Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 Jan 2018

Rob Weintraub's Pac-12 Alumni Trophies

by Rob Weintraub

College football: where the bands play, the fans sneak in flasks in their long underwear, and the players prepare for that day when they finally get paid to knock heads with the opposition. The NFL's minor leagues are of course intrinsic to its success, but the second the draft ends we seem to collectively forget about where the pros plied their trade on Saturdays (except for those couple of minutes during the intros on Sunday nights).

So welcome to the sixth edition of my annual thought exercise: choosing the best NFL player that season from each of the Power Five college programs. It's a great way to gauge the health of collegiate teams, an indicator of the volatility of the pro game, and, most of all, a fun argument-starter for the extra week before the Super Bowl.

Pac-12 Conference

ARIZONA (11)

2012: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
2013: Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia
2014: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
2015: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
2016: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
2017: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England

Another no-brainer for Gronk, appropriately enough.

ARIZONA STATE (14)

2012: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati
2013: Terrell Suggs, DE, Baltimore
2014: Terrell Suggs, DE, Baltimore
2015: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati
2016: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati
2017: Terrell Suggs, DE, Baltimore

The annual battle for AFC North Sun Devil supremacy swings back to T-Sizzle, who notched 11 sacks at age 35. More importantly, he suited up for all 16 games, unlike Burfict, who between suspension and injury only managed to play in 10 games. He laid the lumber when he was out there, but availability wins out.

     

CALIFORNIA (32)

2012: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
2013: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle
2014: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
2015: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
2016: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
2017: Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans

An underrated source of top pro talent, even without Rodgers at full go. Jared Goff stepped into the quarterback void with a remarkable turnaround season, but Jordan was one of the best defenders in the league -- and his Saints won their first playoff game, while Goff and the Rams fell at home.

COLORADO (13)

2012: Nate Solder, T, New England
2013: Mason Crosby, K, Green Bay
2014: Nate Solder, T, New England
2015: David Bakhtiari, T, Green Bay
2016: David Bakhtiari, T, Green Bay
2017: David Bakhtiari, T, Green Bay

It's Bakh-to-Bakh-to-Bakh for the Packers tackle, who turned in another strong season.

OREGON (29)

2012: Jarius Byrd, S, Buffalo
2013: Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore
2014: Max Unger, C, Seattle
2015: Max Unger, C, New Orleans
2016: Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee
2017: Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee

Yes, it was a retrograde season for the former Heisman winner from Hawaii. But no other former Duck waddled up to seize the award from Double-M. Max Unger, LaGarrette Blount, Ed Dickson, Kyle Long, DeForest Buckner -- you prefer any of those guys? Willie Taggart seemed poised to stem the attrition in the Eugene pipeline, but he blew town just as things were looking up. Tough times in Phil Knight's playground.

     

OREGON STATE (24)

2012: Brandon Browner, CB, Seattle
2013: Keenan Lewis, CB, New Orleans
2014: Keenan Lewis, CB, New Orleans
2015: Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans
2016: Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans
2017: Johnny Hekker, P, Los Angeles Rams

With apologies to Cooks and Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer, both of whom turned in fine seasons, Hekker was easily the best at his position in the sport. Plus it's a heckuva fun name to say. One bucktoothed-shaped trophy is headed Hekker's way.

STANFORD (30)

2012: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis
2013: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle
2014: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis
2015: Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle
2016: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle
2017: David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh

From the heights of the annual Luck-Sherman battles to a lowly guard winning it -- the Cardinal Trophy has fallen suddenly on hard times. Not that DeCastro wasn't excellent this season, but the likes of David Shaw had to be hoping for a little more sizzle from Christian McCaffrey after the boldfaced names got hurt. Blake Martinez had a good season in Green Bay, but this trophy is size Double-D this year.

UCLA (33)

2012: Akeem Ayers, LB, Tennessee
2013: Datone Jones, DE, Green Bay
2014: Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota
2015: Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota
2016: Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota
2017: Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota

The Bruins are usually thought of as an offense-first program, but their best pro alumni are defenders. Takk McKinley had a solid rookie campaign in Atlanta, and Kendricks was good once again. But Vikes teammate Barr bounced back to his usual high-level after a mysteriously poor 2016. Meanwhile, his crunching of Aaron Rodgers broke the quarterback's collarbone and altered the balance of power in the NFC. That's more than enough to reclaim the bearclaw-shaped UCLA trophy.

USC (44)

2012: Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay
2013: Ryan Kahlil, C, Carolina
2014: Tyron Smith, T, Dallas
2015: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona
2016: Tyron Smith, T, Dallas
2017: Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota

Smith's injury and slight backward step in level of play opened the door for Griffen to slip in and swipe the (Best) Man of Troy award, thanks to 13 sacks. Tennessee defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster were in the hunt as well, though overall Southern Cal's pro production isn't close to the talent that came through during the Pete Carroll era.

UTAH (29)

2012: Paul Kruger, LB, Baltimore
2013: Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City
2014: Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina
2015: Eric Weddle, S, San Diego
2016: Eric Weddle, S, Baltimore
2017: Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City

It ended in classic ALEX fashion, but Smith's 2017 was plenty good enough to claim the Ute award in a lackluster season for the program.

WASHINGTON (23)

2012: Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco
2013: Mason Foster, LB, Tampa Bay
2014: Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta
2015: Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta
2016: Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City
2017: Budda Baker, S, Arizona

Peters was good in coverage as usual, but his wild side (including throwing a penalty flag into the stands in protest of an interference call) drop him back. Trufant was in the running, as was Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson, but the lead Husky was Baker, an elite special teams performer this season.

WASHINGTON STATE (8)

2012: Brandon Gibson, WR, St. Louis
2013: Ryan Lindell, K, Tampa Bay
2014: Deone Bucannon, S, Arizona
2015: Deone Bucannon, LB, Arizona
2016: Deone Bucannon, LB, Arizona
2017: Deone Bucannon, LB, Arizona

His impact isn't what the Cards hoped for when they drafted him, but pros from the Paloose don't have much impact in general, so Bucannon wins again.

You can enjoy Rob Weintraub's Alumni Trophies for other conferences here:

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 31 Jan 2018

1 comment, Last at 31 Jan 2018, 5:35pm by dryheat

Comments

1
by dryheat :: Wed, 01/31/2018 - 5:35pm

I don't know if he was better than Mariota, but Patrick Chung was much better than the guys you mentioned as alternatives.