Top Pac-12 players: Nos. 21-25

Ishmael Adams isn't only one of the better cover guys in the Pac-12 but one of its best return men as well. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

We begin our countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 heading into the 2015 season.

If you're feeling nostalgic, here is how last year's preseason list looked. We'll continue to count things down, five players a day, until the series concludes Friday with Nos. 1-5.

21. Jared Norris, LB, Utah

Norris was quietly one of the most productive defensive players in the conference last season when he finished fourth in total tackles (116). He tallied 13 tackles for loss and four sacks and was an all-conference honorable mention pick. After starting the past two seasons, Norris heads into his senior year as one of the unquestioned leaders on one of the Pac-12’s top defenses.

22. Juju Smith, WR, USC

With Nelson Agholor off to the NFL, Smith is poised to become Cody Kessler's No. 1 target after a true freshman season in which he caught 54 passes for 724 yards and five touchdowns. In his debut against Fresno State, Smith set the USC first-year freshman record with 123 yards from scrimmage and went on to share second-team All-Pac-12 all-purpose/special-teams honors with Oregon's Charles Nelson. Yet Smith somehow wasn't included on the Biletnikoff Award watch list.

23. Charles Nelson, CB, Oregon

With one of the most unique roles in the the country -- one that is still loosely defined -- Nelson begins his sophomore year on the Paul Hornung Award watch list, an award that is given to the nation's most versatile player. What we do know is that the speedy sophomore will spend time in all three phases: at corner, receiver and in the return game. To what degree at each, only time will tell. He finished third on the team last season, averaging 67.8 all-purpose yards per game.

24. Ishmael Adams, CB, UCLA

A first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, Adams has started 26 consecutive games for the Bruins. Over the past two seasons, he has six interceptions, returning a pair for touchdowns last season. Also a factor in the return game, Adams returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State. His 22.7-yard average on kickoff returns ranked ninth in the Pac-12.

25. Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

When the Wildcats faced uncertainty at running back in the wake of All-American Ka'Deem Carey's departure for the NFL, Wilson quickly emerged as a suitable replacement. He rushed for 104 yards in his debut and followed it up with a pair of 170-plus-yard performances to round out nonconference play. An All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick, Wilson finished his true freshman season with 1,375 yards rushing and scored 17 touchdowns -- second-most in the Pac-12.