BEAVERTON, Ore. -- It’s not uncommon that each year in a particular region, there is one position group that stands out from the rest, making it vital for the conference in that footprint to load up at the spot or get left behind. In the Pac-12, it happened with offensive linemen in 2012, defensive backs in 2013, quarterbacks in 2015 and wide receivers in 2016.
One position where there rarely seems to be a glut of elite talent in the West region is at defensive tackle. But in 2017, four big men from Oregon, Nevada and Utah rank among the top 112 prospects in the country.
The group includes Greg Rogers, Jay Tufele, Marlon Tuipulotu and Haskell Garrett, and beats out the Class of 2015 defensive tackles, which had four prospects among the top 141, though eventually landed seven in the ESPN 300.
While USC found success that year, landing Rasheem Green, Jacob Daniel and Noah Jefferson -- players that will play a huge part in the Trojans’ fortunes this season -- Arizona State’s Joseph Wicker is the only other West tackle on a Pac-12 roster from that class, after Thomas Toki did not qualify at Washington State and Kahlil McKenzie and Breiden Fehoko wound up at Tennessee and Texas Tech, respectively.
The Pac-12 suffered a blow when Garrett picked Ohio State in February, taking the No. 112 prospect from the region and dealing the first blow to Pac-12 programs hoping to load up along the defensive line. Then Washington scored a huge commitment, snagging Tuipulotu, the nation’s No. 110 prospect in a somewhat surprising win over Oregon.
That leaves Rogers, from Las Vegas, and Tufele, from South Jordan, Utah, -- the Nos. 52 and 86 prospects -- still on the board and Pac-12 programs salivating.
“When everyone committed, they went up a notch,” Tufele said of Pac-12 programs and the intensity of their recruiting pitches. “They want us to stay home and stay in the Pac-12. Utah, Oregon, UCLA and USC -- they all want us.”
Tufele said he plans to commit on signing day, and he’ll have Pac-12 programs sweating out an official visit to Michigan -- the only trip he knows for certain that he will take -- as well as a potential visit to Ohio State. He also listed Oregon, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington as potential visit destinations. Rogers also has two programs out of the Pac-12 among his final six, as Michigan and Oklahoma join Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA and USC.
Rogers plans to commit on Dec. 9 and said coaches in the conference have been respectful and aren’t pushing for an earlier commitment, but he’s feeling the heat when it comes to how badly Pac-12 programs feel the need to keep him in the region.
The difference between defensive tackles and quarterbacks, a position in 2015 that fueled a number of Pac-12 teams’ playoff hopes this year and for the next several years, as UCLA landed Josh Rosen, Washington signed Jake Browning and saw Arizona State, Oregon and USC all add ESPN 300 talents, is that programs are more capable of landing multiple defensive tackles in a class than multiple quarterbacks. And doing just that could be a huge cog in future success, though opportunities are running out.
“I talk to the other defensive tackles a lot,” Rogers said. “Haskell, Jay, Marlon, we’re pretty close and we like to talk a lot.”
Washington is obviously in good shape with Tuipulotu already in the class and strong interest from Tufele, and UCLA is in the mix for the two uncommitted defensive tackles, but USC could again be the team to watch when it comes to the defensive big men, just like in the 2015 class.
Rogers and Tufele would be the big scores in the region, but Rogers also said he is close with Marvin Wilson, a Texas product who checks in as the nation’s No. 7 overall prospect. Oklahoma is a threat for both Rogers and Wilson, but so are the Trojans.
“I talk to Marvin a lot about going to the same school,” Rogers said. “I talk to Jay a lot, too. Me and Marvin are pretty close and we like to talk about those things, but we’ll go from there.”
The lack of elite defensive tackles littering the Pac-12 landscape has reared its head in recent years, as Oregon ran into some great ones in a National Championship Game loss to Auburn, then couldn’t stop Ohio State’s run a few years later. It also shoes up anytime Stanford is gashing opponents for big yards in conference play.
Over the past five years, just four Pac-12 programs -- Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Washington -- have added West region ESPN 300 defensive linemen to their rosters, and only the Bruins and Trojans have done it more than twice. It makes holding onto both Rogers and Tufele — and potentially even scoring a longshot victory of flipping Garrett from his Ohio State commitment -- a significant priority for Pac-12 programs come signing day.