Pac-12 boasts top RBs, safeties

It's a Pac back attack!

Continuing with his look at the best NFL prospects by position in 2014, ESPN's Mel Kiper projects that four of the top 10 running backsInsider hail from the Pac-12.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas is No. 1, which is understandable, but also a little bit surprising simply because he doesn't fit into any one category. I could see traditionalists arguing this point. But Kiper strongly supports his claim.

Kiper on Thomas: Is he a running back? He's a little bit of everything, but he's a running back on my board because handing him the ball is the quickest way to get it to him, and getting him the ball is the most important thing. Last year, Thomas turned 92 carries into 701 yards, good for 7.6 yards per carry. This after a freshman year where he averaged an absurd 10.6 yards per carry on his 55 touches. So over his first two years, Thomas averaged 8.8 yards per carry, and the sample size is no longer miniscule.

Yes, he can also catch it, as he has 91 receptions over his first two seasons. And he's terrifying in the return game. Thomas will never be a bulk-carry runner, and he doesn't have the route-running skills of a guy like Tavon Austin, who he might be compared to based on the burst. But he's a 180-pound game-breaker, a sprinter with the shiftiness to make people miss and he has added more muscle to his frame since he broke USC's heart and headed to Eugene.

The next two Pac-12 running backs are Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey at No. 3 and USC's Silas Redd at No. 4. They fit the more traditional role.

Kiper on Carey: Extraordinarily productive in 2012, Carey piled up a whopping 1,929 yards rushing. He does it by exploding upfield when he gets a seam, and running through arm tackles with good pad level and strong leg drive and determination. Carey looks like an early-impact NFL running back because of the way he reads plays, and puts his foot in the ground to get vertical and maximize yards when they're available.

On Redd: He was a little bit forgotten about in what was a disappointing season, but you turn on the tape and see a guy who often made the most of what was just average blocking last season. Redd isn't what I'd call an explosive runner, but he does a very good job of running through contact and grinding out extra yards.

Kiper also offers an "up next" segment of five more players to watch. Included in that mix is Washington's Bishop Sankey.

Stanford fans looking for validation that they have the best safety duo in the country just got a bump from Kiper, who also released his top safety prospects for 2014Insider. He ranks the Stanford duo of Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards as the Nos. 2 and 3 best safety prospects, respectively.

Kiper on Reynolds: Stanford often had Reynolds playing, essentially, a deep center field, but even from there he was able to make a big impact. He doesn't have elite speed, but he anticipates really well, does a good job of not getting pushed out of position by quarterbacks who can use their eyes well, and gets himself in position to jump passes.

Kiper on Richards: Safe to say the Cardinal will be well-covered at safety in 2013. Richards is themore physical of the Stanford safeties, an in-the-box presence who is capable of making more plays against the run. He has a great sense of angles on the field, perhaps in part due to the fact he excelled in high school as a running back, wide receiver and as a cornerback.

Worth noting that also on the list is former UCLA safety Tevin McDonald, who was dismissed from the team and is now at Eastern Washington. He's No. 4 behind the Stanford tandem.

Finally, ESPN's KC Joyner offered up five prospects who could have breakout seasons in 2013Insider. Thomas is one of them. The other is Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly.

Writes Joyner: Arizona State coach Todd Graham has a long history of dominant offensive performances -- his Tulsa teams produced three top-five national finishes in yards per game -- so it should come as no surprise that he was able to get this type of showing out of a redshirt sophomore in his first season as a starter. Now that Kelly has a year under his belt to go along with a great 1-2 punch in the backfield and an influx of highly talented pass-catchers, he should be a front-runner for all-conference status this year.