Pac-12 superlatives: Best passer, toughest to tackle and more

With Pac-12 media days underway, analyst Jordan Plocher identifies the conference's top talent in every category.

| 3 months ago
(Steve Dykes, Getty Images)

(Steve Dykes, Getty Images)

Pac-12 superlatives: Best passer, toughest to tackle and more

The arrival of Pac-12 media days is proof that college football is almost here. The catalog of talented returning players in the Pac-12 is highlighted by accurate quarterbacks and productive running backs.

We graded every Pac-12 player on every play in every game. Who are the best players at specific skills that will be returning to action out west? These are our picks for 2016 Pac-12 superlatives:

Best deep passer: Sefo Liufau, Colorado

Sefo Liufau and Jake Browning both had a 50.0 adjusted completion percentage on passes targeted 20 yards or more downfield. However, Liufau wins the title of Pac-12’s best deep passer due to his consistency with positive grades to all three areas of the field—deep left, deep middle, deep right. Liufau also had more touchdowns, more yards, and fewer interceptions throwing deep than Browning.

Runner-up: Jake Browning, Washington

Most accurate QB under pressure: Luke Falk, Washington State

Falk’s 69.1 adjusted completion percentage when under pressure led the conference in 2015. He also threw six touchdowns and no interceptions on 146 dropbacks while under pressure. Falk is the only returning starting quarterback in the conference to not throw an interception under pressure in 2015.

Runner-up: Jake Browning, Washington

Toughest HB to tackle: Royce Freeman, Oregon

Freeman forced 80 missed tackles on rushes and 9 missed tackles on receptions. His 108.6 elusive rating ranks No. 1 among all returning Pac-12 running backs. He averaged an impressive 3.77 yards after contact per attempt in 2015.

Runner-up: Vic Enwere, Cal

Most productive out of the backfield: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

McCaffrey’s record-breaking season saw him carry the ball 337 times for 2014 yards (6.0 average yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. He also added 643 receiving yards. McCaffrey did line up in the slot at times but 26 of his catches came behind the line of scrimmage.

Runner-up: Royce Freeman, Oregon

Best hands: Philip Lindsay, Colorado

Lindsay saw 26 catchable passes come his way in 2015 and he caught all of them. No other returning Pac-12 running back with at least 15 targets had the perfect 0.00 drop rate that Lindsay had. Royce Freeman had one drop on 27 catchable balls.

Runner-up: Royce Freeman, Oregon

Most productive TE: Kody Kohl, ASU

Kohl had more targets (51) and receiving yards (368) than any other returning Pac-12 tight end. He also had four touchdowns which ties for No. 1 among returning Pac-12 tight ends with Utah’s Harrison Handley and USC’s Taylor McNamara.

Runner-up: Harrison Handley, Utah

Most productive WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

Smith-Schuster is a big, strong and fast playmaker who caught 89 passes for 1454 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015. Both his 1454 receiving yards and his 594 yards after the catch rank No. 1 among returning Pac-12 wide receivers.

Runner-up: Gabe Marks, Washington State

Best deep threat: Gabe Marks, Washington State

Marks caught all 15 of his catchable deep passes (targets of 20 yards or more) in 2015 for 381 yards and five touchdowns. His 65.2 percent catch rate on deep passes not only leads the Pac-12 but ranks No. 1 among all returning FBS wide receivers

Runner-up: JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

Best pass blocking tackle: Zach Banner, USC

Banner only allowed 1 sack, 2 hits and 6 hurries on 406 pass blocking snaps in 2015. Banner’s 98.3 percent pass-blocking efficiency ranks No. 1 among all returning Power-5 offensive tackles. The Trojans will be looking for him to keep his new starting quarterback clean.

Runner-up: Jake Eldrenkamp, Washington

Best run blocker: Tyrell Crosby, Oregon

The right tackle in the Ducks’ zone-blocking offense, Crosby’s +26.8 run blocking grade ranks No.1 among returning Pac-12 offensive linemen. Dielman’s +16.3 run blocking grade ranks No.2.

Runner-up: J.J. Dielman, Utah

Best tackling linebacker: Jayon Brown, UCLA

No returning Pac-12 linebacker had more tackles in 2015 than Jayon Brown’s 83. Brown only missed one tackle per 13.5 tackle attempts in 2015 which ranks No.2 among returning Pac-12 inside linebackers.

Runner-up: Azeem Victor, Washington

Most productive pass rusher: Hercules Mataafa, Washington State

Hercules Mataafa had seven sacks, nine hits, and 21 hurries on 229 pass rush snaps in a reserve role in 2015. Mataafa’s 12.9 pass rush productivity rating ranks No.1 among returning Pac-12 front-seven defenders.

Runner-up: Kylie Fitts, Utah

Best run stuffer: Salamo Fiso, ASU

Fiso is a high-volume tackler who had 49 run stops in 2015. Fiso’s 13.6 run stop percentage ranks No. 1 among returning Pac-12 defenders. Solomon Thomas had 23 run stops and his +20.9 run defense grade ranks No. 1 among returning Pac-12 defenders but Fiso’s edge in overall production wins out.

Runner-up: Solomon Thomas, Stanford

Best defensive playmaker: Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado

Awuzie had four sacks, two interceptions and five passes defensed in 2015. Awuzie is a physical and versatile defender who can play any position in the secondary. Awuzie’s coverage and pass rush grades rank No. 1 among returning Pac-12 cornerbacks. The versatile Thomas can play DT or DE, he had four sacks, six hits and 15 hurries in 2015 and his +20.9 run defense grade ranks No.1 among all returning Pac-12 interior defensive linemen.

Runner-up: Solomon Thomas, Stanford

Best returner: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

McCaffrey posted an eye-popping 1072 yards just on kick returns alone in 2015. He also returned one kick and one punt for touchdowns. Adoree’ Jackson’s kick return average wasn’t as good as McCaffrey’s but his 13.2 punt return average was better than McCaffrey’s 8.6. Jackson also added two punt return touchdowns.

Runner-up: Adoree’ Jackson, USC


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