NFL Combine: Pac-12 memories, storylines, hits and misses
The list of invitees to the NFL Scouting Combine is out and the workouts are to start in the coming weeks leading into the NFL Draft. Here is a look at some memories, thoughts and trends as we look at the players invited from the Pac-12.
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Oregon’s loaded class
Since the 2019 recruiting class, Oregon has dominated Pac-12 recruiting with four first-place finishes and a second-place in 2022 as the Ducks - first under Mario Cristobal and now Dan Lanning - have taken the conference by storm.
It has paid off, as Oregon leads the conference with six NFL Combine invitees, led by four-star DB Christian Gonzalez, who is expected to be a first-round pick, and five-star linebacker Noah Sewell, who is on the first-round fringe.
Former four-stars Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, TJ Bass, Alex Forsyth and DJ Johnson also got invited to Indianapolis.
Transfers load up USC’s class
After Oregon, with six invitees, is USC, and the Trojans have five, but they definitely needed help from the transfer portal to achieve that number.
Wide receiver Jordan Addison, defensive back Mekhi Blackmon and running back Travis Dye came from Pitt, Colorado and Oregon, respectively. The only high school players coming out of USC for this year’s draft are defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu and offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees.
It will be interesting to watch the Trojans going forward, as coach Lincoln Riley has landed two five-stars in each of the last two recruiting classes and plenty of four-stars, so they could be ramping up their numbers soon.
Noah Sewell: The lone five-star
There was some hesitation early in the 2020 rankings cycle to make Noah Sewell a five-star. He was just so … big.
What other way could I explain it? The Orem, Utah, linebacker weighed between 250 and 260 pounds in high school and it was just incredible that someone that massive could stay at linebacker. There were questions whether he would have to move down and play some sort of hybrid role. What if he kept getting bigger like his brother, Penei, who’s now 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds and and offensive tackle with the Detroit Lions. Sewell’s father is also a big guy.
But after seeing Sewell at the Los Angeles Rivals Camp and then some other stops, and especially at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge, where he was so twitched up, covered so much ground and had no bad weight, we decided to move him up to five-star.
I definitely don’t regret the rankings bump, especially since Sewell went to Oregon and was a star in that defense with 218 tackles and 7.5 sacks in three seasons.
It will end up being an interesting debate, though, since Sewell is a fringe first-round NFL Draft pick. If he goes in the opening round, his five-star ranking looks perfect. If he slides into the second, a high four-star ranking would have been more accurate, but after seeing him so dominant in high school keeping him away from five stars was near impossible.
There is a good chance the Pac-12 will get a couple of first-round draft selections, with USC receiver Jordan Addison and Oregon defensive back Christian Gonzalez the most probable, but others could emerge as well.
Tight end Dalton Kincaid, who started as a two-star receiver at the University of San Diego before transferring to Utah, has a real chance to move that way. So does teammate Clark Phillips, a four-star cornerback from La Habra, Calif. Oregon five-star linebacker Noah Sewell is not out of question, either, as he should blow execs away at the combine.
The West Coast misses
It’s undeniable that there has been a significant talent drain from the West in recent recruiting cycles to national powerhouses that are thousands of miles away. Oregon’s Dan Lanning and USC’s Lincoln Riley could blunt those issues with success on the field - something the Trojans were not having before Riley entered the picture - but this NFL Draft only reinforces the concern.
Bryce Young was once committed to USC before flipping to Alabama. Down the road in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., was high four-star QB CJ Stroud, who chose Ohio State over Georgia and others.
Those two could be the first quarterbacks taken off the board - both in the top five probably - and neither played in the Pac-12.
Then there is five-star cornerback Kelee Ringo, who went to Georgia over many Pac-12 teams; five-star running back Bijan Robinson, who picked Texas over USC despite having family in Southern California; five-star tight end Darnell Washington, who went to Georgia over Miami, Tennessee and others; and four-star Isaiah Foskey, who went from Northern California to Notre Dame.
There were a lot of top prospects from the West in this draft that went elsewhere to play college ball.