PFF's preseason All-Pac-12 team: Rosen, McCaffrey on top
There’s a lot of turnover in the Pac-12 this year as only five teams even return their starting quarterbacks from 2015. While young upstarts are definitely on this list, so are talented holdovers, and this list very much relfects both past production and how we project players will adapt to scheme changes in 2016.
That said, let’s take a look at the first- and second-team selections:
Quarterback: Josh Rosen, UCLA
Rosen performed well as a freshman but the offense is being changed to better reflect his skill set as a sophomore, and that’s why he gets the nod here. Rosen will be under center more in 2016 and relying more on play-action to generate big plays in the pass game. In 2015 Rosen was excellent on play-action passes completing 61.3 percent of them with 10 touchdowns. This year, Rosen should take a step in his development towards possibly being the top pick of the 2018 NFL draft.
Second team: Jake Browning, Washington
Running back: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
In 2015 McCaffrey’s record-breaking season saw him carry the ball 337 times for 2014 yards (6.0 average yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. Expect McCaffrey to carry the ball less this year but to have more goal line touches than he did in 2015, so he should top 10 rushing touchdowns. McCaffrey is also the best receiving running back in the country and had 45 catches for 643 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season and forced 14 missed tackles as a receiver.
Second team: Royce Freeman, Oregon
Fullback: Daniel Marx, Stanford
Marx has the advantage here as he gets to pave the way for Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love this season, and both of those players can easily exploit a good lead block into a huge run, making Marx look great in film room sessions. Marx’s +11.7 run blocking grade in 2015 ranks No. 1 among returning Power-5 fullbacks.
Wide receivers: Juju Smith-Schuster, USC and Gabe Marks, Washington State
Smith-Schuster is the premier playmaking wide receiver in the Pac-12 and a top NFL draft prospect. He’s big, strong, fast and can beat man coverage with size or speed. Smith-Schuster’s 1,454 receiving yards and his 594 yards after the catch both rank No. 1 among returning Pac-12 wide receivers.
Gabe Marks is one of the premier deep threats in all of college football. In 2015 Marks caught all 15 of the catchable deep passes (targets of 20 yards or more) that came his way for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Marks’s 65.2 percent catch rate on deep passes ranks No. 1 among all returning FBS wide receivers. Marks plays in a high-volume offense and with a top-tier quarterback in Luke Falk so he should have another highly-productive season in 2015.
Second team: Michael Rector, Stanford and Jordan Villamin, Oregon State
Slot receiver: John Ross, Washington
Ross is being moved back to the offensive side of the ball full-time in 2016 and he appears to be fully healthy. Ross is lightning-quick and a nightmare to try and cover or tackle. In 2014 John Ross touched the ball 24 times (18 receptions, 6 carries) on offense and scored five touchdowns.
Second team: River Cracraft, Washington State
Tight end: Pharaoh Brown, Oregon
The Ducks have arguably the best tight end group in all of college football and they snag both first- and second-team honors here. Pharaoh Brown is the Ducks’ most talented tight end but he missed the 2015 season due to injury. Brown is a big target who moves well, can be lined up in different areas and is effective as a pass catcher. In 2014 — his last healthy season — Brown ranked No. 4 among all FBS tight ends in slot performance in 2014.
Second team: Johnny Mundt, Oregon
Offensive Tackle: Zach Banner, USC and Tyrell Crosby, Oregon
Zach Banner is an elite NFL draft prospect. He is a massive man who can move well and can protect the outside of the line of scrimmage. In 2015 Banner only allowed one sack, two hits and six hurries on 406 pass rush snaps. Banner’s 98.3 pass blocking efficiency rating in 2015 ranks No.1 among returning Power-5 offensive tackles. Banner is also a great run blocker and his +15.6 run blocking grade ranks No. 5 among returning Power-5 offensive tackles.
Tyrell Crosby plays in Oregon’s zone blocking scheme and helps pave the way for the Ducks’ high-powered offense. Crosby’s +26.8 run blocking grade in ranks No. 1 among all returning FBS offensive tackles.
Second team: J.J. Dielman, Utah and Cole Madison, Washington State
Guard: Eduardo Middleton, Washington State and Johnny Caspers, Stanford
Middleton is one of the better pass blocking guards in all of FBS. In 2015 Middleton allowed two sacks, two hits, 13 hurries on a eye-popping 828 pass block snaps. Middleton’s +16.3 pass blocking grade ranks No.1 among all returning FBS guards.
Caspers will be counted on to help a young offensive line in 2016 as the Cardinal’ offensive line will feature new starters at multiple positions. Caspers’ run block grade of +9.7 ranks No. 2 among returning Pac-12 guards. While Stanford is a run-first offense Caspers was an excellent pass protector in 2015, yielding 0 sacks, 0 hits and 9 hurries on 379 pass block snaps.
Second team: Isaac Asiata, Utah and Chris Borrayo, Cal
Center: Riley Sorenson, Washington State
Sorenson plays in a pass-heavy scheme in Pullman and has the highest pass blocking grade of any returning Pac-12 center. In 710 pass blocking snaps in 2015 Sorenson allowed four sacks, two hits and 11 hurries. He also graded positively both as a run blocker and in the screen game.
Edge rushers: Solomon Thomas, Stanford and Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Thomas has lined up at both defensive tackle and defensive end in Stanford’s scheme. He’s also been a better run defender than pass rusher to this point — Thomas’s +20.9 run defense grade in 2015 ranks No. 6 among returning Power-5 interior defensive linemen — but based on his usage in the spring he should see increased reps as an edge rusher and a big increase in pass rush production this season.
The Bruins are changing their defense from a 3-4 to more four man fronts which should move McKinley from a 3-4 DE to more of a true 4-3 edge-rushing role in 2016. As a 3-4 DE in 2015 McKinley’s pass rush productivity would rank him No.4 in the FBS. McKinley’s burst off the edge is his key to production and he continues to develop physically.
Second team: Kylie Fitts, Utah and Joe Mathis, Washington
Defensive tackle: Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA and Elijah Qualls, Washington
Vanderdoes was dominant in his lone game last season against Virginia before missing the rest of the season with an injury. A healthy Vanderdoes should anchor one of the best defensive lines in the country. Expect highlights immediately from Vanderdoes in 2016.
Elijah Qualls is a nose tackle but with light quick feet and the first line of defense on the super talented Washington Huskies’ defense. Qualls graded positively both as a run defender (+11.5) and as a pass rusher (+6.4) last season and his overall grade ranks No. 10 among returning Power-5 defensive tackles.
Second team: Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, USC
Linebacker: Azeem Victor, Washington; Isaako Savaiinaea, UCLA: Salamo Fiso, Arizona State
Victor isn’t that well known outside of the Pac-12 but he is one of the better linebackers in the country. In 2015 Victor graded positively as a run-stopper, in coverage, and his pass-rushing grade ranks No. 2 among returning Power-5 linebackers.
Fiso is a tackling machine in the run game and his +16.1 run defense grade ranks No. 2 among returning Power-5 linebackers. He also added seven sacks, three hits and 19 hurries as a pass rusher in 2015.
Savaiinaea’s +3.3 coverage grade ranks No. 1 among returning Pac-12 linebackers. He only allowed 18 catches for 179 yards and 0 touchdowns in 2015. Savaiinaea will have a slightly different role in UCLA’s new defensive scheme and will be one of the defensive players to watch in the Pac-12.
Second team: Paul Magloire Jr., Arizona; De’Andre Miller, Arizona; Porter Gustin, USC
Cornerback: Adoree’ Jackson, USC and Sidney Jones, Washington
Adoree Jackson is still a better athlete than football player at this point but he has the speed and movement ability to be an NFL cornerback. Jackson — the Pac-12 long jump champion — can play cornerback or wide receiver, do back flips and return punts and kicks.
Sidney Jones helps lead a very talented Huskies secondary. In 2015 Jones only allowed a 54.0 QB rating when targeted. He is one of the better returning cornerbacks in the country and a top NFL draft prospect.
Second team: Darrien Molton, Washington State and Reginald Porter, Utah
Slot cornerback: Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
Chidobe Awuzie is a versatile and physical defensive back capable of playing cornerback, slot cornerback or safety. He excels at run support and as a blitzer and can be employed in a number of ways. Awuzie’s coverage and pass rush grades rank No. 1 among returning Pac-12 cornerbacks.
Second team: Quenton Meeks, Stanford
Safety: Budda Baker, Washington and Marcus Williams, Utah
Baker is an undersized but instinctive playmaking safety who graded positively in coverage, in run support and as a pass rusher in 2015. Opposing quarterbacks only managed a 66.1 QB rating when throwing Baker’s way.
Marcus Williams has graded positively as a run defender in the last two seasons. Williams is also a ball hawk who had five interceptions in 2015 and opposing quarterbacks only manage a 53.4 QB rating when targeting Williams.
Second team: Tedric Thompson, Colorado and Randall Goforth, UCLA
Kicker: Andy Phillips, Utah
Andy Phillips is the best field goal kicker in the Pac-12 and didn’t miss a field goal shorter than 40 yards in 2015. Second-team selection Gonzales’s performance in 2015 put a good bit of distance between himself and the rest of the kickers in the Pac-12 with his ability to kick the ball deep on kickoffs as he led the Pac-12 with 66 touchbacks.
Second team: Zane Gonzalez, ASU
Punter: Matt Haack, ASU
Matt Haack has a powerful leg and lead the Pac-12 in 2015 in most statistical categories. Haack’s maximum punt hang time, net yards per punt and number of punts downed inside the 20 all rank No. 1 among returning Pac-12 punters.
Second team: Nick Porebski, Oregon State
Return specialist: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Christian McCaffrey had an incredible 1072 yards last year solely on kick returns. McCaffrey’s vision, open-field running ability and elusiveness make him a highly effective returner. He also had one punt return and one kick return for a touchdown in 2015. McCaffery is a special player who is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.
Second team: Adoree’ Jackson, USC