far) and its lowest participation total in at least a decade.
That bodes poorly for the Pac-12 when the NFL Draft arrives in late April but reflects well on its prospects for the 2023 season: Half the players selected to the all-conference team (25 of 51) are returning to school, according to the Pac-12.
The list of returnees includes four marquee quarterbacks (Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Utah’s Cam Rising, Oregon’s Bo Nix and USC’s Caleb Williams, who isn’t eligible for the draft) and a slew of proven receivers and edge rushers.
But for now, our focus is the combine experience for 31 players, broken down in the following manners:
— Participants by school
0: Arizona and Colorado
1: ASU, Cal and Washington State
3: Oregon State
4: Stanford, Utah and UCLA
— Participants by position
Running backs: 3
Tight ends: 2
Offensive linemen: 8
Defensive linemen: 2
Defensive backs: 7
Here are five storylines to follow …
1. The big three
USC receiver Jordan Addison, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez and Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid are first-round candidates and can solidify their positions with strong showings in Indianapolis.
Could a fourth Day One selection emerge? The best bets are Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III, USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu, Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell, UCLA tailback Zach Charbonnet and Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave.
2. The freak factor
The participant with the best chance to awe scouts is a tight end who played in two games last season.
Musgrave was injured in the second game (Fresno State) and didn’t return. But he has off-the-charts athleticism and could emerge from the weekend as a candidate for the first round. The key to it all: How his knee holds up under cross-examination by team doctors and surgeons.
“Musgrave is going to probably run in the low 4.5s (in the 40-yard dash) at 255 pounds; he could go in the first round,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said recently on a media conference call.
3. QB spotlight
With most of the Pac-12’s elite quarterbacks returning to school, only two received invitations to the combine: UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Stanford’s Tanner McKee.
(The SEC is the only other Power Five conference with multiple quarterbacks participating.)
McKee’s draft value was actually higher a year ago — he might have lost money by returning for the 2022 season. His arm and size more than clear the NFL bar, but he lacks mobility. Performing well in the running and agility drills will be vital.
Athleticism isn’t an issue for Thompson-Robinson, who could have value in the later rounds.
4. Senior Bowl momentum
The Pac-12 sent a modest contingent of players to the Senior Bowl, but two left a lasting impression: Stanford receiver Michael Wilson, who was injured throughout his career, and Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley.
Will either player build on that momentum?
Henley is the first WSU linebacker invited to the combine since 2006. His current grade (per NFL.com) suggests a Day Two draft slot. Wilson’s climb appears more difficult, particularly with questions about his ability to stay healthy.
5. Line play
The Pac-12 has only two defensive linemen in Indianapolis this week (ASU’s Nesta Jade Silvera and USC’s Tuipulotu), reflecting a paucity of elite talent at the position that has plagued the conference for years.
“I’m not picking on the Pac-12 — it just is what it is — but you don’t see a lot of NFL defensive linemen,” Jeremiah said.
“You have to cherry-pick the right games to be able to see them go up against real powerful NFL-type players along that defensive front.”
But the Pac-12’s representation on the other side of scrimmage is strong, with eight offensive linemen in total and Oregon joining Ohio State as the only schools with three participants.
The conference’s top prospect at this point is USC guard Andrew Vorhees.
We’re curious about Washington’s Jaxson Kirkland, and whether he tests well enough to be given consideration as a tackle at the next level.
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