2017 NFL Draft: Six Pac-12 players taken in first round

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Three of the first 10 players taken in Thursday's 2017 NFL Draft First Round were from the Pac-12, and five Pac-12 athletes heard their names called. In order:


DL Solomon Thomas (Stanford): No. 3 overall pick, San Francisco 49ers

Thomas won't have to move far from Stanford, where it didn’t take long for him to earn his place on the Mt. Rushmore of Cardinal football physical specimens. The 275-pound defensive lineman is freakishly athletic — word is that he can dunk on an 11-foot basketball hoop — and zealously driven. Thomas supplements rigorous offseason workouts with boxing training at a gym frequented by NFL players Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree in the Bay Area, a tradition he'll be able to continue as a member of the 49ers. 

This combination of strength, athleticism, and an obsession to improve endeared Thomas to San Francisco's brass. The 49ers' defense was the league's worst in 2016 across multiple categories, bleeding over 165 rushing yards per game -- one of the worst seasons in NFL history. In college, Thomas showed the ability to play at multiple spots along the defensive line. San Francisco will likely move Thomas around to plug the holes of its leaky defense. 


RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford): No. 8 overall pick, Carolina Panthers

McCaffrey made a strong case to be considered the most versatile ballcarrier in college football history. His staggering statistical output — an NCAA record 6,191 all-purpose yards over the past two seasons — is common knowledge now. But amidst all the sparkling numbers, McCaffrey’s intangible qualities impressed NFL executives the most. He’s known as a ruthless workout warrior who overwhelms bigger competition in strength drills during training. On film McCaffrey executes details with precision.

Carolina saw McCaffrey as the full package whose skill-set will mesh well with quarterback Cam Newton, who is also known for his versatility. The Panthers can line McCaffrey up in the backfield and they can also pair him with Newton through the passing game from the slot. Carolina also lost return man Ted Ginn, so McCaffrey should be the natural choice to take back kicks in Charlotte. 

Interesting side note: Lance Taylor, McCaffrey's running backs coach at Stanford, is now on the Panthers' staff. He'll work with McCaffrey as a wide receivers coach, so the two have migrated to the East Coast together. 

McCaffrey's celebrity fans responded in droves:


WR John Ross (Washington): No. 9 overall pick, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals nabbed the fastest player in NFL Combine history. How fast?

Ross blazed to a 4.22 40-yard dash time two months ago, verifying what the casual eye could easily observe when he played for Washington: This guy can move. Ross’ speed made an impact on every single Washington snap of 2016. Defenses overcompensated to account for it, and that opened windows for other receivers and the Huskies’ ferocious run game. 

Ross, of course, was far more than a decoy: He racked up 81 catches, 1,150 yards, and 17 receiving touchdowns in his first year coming off an ACL injury — a setback after which he ultimately became faster. Cincinnati’s pass offense should benefit immediately from his over-the-top threat, especially when paired with star receiver A.J. Green. The Bengals also stand to enjoy Ross’ kick return abilities: He housed four returns during his college career. 

[Related content: 2017 NFL Draft: Washington's Kevin King picked to kick off the second round]


CB Adoree' Jackson (USC): No. 18 overall pick, Tennessee Titans

Jackson was electrifying from the moment he put on a Trojan uniform. He put on an immediate show as a true freshman in 2014 and didn't stop until he'd housed six returns, picked off six passes, and contributed 3,565 all-purpose yards over the next three years.

There is an element of pure football talent here, which the Titans believe will translate to the NFL -- where Jackson likely will focus less on offense and more on his primary cornerback position. Tennessee is badly in need of help in the secondary: The Titans allowed 4,307 pass yards in 2016, ranking 30th in the NFL. Jackson can help fill that void, and it's a good bet that he'll also return kicks. 

Jackson, the 80th NFL first-round pick in USC history, got straight to the point on Twitter:


OT Garrett Bolles (Utah): No. 20 overall pick, Denver Broncos

Utah has developed a reputation for turning out bruisers along both lines of scrimmage. Bolles may be the best talent yet from the offensive trench: At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, he packs a prototypical tackle size. Bolles trasferred to Utah from Snow College, so he played only one season of Division I football. The junior college route, though, was what allowed Bolles to turn his life around. As a youngster, he was expelled from school five times as he struggled to stay out of trouble.

On Thursday night, Bolles became the first offensive lineman taken in the 2017 NFL Draft. The moment was emotional, and it became downright memorable when Bolles brought his four-month-old son Kingston onto the stage with him.

"To all the kids struggling out there," Bolles said in a post-pick TV interview. "It's not about how you start, but how you finish." 


DL Takkarist McKinley (UCLA): No. 26 overall pick, Atlanta Falcons

McKinley exploded in 2016, notching 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss to rank near the top of the Pac-12 in both categories. His numbers don’t lie: McKinley is explosive, and he’s a relentless playmaker. His film is a shining advertisement for his active motor and relentless hunger for opposing quarterbacks.  

McKinley exuded this passion immediately after the Falcons selected him, bringing a large framed photo of his late grandmother to an on-stage interview with Deion Sanders.

“This means everything to me,” McKinley shouted. “We did it. We did it, Grandma!”

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