The biggest signing day needs around the Pac-12
The Pac-12 is losing a lot of talented players to graduation and the NFL following the 2016 season. The loss of these players creates needs on every roster that must be filled. While some teams will be able to replace lost production with players returning from injury, transfers, or just younger players moving up the depth chart these needs must be filled in some fashion for each team to have a successful 2017 season. Here are a list of the biggest signing day needs around the Pac-12.
Arizona: Wide receivers
The Wildcats lost a bunch of snaps at wide receiver that will need to be replaced next season. Trey Griffey’s 709 snaps, Samajie Grant’s 641 and Nate Phillips’s 540 will need to be filled by younger players. However, quarterback Brandon Dawkins has a tendency to pull the ball down and run instead of throwing to open receivers, as he only had 1,348 passing yards compared to 995 rushing yards last season. The Wildcats need to get better production from the pocket for their passing game if they want to win more Pac-12 games next season so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Dawkins is beaten out in Spring practices by a younger quarterback who can get more production out of their passing attack.
Arizona State: Kicker
Zane Gonzalez was the best kicker in the country last season. Gonzalez kicked 60 touchbacks during the season making life difficult for opposing offenses by limiting their chance for big returns and good starting field position. Gonzalez’s accuracy as a field goal kicker was top-notch as he only made 26-of-28 field goals on the year with his only two misses coming from over 50 yards. Impressively Gonzalez was able to make 7 of his 9 field goals attempt from longer than 50 yards last year. In the crazy close Pac-12 after dark games that often come down to last second kicks a kicker like Gonzalez was a luxury for ASU. The Sun Devils could find themselves on the losing end of more of those close games than they want if they can’t get consistent production at the kicker position.
The last two years have seen the Bears lose their starting quarterback to the NFL draft. Home-grown product Jared Goff went No. 1 overall to the Rams and transfer Davis Webb only played one year and following a strong showing in the Senior Bowl and in team interviews will likely be selected in the upcoming draft as well. While the Bears will be a bit more defense-centric under their new head coach Justin Wilcox and won’t exactly be needing their quarterback to put up 4,000 passing yards as in years past, they will need a quarterback who can not only run their new offense at a high-level but who will also be around longer than one year.
The Buffaloes had the luxury of having arguably the nation’s most talented secondary in the 2016 season. However, they were also one of the nation’s most senior secondaries, and they are losing talented Tedric Thompson’s 941 snaps, Ahkello Witherspoon’s 856 and Chidobe Awuzie’s 915 to the NFL. That is a lot of lost production and playing time for the Buffaloes to overcome. The Buffaloes still have a very talented cornerback in Isaiah Oliver who will see a sharp increase in playing time and production in 2017. The Buffaloes will definitely take a step back in their ability to cover Pac-12 wide receivers in 2017 and will need to find the players to plug into the starting line-up.
Oregon: Tight end
The Ducks had a rare college football roster that featured three NFL-caliber tight ends. Unfortunately, all three won’t be around next season and the Ducks are losing Pharaoh Browns’s 496 snaps, Jonny Mundt’s 506 and Evan Baylis’s 323 to the next level as all three have a chance to catch on with NFL teams. Pharaoh Brown’s 1.88 yards per route run ranked No. 10 among Power-5 tight ends and Brown’s ability to be a mismatch player with his combination of size and speed will be missed. The shake-up to the coaching staff and offensive scheme may place a larger on emphasis on the tight end position than last regime which makes their loss felt even more.
Oregon State: Secondary
The Beavers started to make some progress last season but will be losing talented coverage players and key contributors to their defense this offseason in cornerback Treston Decoud and safety Devin Chappell. The Beavers will miss Devin Chappell’s 896 snaps of production not only for his coverage ability but because Chappell was the physical tone-setter for the Beavers’ defense. Treston Decoud was on the field for 903 snaps last year and outside of an injury that bugged him for a bit was quietly one of the premier cornerbacks in the Pac-12. Decoud’s performances were key components in all three of the Beavers’ conference wins — including limiting talented Cal WR Chad Hansen to only 4 catches for 12 yards in the Beavers victory. The Beavers will need to replace their production in order to keep gaining ground in the Pac-12 North.
Stanford: Wide receivers
The last few season have seen Stanford lose very good wide receivers such as Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and now this year losing Michael Rector’s 515 and Francis Owusu’s 253 snaps. Trenton Irwin and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside are returning talents at the wide receiver position, but the Cardinal passing attack was woeful last year and they will need to get more production and big plays out of the wide receiver position if they want to have a few more explosive plays so they can pull out one or two more conference victories and get back to the Pac-12 championship game. They also need one of the quarterbacks Ryan Burns or Keller Chyst to elevate their game.
USC: Pass protectors
The Trojans became a national powerhouse as soon as Sam Darnold took over at quarterback. Last season the Trojans offensive line ranked No. 10 in the Power-5 in pass-blocking efficiency, making life easier for Darnold and giving him the time to grow as a young quarterback. However, that unit is losing three starters to the NFL draft in both starting tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner as well as underclassman starting guard Damien Mama. Tackles Wheeler and Banner only allowed a combined 3 sacks, 6 hits and 20 hurries on 915 pass-blocking snaps. If the Trojans want to keep Darnold’s play trending the right direction they will need to keep finding talented offensive linemen to protect him.
UCLA: Pass protectors
Through the first two weeks of the season no quarterback in the country was more pressured than Josh Rosen. After the season the Bruins relieved both their offensive coordinator and their offensive line coach in an effort to do a much better job of protecting the future high NFL draft pick Rosen. Tackle Connor McDermott was the only offensive linemen the Bruins played regularly last year who had a positive pass-blocking grade, and he will be in an NFL training camp this summer. With the Bruins appearing to be running their third offense in three seasons and losing their best pass protector to the NFL they will have their work cut out for them protecting Josh Rosen.
Utah: Run blockers
The Utes style of play and identity are centered around bullying defenses in the run game with mauling run blockers. However, the Utes are losing their four best offensive linemen to the NFL. The loss of Garrett Bolles’s 961 snaps, Isaac Asiata 1,003 snaps, Sam Tevi’s 780 snaps and J.J. Dielman’s 299 snaps is a glaring area of need. In addition to the lost production, the Utes will also be losing a bunch of nasty and physical run-blockers and people-moving blocks that set the tone for the Utes’ offense in recent memory. Returning guard Salesi Uhatafe is a stout run-blocker but the Utes need to reload on the offensive line.
The Huskies fielded one of the best secondaries in the country in 2016 but they are getting pilfered by the NFL draft. The Huskies’ are losing Sidney Jones’s 804 snaps, Kevin King’s 824 snaps and Budda Baker’s 805 snaps and all three of those players are going to be playing on Sundays soon. The loss of Jones will be tough to fully recover from as his top-notch press coverage ability made offensive coordinators frightened and altered their game plans to avoid him. Baker’s versatility and play-making ability are also not easily replaced. The very talented and versatile Taylor Rapp remains in place for the Huskies secondary but they will need younger players like Rapp, JoJo Macintosh and others to play well if they are going to stay atop the Pac-12.
Washington State: Wide receivers
The Cougars offense likes to use 10 personnel quite a bit, which places 4 wide receivers, 1 running back and no tight ends on the field. Therefore, the wide receiver position group is one that needs to be deep with talented and ready players for the Cougars. While the Cougars wide receiver room will still have the talented Tavares Martin Jr and other young talent at the position losing Gabe Marks and River Cracraft is a big hit as both were some of the best at their position in the conference. Marks was one of the most productive wide receivers in Pac-12 history and the QB rating when throwing at him last season was 117.9 which ranked No. 16 among Power-5 wide receivers. River Cracraft was a highly productive player in the slot whose 70.0 catch rate in the slot ranked No. 12 among Power-5 wide receivers.