5. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Thomas claims track and field season made him even faster — a frightening prospect given that he already threatened to score whenever he touched the ball. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound back is about 20 pounds lighter than All-American predecessors Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James, but is more versatile as a receiver and returner. He’s also responsible for the best tweets in the Pac-12.
4. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Mariota was the seventh-most efficient quarterback in the country last season, but his 163.2 rating came on 205.9 yards per game — 10th in the Pac-12. That’s not exactly his fault: Oregon blew out so many opponents in 2012 that the redshirt freshman only threw 24 fourth-quarter passes. An talented runner and passer, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry while completing more than 68 percent of his throws. Unlike recent Ducks quarterbacks, Mariota also has very legitimate NFL potential.
3. Will Sutton, Arizona State
At 6-foot-1, Sutton is a little shorter than most elite defensive tackles; he more than makes up for it with bulk (288 pounds) and explosiveness. The defending Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year was remarkably consistent in 2012, making at least one tackle for loss in every game he played. His 23.5 TFL on the season tied for second nationally with South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, an almost certain top-two pick in the next NFL Draft.
2. Anthony Barr, UCLA
The stats: 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, good for second and fourth in the country.
The facts: Barr could have been a top-20 pick after just one season at outside linebacker. He has a prototypical frame at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds. He reportedly ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. UCLA may even use him in offensive goal-line packages.
1. Marqise Lee, USC
Jim Mora stressed the importance of routine all last season, often brushing off opposing injuries or suspensions as insignificant. More important, he claimed, was preparing for schemes.
For Lee, the he didn’t bother. “He’d be an impact player at the next level right now,” the UCLA coach said, one of his many compliments leading up to the rivalry game.
The USC star is the best pro receiver prospect since A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2011. That pair has already combined for three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro mention. Not having Matt Barkley may hurt his production a bit — second nationally with 1,721 yards in 2012 — but Lee is almost unanimously regarded as the Pac-12’s brightest talent. His strength as a blocker makes him even more valuable.