The next stop on the tour of focused drafts is the PAC-12. So far, we have looked outside of the Power 5 as well as at the BIG 10, the SEC, and the ACC. The goal here is to highlight players who might not otherwise get attention, and it is not to suggest that a reasonable GM would ever limit a team this way. No trades were allowed, and the hope was to try to find players who would make the 2017 Chicago Bears into a better team. My full draft is here.
This was by far the most frustrating of the conference-themed drafts I have done. The talent pool thinned out fast. While I had a large body of “plus” prospects (I had something like 12 players that were on my board as worth drafting, and another 6 or so that were worth considering), almost everyone I felt good about went in the first 45-50 picks. That says good things about the talent coming out of the PAC-12, but it also suggests that the talent is top-heavy and not very deep.
#3) Solomon Thomas, Stanford (DE)
I truly believe that in some years, a Solomon Thomas would get the sort of attention that is being given to Myles Garrett. Garrett is an athletic marvel among athletic marvels, but Thomas is still impressive. I think he has some room to grow, but in his case that’s more a testament to his potential than it is an indictment of his development.
Teams should look at: Takkarist McKinley (UCLA, OLB). There was never a chance I was going to pass on Thomas if he was there, but if I were Pace and McKinley had been sitting there at 30 (like he was in this mock), I would have been sorely tempted to try to trade back in. More realistically, it’s likely that some playoff team is going to be able to get even stronger. McKinley has the makings of a threatening pass-rusher.
#36) Garett Bolles, Utah (OT)
This was a surprise pick for me, because Bolles was typically gone before #36 when I did a couple of test runs. In some ways, I was disappointed he was there, because I felt his potential all but forced this pick. Bolles is an amazing athlete (check his combine numbers), and while he’s a little older, he also possesses the aggression and attitude that could make him a steal in the second round. I know that the Bears are actually doing well on O-line, but making an improvement at tackle in the second round was too tempting to pass on (note: I ran this mock draft before SB Nation’s Kadar made the same selection).
I almost went with: Budda Baker (Washington, S). This was the pick I was planning on making, and if anyone wants to argue that it’s the pick I should have made anyway, I’d have trouble disagreeing. Baker is explosive and has the sort of whole-field aggression that is needed for a difference-making safety. I passed on him because I felt that this draft class was deep enough in defensive backs to be worth investing in the O-line.
#67) Davis Webb, California (QB)
In my opinion, this is too high for Davis Webb, who I see as a quarterback who benefited from a “tight” system. Webb is the sort of quarterback who was able to succeed in a controlled setting, but who did not show the initiative or talent to do more. However, I never saw him last into the fourth round, and I have little to no confidence in the quarterback situation on the Bears. This pick is an investment in the position, but depending on who you listen to it is either a reach or a steal. In real life, I wonder if he even lasts to #67.
I almost went with: JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC, WR). This was an interesting one for me to watch and take notes on. I read a couple of profiles that mentioned his ability to get open despite a lack of top-end speed, but I wanted to watch it myself. Some of it is route-running and scheme, but some of it is also the way he uses his body to provide a target. I have a hunch that he could be a solid #2 WR for a team.
#111) Tedric Thompson, Colorado (S)
When I passed on Baker at #36, I promised that I would get back to safety in this draft. I actually have Thompson as the 18th-best player coming out of the PAC-12, so picking him up in the fourth round isn’t bad. He’s athletic and has good size. I am not impressed by his ability to get after a player, especially for a safety. I think that the third round would be too high for him, which is one of the reasons I didn’t mind taking Webb. However, Thompson has the ability to make big plays (7 interceptions and 16 passes defensed in his senior year alone) that make him a worthy candidate for a player you feel okay settling for.
I didn’t look at: Chad Wheeler (USC, OL). I…don’t get it. I keep seeing Wheeler ranked higher than I have him. Sometimes a draft board has him positioned highly, but I see a guy who has already struggled with injury and gets flat-footed to the point that an amateur like me can spot it pretty readily. Besides, there was a better lineman available.
#117) Sam Tevi, Utah (OT)
My notes on Tevi make a couple of comments about his feet, both positive. Other notes on Tevi are that he is well-suited to playing swing tackle and that he can add depth to an offensive line. In honestly, the reason I feel okay making this pick is that the real talent from the PAC-12 was depleted by the end of the third round, and so most of the players left have some sort of notable flaw in them. In Tevi’s case, the potential upside outweighs those flaws, so doubling up on one of the lines is easy to feel good about.
I almost went with: Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (USC, DL). The only reason I didn’t was that I was sure he’d be there at 147.
#147) Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, USC (NT)
Stevie is older, and that will scare some teams away. He has some rough spots in his technique, and that could also be a warning sign. However, there are only so many 330lb-plus men with his level of athleticism, and he has the ability to eat up double-teams. Tu’ikolovatu is a beast, and he can totally clog a lane. I can see a team drafting him purely for depth, and used in the right way I can see him anchoring goal-line stands.
Teams should look at: Conor McDermott (UCLA, OT). Yes, another O-line player. After the initial surge of talent at the top, the real depth in the PAC-12 this year is on the line and at defensive back, and McDermott’s height and overall athletic potential are promising.
#221) Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State (K)
There are very few times it is worth it to draft a kicker. Using a 7th-round pick to take a 75% touchback kicker who holds the FBS record for field goals made is one of them. Seventh-round picks rarely contribute, but a reliable kicker who has range and accuracy is a valuable commodity, and it’s worth this pick to secure his services.
So, that’s the PAC-12. The reality is that if I were a GM truly limited to this conference, it would be worth sacrificing later picks to trade up, because even more than a typical draft class, this group is truly top-heavy. Once you get past a double-sized handful of headliners who are worth their press, you are left with a number of players who will be even more dependent than usual on circumstances to be able to succeed.
Note: after the Big-12, by community request I will try something different. I will lock myself into taking players by position, in order of need, as voted by the fanbase. Please vote in the poll below for which position you think is the top need. The #1 vote-getter will be the position that must be selected in the first round, the #2 vote-getter in the second round, and so on.
What position is the greatest need heading into the draft?
This poll is closed