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2015 NFL Draft: Pac-12 has 3 potential No. 1 picks

Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Leonard Williams of Southern California and Andrus Peat of Stanford could all be in play for the top choice in April.

Steve Dykes

If you were to wager which conference produces the No.1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Pac-12 would be a good bet.

At the onset of the college football season, the Pac-12 features three players with the potential to be top overall pick. Chief among them is Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota.

A season ago, Mariota got off to a hot start and showed much better pocket awareness. It took Mariota 10 games and 336 attempts before throwing his first interception last season.

In two seasons, Mariota has sparkling numbers as a Duck with 63 passing touchdowns and just 10 interceptions while completing 65.8 percent of his passes. He's also run for more than 1,467 yards and 14 more scores. Heck, he's even caught a touchdown pass.

Part of why Mariota may be the top quarterback prospect in college football this season is his ability to break off big runs at any moment. What's scary is how effortless he makes scampers like this 71-yard dash against Virginia last season look:

If the team holding the top overall pick has its quarterback of the future, Southern California defensive tackle Leonard Williams could be in contention for the top spot. Another junior, Williams looked NFL-ready from the first day he stepped on the field for the Trojans. He's a disruptive tackle who can overpower linemen and split gaps. Williams projects to a variety of positions, from a five-technique end to a three-technique tackle. Some team may even play him at the seven-technique in a four-man front.

After Williams and Mariota, the third candidate is Stanford left tackle Andrus Peat. He's a little bit more of a projection than the other two, but early indications show that he should develop into a top-10 pick. Peat is a devastating blocker who can drive backward or into the ground. If Peat can improve a little bit with his footwork to reach rushers on the edge, he could be the fifth offensive tackle since 2008 to be picked first or second overall.

As a whole, the Pac-12 is stacked with NFL talent this season.

There has been some preseason discussion about UCLA's Brett Hundley as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. He's the pick for ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit and Las Vegas has modestly set his odds of winning at 14/1. If indeed Hundley is a Heisman winner -- or even in the discussion -- that will bode well for his draft status.

There are a lot of moving parts with Hundley. He's a good athlete who will run or deliver good throws on roll out plays. But he moves his feet around a lot in the pocket and his accuracy dips. His deep ball can tend to flutter at times as well. But when Hundley is on, like in the play below, you can understand the first-round buzz.

In addition to the above, the Pac-12 could have a top 10 pick in Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He's a corner with few flaws. He can play man, knows when to give a receiver space so that he can break on the ball and is incredibly physical for the position. The biggest knock on Ekpre-Olomu is going to be his size, but he's a smart and tough player.

Washington has a good corner of its own in Marcus Peters. He's not as advanced as Ekpre-Olomu, but he's bigger and excels in man situations. After years of bad play, Washington is starting to win thanks to a good group of NFL talent. Junior linebacker Shaq Thompson is perhaps the most intriguing prospect for the Huskies. Thompson has a background playing safety, but is physical enough to mix it up in the box. His combination of coverage instincts, closing speed and aggressive style will make him a hot commodity. Up front for Washington, nose tackle Danny Shelton has proven to be capable of occupying multiple blockers and being a steady presence versus the run. Watching UCLA, it may be hard to keep up with Thompson and Shelton because your eyes will invariably be drawn to middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. He's somewhat unheralded despite putting up big tackle totals the last two seasons.

Defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha is a real player to watch, not only for Washington but in the entire conference. Kikaha is coming off a big season of 13 sacks. If he continues to build on that production and continues to show a good first step, he'll be a draft riser throughout the season.

The conference has some solid outside linebacker prospects in Oregon's Tony Washington and Stanford's James Vaughters. Both seniors flash a good first step and could be attractive in the middle rounds of the draft. The Cardinal have a pair of promising cornerbacks in juniors Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons. The latter was a big-time recruit who still has potential, while Carter is is more refined in his technique and tackling. Both have NFL futures.

Then there's Josh Shaw of USC. Whatever happens regarding the safety's weird tale of heroism should have little impact on his NFL prospects either way. Shaw is a solid prospect who can hit and drop into deep coverage. Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard can make plays all over the field and shows good instincts.

There's still plenty of talent off the offensive side of the ball for the Pac-12. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is a draftable player with a strong arm. Mannion isn't especially mobile and will put some bad passes in the air, but he has raw talent.

Southern California wide receiver Nelson Agholor is often highly praised, but he's similar in many ways to former Trojans receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. There's nothing wrong with that, but teams will have issues with Agholor's size and hands. But he can create separation and is dangerous with the ball in space.

Arizona wide out Austin Hill isn't as dynamic as Agholor, but at 6'3" he has good size and can create space in jump ball situations. Hill sat out all last season with a torn ACL, so he's no sure thing heading into the season. At the end of the season, we may be considering Arizona State's Jaelen Strong as the best receiver prospect in the conference. He's a great athlete with size. If he can snug up his route running, the first round is in Strong's future.

Oregon running back Byron Marshall is a lot like former Duck Jonathan Stewart. He's a compact runner with good lower body strength to generate extra yards after contact. Marshall and the rest of the Ducks benefit from senior Hroniss Grasu, the nation's top center prospect. Don't expect Grasu to just sit in the middle and take up space. He is at his best out on the move blocking on the second level.

Top conference game for prospects

Oregon vs. Stanford, Nov. 1: Mariota has had some trouble over the last two years against the tough Stanford defense. The Heisman candidate hasn't beaten Stanford yet and was pedestrian against the Cardinal last season. The Stanford pressure got to him and Mariota threw a few downright awful passes. If he struggles again, teams will wonder how he'll do against NFL defenses that can single cover wide outs and create pressure.

Two players not mentioned yet, Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, would benefit from good games in this one. Armstead is still a little more hype than substance, but his 6-foot-8 frame is hard to ignore up front. Hogan, and his terribly long delivery, is a fringe prospect.

Get ready for this terrible comparison

Mariota is Colin Kaepernick. No wait, he's Randall Cunningham. No wait, he's Randall Kaepernick!