Former DPOYs, Running Backs, and QB Transfers highlight Pac-12
Utah - Junior Tafuna (Defensive Tackle)
The 2021 Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year will look to continue his fantastic play in the 2022 season.
Tafuna recorded 33 tackles (5.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), a fumble recovery, and a pass breakup in 13 games in 2021.
Utah DC Morgan Scalley said in the Deseret News, "He's devoted his time during the offseason to put on the right weight. He's another 15 pounds heavier than he was. He's striking very well. We anticipate him having a very special season."
Stanford - E.J. Smith (Running Back)
I included in my article for 5 Under the Radar Players, E.J. Smith, it bears repeating.
Smith is an exceptional talent and David Shaw, head coach of Stanford, feels the same way.
Shaw said on the Pac-12 Network (from Sports Illustrated), "He's ready to be the guy. He's a complete running back. He's got receiver skills that we saw last year. He's got return skills. This guy's an NFL back. He's a pass protector. So anything he can do, he can do at a high level. So this will be a breakout year for him as well."
Washington State - Cameron Ward (Quarterback)
Highly touted transfer from FCS Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, Ward had a monster season in 2021 for the Cardinals as he put up 4,648 yards and 48 passing touchdowns.
In a pass-heavy system, the Cougar's Pac-12 hopes will ride and die on the arm of Ward.
In a conference where Caleb Williams, Cameron Rising, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson get all the headlines, Ward has the opportunity to play into that conversation this fall.
Oregon - Byron Cardwell (Running Back)
While I did write in my National Under The Radar piece, I mentioned another Duck in Justin Flowe in the article.
While I feel Flowe will overcome a history of injuries and make more of a national impact in Dan Lanning's new defense, another Duck is right there in the conversation, running back Byron Cardwell.
Cardwell split carries last season with Travis Dye and CJ Verdell, and with both gone, the Pac-12 leader in yards per carry with 6.8 looks to have that breakout season in Eugene.
UCLA - Raiqwon O'Neal (Left Tackle)
UCLA Bruins head coach Chip Kelly is beginning to assemble the weapons to execute his offense, and his new philosophy at UCLA is more a physical flavor to complement the dynamic pieces of Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Running Back Zach Charbonnet, and Wide Receivers Jake Bobo and Kazmeir Allen.
The physical piece will be aided by a 2-time Honorable Mention All-Big Ten tackle (2020 Big Ten Media & 2021 Pro Football Focus), Raiqwon O'Neal from Rutgers.
O'Neal may not be your prototypical physical tackle but look for his smarts, quick feet, and athleticism to be a key piece in the Bruins' offense.
Southern Cal - Domani Jackson (Cornerback)
It's hard to be "under the radar" when you come into college as a 5-star recruit and arguably the top conference newcomer (Josh Conerly Jr. of Oregon is the other), but now it looks like his special talent will make him a starter Year 1.
His being "under the radar" is for those who ignored his prep career, and he should also garner national recognition.
Jackson has an NFL body right now, and his ability to play the pass makes him a starter. He has excellent speed and is willing to play the line of scrimmage and engage a running back or receiver in the vicinity.
If he has any weaknesses, if you can call it a weakness, it might be polishing his ball awareness skills.
Arizona State - Merlin Robertson (Linebacker)
The senior linebacker has been as good as any Pac-12 linebacker and has garnered not only All-Pac-12 recognition but has been added to the Butkus Award Watch List.
Robertson, in his time in Tempe, has 235 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and six interceptions in his final year of college football.
With his ability to effectively play the run and pass, look for Robertson's draft stock to rise this season.
Rest of the Pac-12
Washington - Michael Penix Jr. (Quarterback)
Penix was a key figure in Indiana's success in the 2020 COVID season, guiding the Hoosiers to their first Top 10 win against Penn State that season and positioning them in Big Ten contention. A series of ACL injuries have derailed Penix, but a reunion with Kalen DeBoer, who coordinated Penix, might be the recipe for success.
Arizona - Jayden de Laura (Quarterback)
The reigning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year transfers in from Washington State, looking to continue his spectacular play in Tucson.
For de Laura to have a supporting cast of running back Michael Wiley, receivers Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan look for him to continue flourishing with the Wildcats.
California - Jeremiah Hunter (Wide Receiver)
For an inconsistent offense over the past five years, last season's group managed to average 5.9 yards per play, the highest over that span.
Look for Purdue transfer quarterback Jack Plummer to find the sophomore receiver who averaged over 18 yards per reception last season.
Colorado - Ramon Jefferson (Running Back)
FCS All-American and Sam Houston's transfer looks to add depth for Karl Dorrell's Buffaloes.
Jefferson averaged nearly 7 yards per rush for the Bearkats in 2021; look for him to split duties with Alex Fontenot early and potentially take the lion's share late in the season.
Oregon State - Jaydon Grant (Safety)
Grant will anchor a veteran secondary unit that consists of seniors Rejzohn Wright (corner), Ron Hardge III (nickel), and sophomore corner Alex Austin.
Grant was third on the team in tackles with 71 and has received honorable mention All-Pac 12 recognition.