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Sean Mannion, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu lead Pac-12 seniors to watch

Dean Hare / Associated Press
Oregon State's Sean Mannion enters the season as one of the five best senior QBs in the nation.

Spring practice has started at universities across the country, and we're using the kickoff of spring drills to get you reacquainted with some of the top college players in the nation.

Specifically, we're taking a look at notable seniors on a league-by-league basis. Today, it's the Pac-12.

The Pac-12 has a lot of high-quality seniors -- the most of any conference in the nation.

The league can lay claim to having perhaps the best cornerback and the best strong safety in the nation, and it also has one of the best nose tackles.

Thursday, we'll look at the ACC.

A reminder that this is a list of notable seniors who already are on the radar of NFL scouts. And by no means is this an all-inclusive list.

10 Pac-12 seniors to watch


CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

Particulars: 5-foot-10, 195 pounds

Buzz: He surprised some NFL observers by remaining in school for his senior season. He should go into the season as the nation's top cornerback, but that's the same moniker that was applied to Ohio State's Bradley Roby in 2013, and he underachieved. Ekpre-Olomu will be the only returning starter in Oregon's secondary, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see opposing quarterbacks try to stay away from him. Ekpre-Olomu has seven interceptions and 30 pass breakups in his career and relies on good instincts and ball skills rather than blazing speed. He does have good speed, though, and is more than willing in run support; he had 84 tackles in 2013 and 63 in '12.

WR Austin Hill, Arizona

Particulars: 6-3, 210

Buzz: Hill blew out a knee during spring practice in 2013 and missed the season. But he was ultra-productive in 2012, with 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, and if he can regain that form, he will be one of the nation's pre-eminent receivers this fall. He has excellent size and good speed. He is comfortable in the slot despite his size and was dangerous when used there in 2012. He is a precise route-runner and has good hands. He also can get deep, with 12 catches of 25-plus yards in 2012.

QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

Particulars: 6-2, 201

Buzz: He quietly put up big numbers in 2013, throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns and also rushing for 608 yards and nine touchdowns. But he was overshadowed in his own league by, among others, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. Interestingly, he was the second-team all-league pick by coaches, behind Mariota but ahead of Hundley. He has thrown 57 TD passes in two seasons in coach Todd Graham's offense and is a good fit for Graham's version of the spread. Kelly does need to cut down on his interception total (21 in two seasons) in order to move up on draft boards.

ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLA

Particulars: 6-0, 228

Buzz: His lack of height bothers some; that also was a knock on his brother, Mychal, when he was at California, but Mychal had 106 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions for the Philadelphia Eagles last season. Eric Kendricks led UCLA with 105 tackles in 2013 despite missing two games with injuries; he had ankle surgery in December but is expected back for spring practice. He had a league-leading 149 tackles in 2012. He is a force against the run, thanks to a high football IQ and good quickness. He is comfortable in space and is a sure tackler.

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DE Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington

Particulars: 6-3, 250

Buzz: He was second in the league and tied for third nationally with 13 sacks in 2013, but injuries and inconsistency are an issue. He missed most of 2011 and all of 2012 with two separate knee injuries. As for his sack total, six came in two games in 2013. He isn't an elite athlete, but he is solid against the run, and the flashes of his pass-rush ability are intriguing. Scouts will be looking for more pass-rush consistency in 2013. Kikaha legally changed his last name before the start of the 2013 season, taking the last name from his mother's side of his family; he previously went by the last name of Jamora.

QB Sean Mannion, Oregon State

Particulars: 6-5, 220

Buzz: Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 TDs in 2013, figures that ranked second and tied for third in the nation. Mannion, who already has graduated, flirted with the idea of turning pro but decided to stay in school after he reportedly was given a third-round grade. Mannion has good size, but he has issues with his decision-making, especially when facing pressure. He has thrown 46 career interceptions, the most of any quarterback returning this fall. He has a good upside, though, and will enter the season as one of the nation's top dozen quarterbacks overall and one of the top five senior signal-callers.

WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford

Particulars: 6-2, 215

Buzz: Montgomery has a good size/speed mix and doubles as one of the best return men in the nation; he had two kickoff-return TDs in 2013 and has three in his career. He also proved he could be a go-to receiver last season, with 61 receptions and 10 TDs. His stats suffer from playing in Stanford's conservative run-first offense, but he has a nice all-around skill set and possesses the ability to get deep.

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SS Jordan Richards, Stanford

Particulars: 5-11, 208

Buzz: Richards should be one of the top two or three strong safeties in the nation after a solid 2013 campaign; he had 68 tackles and led the team with three interceptions. Richards, who will be a three-year starter for the Cardinal, is good in run support, thanks to his physical nature. Richards also has 15 pass breakups in the past two seasons and is a heady, instinctive player.

NT Danny Shelton, Washington

Particulars: 6-1, 327

Buzz: He should be the No. 1 or No. 2 nose tackle on most teams' draft boards heading into the 2014 season. He is stout in the middle of the line, taking up two blockers and doing a nice job of stopping the run. Shelton could stand to become a bit more disruptive, but no one questions his value as a middle-of-the-line run-stuffer. He will be a three-year starter for the Huskies.

DE Tony Washington, Oregon

Particulars: 6-3, 245

Buzz: Washington lines up at end for the Ducks, but he can't play end at the next level at his current weight. He has some pass-rush skills (7.5 sacks in 2013), and his high-level athleticism will appeal to NFL scouts. Washington held up well against the run in 2013, his first season as a starter, and scouts will be looking for more of that plus more sacks in 2014.

Five other seniors to watch: WR Dres Anderson (6-1, 187), Utah; C Hroniss Grasu (6-3, 297), Oregon; LB Derrick Malone (6-2, 221), Oregon; CB Steven Nelson (5-11, 192), Oregon State; WR Kasen Williams (6-2, 212), Washington.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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