Washington State’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects led by Cameron Ward, Ron Stone Jr.

The PFN Draft Preview series takes a look into the potential 2023 NFL Draft prospects set to hit the field for Washington State this season.

Washington State has become FBS Incarnate Word, with the Cardinals’ quarterback, top receiver, and head coach now Cougars. With them comes high expectations for an offense that finished in the middle of the conference in points and total yards per game. With great power comes great responsibility, so who are Washington State’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects that they will lean on?

Washington State prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Washington State sent two players to the draft last year after the 2021 class snapped an eight-year streak of at least one Cougar being selected. A new streak should continue this cycle, as four Cougars cracked the Shrine Bowl 1000, with several others possessing NFL potential.

Cameron Ward, QB

Bryce Young. C.J. Stroud. They are the prize jewels of the 2023 NFL Draft quarterback class. Even Will Levis, Anthony Richardson, and Tyler Van Dyke are familiar names looking to cement their status in 2022. But Cameron Ward is the new kid on the block. After leaving FCS defenses in ashes at Incarnate Word (4,648 passing yards and 47 TDs in 2021), Ward took his talents to Washington State.

His natural arm and above-average mobility provide a solid foundation for instant success. But the leap in level of competition will test his anticipation, ability under pressure, and overall technique (footwork and throwing release). If Ward’s dominance translates to the Power Five, and he showcases a refined level of passing and mental processing, he could challenge the tier following Young and Stroud.

Nakia Watson, RB

At 6’0″ and 225 pounds, Nakia Watson is a massive back. And he carries his size well, churning through contact between the tackles and in space. However, his career 3.9 yards-per-carry average and three receptions (all in 2019) leave a lot to be desired.

Watson transferred from Wisconsin last year, and with Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh gone, it’s his backfield to lead in 2022. It will take a 1,000+ yard rushing campaign and some receiving work to earn draft consideration.

Robert Ferrel, WR

Robert Ferrel’s path to Wazzu has been … unconventional. It went a little something like this: JUCO, Nevada walk-on, JUCO, Incarnate Word, and, now, Washington State. But he isn’t just following Ward and/or WSU OC (former IWU HC) Eric Morris. Ferrel quickly became Ward’s version of Hunter Renfrow — a reliable slot option that simply gets the job done. He caught 109 passes for 1,289 yards and 15 TDs across two seasons with the Cardinals.

The diminutive 5’9″ and 170-pound WR also notched all-conference recognition as a kick returner last year. His special-teams prowess will aid him in seeing the field, as WSU already has a pair of veteran slot options that will make it difficult for Ferrel to crack meaningful targets. Still, Ferrel’s grit, speed, and route running are distinguishable traits.

Renard Bell and Lincoln Victor, WR

Renard Bell tore his ACL last offseason, holding him out for the entire year. That opened an opportunity for Hawaii transfer Lincoln Victor to see the field immediately. Both are 5’9″ and sub-180-pound WRs who primarily work from the slot. A staple of WSU’s passing attack, Bell recorded 147 receptions for 1,656 yards and 16 TDs from 2017-2020.

Meanwhile, Victor has 35 catches and 399 yards to his name in three collegiate seasons (23 and 296 of which came in 2021). A big year paired with Ward could lead to late-round consideration or at least UDFA contracts.

Jarrett Kingston, OT

With Abraham Lucas and Liam Coen onto new endeavors, stalwart guard Jarrett Kingston is kicking out to left tackle in 2022. It’s not a new position for Kingston, as he was recruited as an OT out of high school and played some LT last season. He was a little light on the interior at 6’5″ and just over 300 pounds and didn’t get the push in the run game you’d like.

However, Kingston has remained a strong pass blocker whenever on the field. Perhaps he puts on more weight without sacrificing his athleticism and stands tall at tackle. Time will tell, but Kingston is a name to know in 2022.

Konner Gomness, C

Last season was Konner Gomness’ first as a starter. His inexperience showed in pass protection, as he conceded far too much pressure up the middle — the worst kind for QBs. Still, he flashed as a run blocker and can really only improve as a pass blocker. Gomness has a ways to go as an NFL prospect and will likely return after this season.

Ma’ake Fifita, G

Ma’ake Fifita left a bad taste in his last contest, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. He spent most of the season rotating at right guard and played admirably. Yet, he was forced to start at right tackle in the bowl game against Central Michigan, and he was a turnstile in pass pro.

It’s only his fourth year on the offensive line, as Fifita was recruited as a defensive tackle in the 2017 class. Linear growth isn’t usually realistic for collegiate players, but we can expect it from Fifita while he continues to learn the position.

Grant Stephens, OT

Washington State dipped into the FCS pool once again, this time snatching Northern Colorado OT Grant Stephens. He has provided plus play from the right side of the line since 2020, but the FBS is a different level, let alone the Power Five. If Stephens holds up and can keep Ward upright, scouts will take notice.

Ron Stone Jr., EDGE

Wazzu’s undisputed defensive leader, top defensive prospect, and all-around game wrecker, Ron Stone Jr. returns for one final season. He was solid in 2019 and 2020, but Stone took his game to new heights last year. Sixty-three tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks later, Stone became the first WSU defensive lineman to earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors since 2017 (Hercules Mata’afa).

Entering 2022, Stone has already been named to the Bronko Nagurski Award watch list, given to the nation’s best defensive player. With another productive season, Stone shouldn’t have a difficult time following in his father’s NFL footsteps (former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ron Stone).

Brennan Jackson and Quinn Roff, EDGE

Stone isn’t the only pass rusher worth watching on the WSU defensive line. Brennan Jackson finished with four sacks and used his 6’4″ and 260-pound frame well opposite Stone. He’s been a consistent threat off the edge, so another solid performance could lead to late-round draft capital.

Quinn Roff, a true junior walk-on, rotated off the bench and notched 2.5 sacks of his own last year. Willie Taylor III’s departure leaves 400+ snaps on the table, and Roff should earn the majority of them.

Antonio Pule III, Amir Mujahid, and Christian Mejia, DT

Washington State’s top three defensive tackles return in 2022. Unfortunately, Antonio Pule III, Amir Mujahid, and Christian Mejia offered noteworthy play last season. They couldn’t generate pressure and didn’t do much more than hold gaps in run defense. Even with Stone and Jackson on the outside, I don’t expect much more from this group this season.

Nusi Malani, DT

Nusi Malani is the only new face that should receive snaps up front. The Virginia transfer is listed at 6’6″ and 275 pounds. That’s a far different build than that of the three DTs listed above (all around 6’3″ and 295 pounds). As a true junior with limited snaps under his belt, temper expectations. But Malani could be a key contributor by midseason if he outplays the veterans above him on the depth chart.

Daiyan Henley, LB

The Cougars picked Daiyan Henley up from Nevada to mitigate the losses of Jahad Woods and Justus Rodgers. But Henley can do more than that. He’s a better tackler and coverage defender than his predecessors, notching four interceptions for the Wolf Pack last year.

He’ll make life easier for his teammates in the back end, snuffing pass catchers before they can turn up field. Henley is an underrated LB prospect that will only garner more fans after proving his worth in the Power Five.

Travion Brown and Kyle Thornton, LB

Travion Brown is slated to start next to Henley, with Kyle Thornton subbing in when needed. We haven’t seen enough from Thornton (only 120+ career snaps) to own a definitive opinion. However, Brown has been serviceable every time he has stepped on the field. He sports good size at 6’3″ and 230 pounds and rarely whiffs on tackles. With starting reps, Brown could begin to receive some draft buzz.

Derrick Langford Jr., Armani Marsh, and Kaleb Ford-Dement, CB

Derrick Langford Jr. and Armani Marsh are back to reprise their starting roles from last season. Langford is a looming 6’3″ and 200-pound corner on the outside. He has earned rave reviews this offseason and will need to live up to the hype as WSU’s new CB1 with Jaylen Watson now a Kansas City Chief.

Marsh is a playmaking nickel corner that recorded two INTs against Washington last year, including a pick-six. He’s not afraid to come down in run support, a necessary skill for slot DBs. While Marsh held receivers to short gains on average (7.9 yards per reception), he needs to limit the occasional chunk gain.

As for Kaleb Ford-Dement, we haven’t seen much from him after flashing as a starter for Old Dominion in 2019. He could see more playing time this year, but as the fourth corner on the depth chart, it will be difficult for Ford-Dement to leave a lasting impact.

Cam Lampkin, CB

Cam Lampkin was part of Utah State’s conference championship-winning squad a year ago. He has played a role in the secondary for three seasons, but his coverage prowess has been tested with more and more snaps.

Lampkin hasn’t passed the tests, allowing over 18 yards per reception in 2021. Still, coverage is volatile year over year, and Lampkin has the tools to be successful. Here’s hoping he can put all the pieces together in 2022.

Sam Lockett III and Jordan Lee, S

Sam Lockett III and Jordan Lee form an entirely new safety duo for the Cougars. Lockett spent two seasons at Utah State before hitting the JUCO circuit from 2020-2021. In 13 games last year, he produced three interceptions and three pass breakups, displaying his ball skills. The Pac-12 is an entirely different beast, but Washington State just had success with a former JUCO product in the secondary (Watson).

Lee joins Henley as former Nevada defenders now in Pullman. In fact, they were arguably the Wolf Pack’s greatest assets on that side of the ball last season. Lee only received honorable mention All-Mountain West honors, but he generated 86 tackles, four pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries. He has experience in the slot, but his downhill ability is best utilized in a strong safety role closer to the box. Replicating his 2021 campaign against Pac-12 competition will bolster his draft stock.

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