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Pac-12 Preview: Quarterback rankings

The 2017 Pac-12 quarterback class appears to be the deepest the conference has had in years, as three different signal-callers are being touted as potential first round NFL Draft picks.

To download this week's edition of the 'Sun Devil Source Report' podcast and listen to our 'Pac-12 Preview: Quarterbacks and running backs' episode, click here.

As the spring comes to a close and the summer arrives, SunDevilSource will provide broader context for our Arizona State player capsules and player preparedness and potential grades by embarking on a podcast series that compares the Sun Devils' depth at various position groups to the rest of the teams around the Pac-12 conference.

Each week, SunDevilSource analysts Chris Karpman and Kerry Crowley will review position groups for each Pac-12 team, and draft the players from those groups in order of which players they would most like to have on their own hypothetical rosters. In each podcast, Chris and Kerry trade off picks in an effort to build the deepest team. 

To begin the series, SunDevilSource is reviewing quarterbacks around the Pac-12 in a year in which the conference could produce multiple first round draft picks at the position. 

Quarterbacks

1. USC --Though he only has one year of starting experience under his belt, USC's Sam Darnold is one of the conference's top overall NFL prospects and has all the intangibles necessary to excel at the quarterback position. After starting the 2016 season as the Trojans' backup, Darnold supplanted Max Browne on the depth chart and never looked back as he threw for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns. Darnold will enter the 2017 season as a redshirt sophomore, but is draft-eligible after this season.

2. Washington State-- Since taking over as the head coach at Texas Tech in 2000, Mike Leach has produced a lengthy list of prolific signal-callers that have helped rewrite college football's record books. Still, Leach may have his best quarterback yet in Washington State's Luke Falk, a 6-foot-4 passer who could have turned pro after his junior season, but elected to return to Pullman for another year. The Cougars are in excellent shape with Falk leading their Air Raid attack, as he has the arm strength and accuracy to tear any Pac-12 defense apart.

3. Washington-- It's hard to believe Jake Browning, the Pac-12's top Heisman candidate from a season ago, isn't off the board until the third overall pick, but that's the state of affairs in a conference loaded with talent at the position. Browning is a tremendous fit for coach Chris Petersen's system, a game manager who boasts strong decision-making skills and almost always takes care of the football. Browning benefits from an outstanding supporting cast of athletes, but his 3,430 passing yards and 43 touchdown passes last season were no fluke.

4. Oregon-- An early surprise, but SunDevilSource ranks Oregon's Justin Herbert ahead of UCLA's Josh Rosen on the strength of an impressive true freshman campaign. Herbert took over for graduate transfer Dakota Prukop, and showed poise beyond his years for a Ducks team that struggled throughout the 2016 season. Herbert wound up throwing for nearly 2,000 yards last year, but his most impressive stat was a 19:4 touchdown to interception ratio that is exceptionally rare for a player with such limited experience. Herbert has a high ceiling as a passer, and if Oregon surrounds him with enough weapons, he could really take off in year two.

5. UCLA-- Though Bruins' quarterback Josh Rosen is probably higher on most lists ranking Pac-12 quarterbacks, he slides into the fifth spot in the SunDevilSource rankings after a challenging sophomore season in which he missed most of the second half of the year with a serious injury. Rosen has all the potential in the world, but he has yet to put it together on the field for UCLA in a consistent fashion. If Rosen rebounds with a strong 2017 campaign, expect his name to once again rise up draft boards as he could be one of the first quarterbacks selected next April.

6. Colorado-- After four seasons of Sefo Liufau, the Buffaloes are ready to turn the keys over to sophomore Steven Montez, who played in spurts as a redshirt freshman when Liufau was injured. The future is clearly bright for Colorado with Montez running the offense, as the El Paso, Texas native became the first quarterback in Colorado history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game when he led the Buffaloes to a thrilling win over Oregon. Montez may be more turnover prone than Liufau early in his career, but don't expect much of a drop off in production.

7. Arizona State-- Regardless of who wins the Arizona State quarterback battle, be it Manny Wilkins or Blake Barnett, SunDevilSource believes the Sun Devils will enjoy at least middle-tier quarterback play from their starter this season. Wilkins is the incumbent and threw for over 1,000 yards while running for 250 yards in his first four games last year, but an injury derailed his progress and changed the course of his season. Though it's difficult to project who leads the Sun Devils onto the field in game one, ASU's quarterback play should improve from last year.

8. Utah-- A former Washington quarterback, Utah's Troy Williams transferred to Santa Monica College in 2015 before signing with the Utes and winning the starting job in 2016. A better athlete than a quarterback, Williams has impressive escapability in the pocket and a strong enough arm to make downfield throws, but he's not especially accurate. Last season, Williams enjoyed the benefit of a strong running attack and one of the best offensive lines in the Pac-12, and it will be a challenge for him to maintain his level of play as the line turns over in Salt Lake City this season.

9. Stanford-- Last season, former five-star quarterback prospect Keller Chryst had difficulty cutting into the playing time of veteran Ryan Burns, and as a result, Stanford's quarterback play was largely underwhelming. While the Cardinal were able to rely on Christian McCaffrey for the bulk of their offensive production, Stanford may struggle in the post-McCaffrey era if coach David Shaw can't find a passer capable of managing games the way multi-year starter Kevin Hogan did. Chryst is once again in a battle for the starting job, but an ACL injury will allow highly-regarded redshirt freshman K.J. Costello and true freshman Davis Mills to compete for reps and one of those players may wind up having the inside track to the starting job.

10. Arizona-- Though head coach Rich Rodriguez's system isn't exactly quarterback-friendly, junior Brandon Dawkins is as talented as any athlete in the Pac-12 and has the opportunity to put up impressive numbers because Rodriguez's scheme is so quarterback-reliant. While that reliance often leads to injuries because players like Dawkins are carrying the ball on a regular basis, Dawkins is elusive and shifty as a runner and has the arm strength to make any throw as a passer. Like Utah's Williams, accuracy is a major issue for Dawkins, which is why his ceiling as a quarterback is still relatively low.

11. Oregon State-- The Beavers have struggled to find any sort of consistency at the quarterback position since Sean Mannion matriculated to the NFL, but Marcus McMaryion emerged as the team's best option a season ago. Though Oregon State is probably at its best when it's running the ball effectively, McMaryion did throw for 10 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards last season after taking over as the starter midway through the year.

12. Cal-- Under new head coach Justin Wilcox and new offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, life won't be easy for the Bears in the post Davis Webb-era. Nevertheless, the Bears were able to shrink the team's quarterback competition down to two candidates after spring ball, as sophomore Ross Bowers and junior Chase Forrest are now the finalists to lead the Cal offense in 2017. Cal didn't use a backup in 2016, but Bowers was the player who presumably would have entered a game had Webb been forced to come out. 


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