Another week of summer goes by; another week closer to football. Even though I have not looked at every Group of 5 conference yet, I must say that the Mountain West may have the most potential NFL Draft picks out of all of them. In the 2018 NFL Draft, the AAC led all of the G5 conferences with 18 picks (one below all of Division 2); the C-USA was next with 10, and the Mountain West finished at 9. Most west coast teams tend to be forgotten about because they don’t play in primetime on the east coast. These players in the Mountain West will be keeping me up at night after I play my games on Saturdays.
Mountain West NFL Draft Prospects
Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State (6’3, 254)
The next great Boise State defender is here.
Curtis Weaver has everything teams look for in an EDGE: size, athleticism, strength, hand technique and a plan as a pass rusher.
Weaver is one of the best defenders in the Mountain West, earning 1st-team All-Conference honors in both of his years as a starter. Weaver also lives in the backfield, putting up double-digit sack and tackle for loss numbers in both of those years as well (13 TFLs/11 sacks in 2017, 15 TFLs/9.5 sacks in 2018). Weaver could’ve come out in last year’s draft and been a top 75 pick some scouts say, but he has a chance to go in the first round in 2020, with another big year.
What could help Weaver is becoming more stout in the run game; he is decent at defending the run, but tends to get off balance sometimes, which can get him washed down the line. Gaining a little more strength can help that as well.
Weaver will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent and will be on the big stage right off the bat with Boise State playing Florida State for their first game. And going up against the next man on our list will only help Weaver get better every day.
Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State (6’6, 315)
First of all, I guarantee you Cleveland goes on the all-name list for the 2020 NFL Draft. Like Weaver, there were reports that Cleveland would’ve been a top 75 pick had he declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, but alas, here we are.
Cleveland is a strong, tough son of a gun in the run game; he will run defenders over if he gets them in the wrong position. Cleveland is also patient and precise with his hand placement in pass blocking. Cleveland’s kick step is smooth, and his knee bend and hips help to run defenders by who try to speed rush.
Cleveland has been the anchor of the Broncos offensive line since he started his first game in 2017. The Broncos have a tradition of running an efficient, electric offense ever since Chris Petersen was the head coach in 2006. And now the Broncos have ten consecutive seasons of having a 1,000-yard rusher with Cleveland leading the last two seasons of that.
Another monstrous season from Cleveland could leave the Broncos with two top 75 NFL Draft picks in 2020.
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State (6’4, 220)
Here is the darling quarterback of the Mountain West and Twitter scouts everywhere. The California man has one of the best throwing motions in the draft and has broken multiple records at Utah State. Love went toe-to-toe with the Spartans of Michigan State last season and almost led the Aggies to a win. Love also went against one of my favorite Group of 5 players in Mason Fine, and the Aggies demolished North Texas in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl 52-13.
Love has everything coaches want in a quarterback: accuracy/ball placement, highly effective decision-making skills, and leadership. Love is so smart that the Aggie coaches let him audible any play that he sees fit. Former head coach Matt Wells and offensive coordinator David Yost (both currently at Texas Tech) gave Jordan Love full control of the offense; it remains to be seen if the Aggies will run a similar offense with new head coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
Regardless of what kind of offense Utah State runs, Love will have to drag this offense forward since they lose nine starters from last season. Love will also get some more chances to play against Power 5 talent when the Aggies open up their season at Wake Forest and then play in Baton Rouge against LSU in October. Scouts currently see the redshirt junior as a Day 3 prospect, but he can undoubtedly rise in draft rankings with another spectacular season.
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii (6’4, 220)
The first word that I HAVE to use to describe McDonald is toughness. McDonald played through injury all last season. The first game of the season, McDonald strained his MCL. Then in September versus San Jose State, McDonald got hit in the side, and the defender who hit him knocked himself out. McDonald went to the hospital because of the pain in his side and found internal bleeding that did not drain properly… so it ended up in his scrotum, and he couldn’t walk for a week. I have no clue how McDonald only got honorable mention All-Mountain West. The Rainbow Warriors need to make a statue of this man. And Timmy Chang. And Colt Brennan.
Cole McDonald is another draft media darling that is already rising on draft boards. He’s similar to Jordan Love in the way that they operate their wide-open spread offense systems, their smooth delivery, and their ability to put balls into tight windows. Nicknamed C-Money, McDonald also uses his legs more than Love, since he ran the 100 and 200 meters in high school, and his decision making is a little bit wilder at times.
C-Money has a chance to be a top 75 pick as well, if he can work on getting faster in progressions and reading coverages. The run-and-shoot offense has brought the Rainbow Warriors their firepower back, and C-Money has brought them back to bowl prominence. With a healthy year and hopefully a bullish development, C-Money can put Hawaii back on the map for developing quarterbacks.
Tipa Galea’i, EDGE/OLB, Utah State (6’5, 230) [Tip-uh Na-lay-eye]
And here’s the man on the same team and with the same number as the Aggie quarterback above. Galea’i is long, lean, mean tackling machine. This man is all over the field, with the explosion off the line of scrimmage to burn the offensive linemen and the long speed and bend to get to the quarterback. With 10.5 sacks (most by an Aggie since 2005) and 14 TFLs (most by Aggie since 2015), Galea’i has everything you want in a 3-4 EDGE. His NFL Draft capital will depend mainly on his interviews with teams.
Galea’i transferred from TCU in 2017 and redshirted that season with the Aggies. In January of 2017, an intoxicated Galea’i chased two students into a TCU dorm and punched one student 21 times and the other student one time; surveillance tape filmed the incident, and Tarrant County charged Galea’i with misdemeanor assault. TCU dismissed Galea’i from the program because of this incident.
Another big year on the field would put Galea’i in at least Day 2 of the NFL Draft, but because of the assault, Galea’i may not obtain an invite to the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine. An excellent pre-draft process will be much needed for this Aggie to be drafted as high as his talent warrants.
Other Mountain West players to watch
Colorado State: CB Braylin Scott, S Jamal Hicks
Fresno State: TE Jared Rice, CB Jaron Bryant, LB Mykal Walker
Hawaii: RB Cedric Byrd
Nevada: WR Brendan O’Leary-Orange
San Diego State: LB Kyavha Tezino
Wyoming: LB Logan Wilson