When it comes to NFL Draft prospects, the Mountain West has gone underrated in recent years. These programs, while not Alabama or LSU, have produced several NFL worthy prospects recently. Players like Josh Allen, Leighton Vander Esch, Rashaad Penny, Jahlani Tavai, and Kahale Warring have all been top-100 selections in the past two drafts. Week 1 offers some unique matchup opportunities for these prospects, as many face top-flight opponents in the first week.
Fresno State DBs Jaron Bryant & JuJu Hughes vs. USC WRs
Fresno State enjoyed a bounce-back season last year and a big reason why was the emergence of their secondary. Led by cornerback Jaron Bryant and safety JuJu Hughes, Fresno State finished 17th nationally in total defense and 3rd in scoring defense, while only allowing a ~52% completion rate against opposing QBs. The WR group at USC is stacked, however. Amon-Ra St.Brown, Michael Pittman, and Tyler Vaughns each eclipsed 600 yards last season, accounting for most of the Trojans’ passing offense. Under new OC Graham Harrell, who orchestrated the #12 passing offense at North Texas last season, the USC WRs will look for a big year. This will be a challenging matchup.
Utah State QB Jordan Love vs. Wake Forest defense
The Wake Forest defense isn’t really anything noteworthy, but this matchup is mainly for the attention Jordan Love will be getting. Last season, Love put up numbers against Michigan State but did not have a touchdown. An opening matchup against a Power-5 defense will be a good starting test for the young signal-caller. His toughest matchup will be against Wake Forest cornerback Essang Bassey, who recorded 16 passes defended last season.
Wyoming LB Logan Wilson vs. Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam
If you want a sleeper coming out of the Mountain West, Wyoming’s Logan Wilson is your guy. With 103 total tackles last season and 304 total career tackles, Wilson has cemented himself as a leader and a tackling machine on the Cowboys defense. He recorded two interceptions as well and showed off impressive awareness and IQ on the field. Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam isn’t a top-flight playmaker, but showing out against an SEC tight end would boost Wilson’s NFL Draft stock immensely.
Boise State IOL John Molchon vs. Florida State IDL Marvin Wilson
One of the most intriguing matchups in Week 1 is the duel between these two powerful beasts in the trenches. Molchon was named to Phil Steele’s pre-season All-MWC team. He was also included on Bruce Feldman’s “freaks” List for his weight room numbers. Molchon hang cleans 425 and power cleans 365 with a 27.5 vertical jump. Molchon is viewed as a leader for the Boise State team. He took snaps at both guard and center last season for the Broncos.
Marvin Wilson, meanwhile, is a former 5-star who is mainly stuck eating up double teams. However, that doesn’t diminish his potential. Rather, it raises eyebrows about it. Wilson recorded 34 total pressures last season according to Pro Football Focus. Many scouts love his combination of power and athletic ability. This will be a clash of the titans in Tallahassee between these two and could go a long way in determining how high each of them go in the NFL Draft.
Nevada CB Daniel Brown vs. Purdue WR Rondale Moore
Haven’t heard of Daniel Brown? Unsurprising. The Nevada team has flown entirely under the radar despite an 8-5 record and 2nd in the MWC West appearance last season. Cornerback Daniel Brown was a big reason why. He is Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded Mountain West corner entering the season, with 11 pass breakups last season. His first test of the season? Matching up with one of the most dynamic players in college football in Purdue’s Rondale Moore. No pressure, right? Moore will have all the eyes on him, and a good showing against Moore will boost Brown’s NFL Draft stock immensely.