- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN writers and analysts put together a ranking of the top 100 football players nationwide. The #CFBrank reflects how certain players are seen on a national level as writers who cover every conference participated in the vote. But, at the Pac-12 blog, we decided to break it down further and rank our top 25 Pac-12 players. The #4pac put together this list and will be counting down our top 25 guys this week. But make sure you pay close attention -- we know that how players are viewed nationally aren't quite how they're viewed in the conference, so our top 25 doesn't necessarily follow the same pecking order as the 20 conference players who ended up on the nation's top 100 list.
Now, on to the list. Drum roll, please.
No. 25: Stanford DE Henry Anderson
2013 Stats: 19 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks
Why he’s ranked here: For as much as we keep talking about how this season is "The Year of the Pac-12 Quarterbacks," it also could prove to be the year for pass-rushers to really prove themselves, and Anderson is in that spot. Players such as Anderson will have ample opportunity to get to first- and second-round NFL draft picks every single weekend, which will undoubtedly help their own draft stock. He has flown under the radar a bit throughout his career, but we think he's on track for a huge senior season. He finished with three sacks in 2013, but with pass-rushers such as Trent Murphy (23.5 TFL, 15 sacks) gone, the Cardinal will be looking for someone else to step up in the scheme. That will likely be Anderson.
At Pac-12 media days last week, Stanford coach David Shaw said that he thinks defensive coordinators "will have their hands full all year accounting for the combination of these schemes and [how] they're intricate and difficult and different." But Shaw's defensive coordinator, Lance Anderson, will have a much easier time of it with his 6-foot-6, 295 pound pass-rusher up front. Yes, Stanford will have to face UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and USC, but Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler will have to face Anderson.
No. 24: Utah WR Dres Anderson
2013 Stats: 53 catches, 1,002 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns, 8 carries, 30 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
Why he’s ranked here: Last year, Anderson became just the seventh Ute to ever have a 1,000-yard receiving season. This year, he'll likely put up much bigger numbers. Assuming quarterback Travis Wilson -- who was medically cleared recently -- is truly back and ready to go, Anderson is going to be a guy who will be able to stretch defenses and test players in one-on-one situations. He's the son of former NFL receiver Willie "Flipper" Anderson (who was on the Los Angeles Rams when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's father was a coach for the Rams as well, so Whittingham has known about the Anderson pedigree even before Dres was born).
Anderson is the conference's returning leading receiver (at 87.7 yards/game). Last year, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff all impressed and gained national recognition. Could this be the year for Anderson to do so? Wilson is a returning starter, though not one that's usually mentioned in the top group of the Pac-12 QBs, but a great receiver can make his signal-caller very, very good. We have a feeling that Anderson could be a player that raises that level for Wilson.
No. 23: USC S Su'a Cravens
2013 Stats: 52 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 4 interceptions, 1 pass break up, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Why he’s ranked here: Cravens earned a starting spot in the USC secondary as a freshman last season after enrolling early. He's one of just two sophomores to make this list (we're guessing you know who the other one is). Cravens recorded four interceptions in 2013 and finished eighth on the team in total tackles, and even with that kind of a year he has admitted that he allowed the crowds to get to him and that he was nervous at times. That's not surprising for a freshman, but if last year was Cravens being affected by fans and stadiums, what could a 2014 version look like in which he's older, more mature and not affected by the bright lights? That's what puts him at No. 23 on this list. He was already named to watch lists for the Jim Thorpe Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He's on track to having an excellent career at USC, but his next step will be having a stellar, consistent sophomore season. And we have a feeling he's on his way to that.
No. 22: Oregon RB Byron Marshall
2013 Stats: 168 carries, 1,038 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 catches, 155 receiving yards
Why he’s ranked here: Marshall was the Ducks' leading rusher in 2013 and is back and looking at an even bigger season in 2014. With Marcus Mariota back, defenses are going to have to be cautious up front because of the mobile threat he provides. Even if defenses are able to stop Mariota's feet, they're still going to need to worry about Marshall and his feet. In fact, defenses are going to have to worry about the whole gamut of Duck rushers. Mariota averaged 7.4 yards per carry last year while Marshall and running back Thomas Tyner (who is putting up a fight for the starting spot in Eugene) both averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Past those two, offensive coordinator Scott Frost is still high on several other players in the running backs' meeting room. But if Marshall can build on his experience, he could be the lead back for the Ducks in what could be a very, very big season for them.
No. 21: Arizona WR Austin Hill
2013 Stats: DNP ... 2012 stats: 81 catches, 1,364 yards, 11 touchdowns
Why he’s ranked here: In 2012, Hill was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist after putting up 11 touchdowns and 1,364 yards -- good enough for second-best in the Pac-12 -- as a sophomore. But he sat out last season as he rehabbed a torn ACL and had to spend the year on the couch, watching the Wildcats lose five games, including three by a touchdown or less. "Missing a season after coming off a good season, it was really rough," Hill told the Pac-12 Networks at Pac-12 media days. "But, I made it through." And now that he's on the other side, and after an impressive spring season, he's looking to have a huge impact on Arizona football in 2014. One thing that could keep him from that is the fact that Arizona is once again in a quarterback quandary and Hill doesn't know exactly who the ball will be coming from. At Pac-12 media days he said he was working to build chemistry with every QB that comes through, but that he's hoping one begins to really separate himself as the season inches closer, so that he can work to just get on the same page with that guy. If he is able to find that relationship, there's a good chance we see a bigger, better version of the 2012 Austin Hill.
4dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller