- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ten Pac-12 players opted to enter the NFL draft a year early. Several others opted to come back.
Here are the guys who left: Keenan Allen, WR, California; Robert Woods, WR, USC; Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State; Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford; Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford; David Bakhtiari, OL, Colorado; Joe Kruger, DE, Utah; Nickell Robey, CB, USC; Terrence Brown, CB, Stanford; and Steve Williams, CB, California
And here are the notable guys who stayed: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State; Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA; Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford; Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford; Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford; and Deandre Coleman, DE, California
So how do things stand?
Biggest winners: Sutton was the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American, yet he opted to return for his senior year, perhaps the most surprising call by a conference prospect. Barr has perhaps more NFL upside than any other player in the conference, but he opted to return to UCLA. The Sun Devils and Bruins' defenses just got a whole lot better in 2013. And these two figure to battle for 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Biggest loser: Stanford was a winner and a loser. The good news was Skov, Murphy and Gardner opting to return to what should be an outstanding defense. Still, no other team lost three quality starters: Ertz, Toilolo and Brown. Ertz and Toilolo were cornerstones of the Cardinal's tight end-heavy attack, combing for 95 catches and 10 touchdowns last season. Ertz is a likely early draft pick, so his departure is understandable. Toilolo's is a bit more surprising, seeing that he could put up huge numbers as a feature guy in 2013 for a high-profile team, which would boost his prospects. Brown also was a bit of a surprise, as he was a solid but unremarkable player.
Headscratchers: Brown, California cornerback Steve Williams and Utah defensive end Joe Kruger all entered the draft with uncertain prospects. Each was only honorable mention All-Conference this season. Each might have been able to boost his stock by coming back in 2013, but a verdict on this won't be delivered until draft day.
The replacements: Here are some ideas on who steps in for the departed guys:
With Ertz and Toilolo, the most obvious replacement is moving Ryan Hewitt back to the position he played before switching to fullback this past season. As for Brown, the expectation is that junior Wayne Lyons should be ready for his star turn.
Cal now has only one returning starter in its secondary in safety Michael Lowe. Junior Kameron Jackson was the No. 3 cornerback this past fall, and the hope is the once-touted Stefan McClure will come back 100 percent after missing last season with a knee injury. As for Allen, Cal restocked its receiving corps last recruiting class, so rising true sophomores Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Darius Powe will be expected to take a step forward in 2013.
USC also has some obvious youngsters to step in for Woods, though the first question is whether junior George Farmer will ever stay healthy enough to live up to his recruiting hype. Next in line would be sophomores Nelson Agholor and Victor Blackwell. As for replacing Robey, USC has across-the-board questions in its secondary after losing three of four starters from a unit that was underwhelming this fall. Converted safety Josh Shaw could man one corner, while Torin Harris and Anthony Brown offer experience, though it's notable that Harris was academically ineligible for the Sun Bowl. Don't be surprised if a youngster works his way into the mix.
With a new coach at Colorado, don't be surprised to see some shuffling along the offensive line, which makes it difficult to project who steps in for Bakhtiari at left tackle. Sophomore Marc Mustoe was his backup last season, but 2012 right tackle Stephane Nembot, an impressive athlete, could move over to the critical blindside protector spot.
The loss of Kruger means Utah has three spots on its defensive line to fill, including of course All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Senior Niasi Leota is the most likely replacement, and at 6-foot-4, 278 pounds he best fills Kruger's dimensions. Trevor Reilly, more of an outside linebacker type at 245 pounds, was listed as an "Or" for much of the year with Kruger for when the Utes used a more 3-4 look.
2dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller