With the NFL Draft less than a month away, let’s break down some of the Mountain West’s top candidates to hear their name called in Las Vegas, Nev.
QB Jordan Love, Utah State
Jordan Love could be the first Mountain West player taken in this 2020 class, as he is a projected first round pick. He has shown ability to extend plays with his legs and accurately throw on the run. Love is good at keeping his eyes downfield and has legitimate arm talent to make every possible throw.
The 6-foot-4 gunslinger had an incredible sophomore season in 2018, completing 64 percent of his passes for over 3,567 yards, 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions. A concern for scouts that arose this last season was his decision-making, posting an alarming 20-17 touchdown to interception ratio. Love is projected to be the fourth-best quarterback taken in the draft—behind the potential No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, along with Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. Love possesses the skill, size and potential to be a first-round pick, but may project to sit behind a veteran for a year or two to develop.
OL Netane Muti, Fresno State
When he’s been healthy, Netane Muti was surging up draft boards behind the top lineman in the class. While still projecting to be a first or second round pick, in the last two seasons, Muti has not been able to stay healthy. The 315-pound guard—who earned All-Mountain West Honorable Mention honors in 2017—was limited to just five games in the last two seasons due to injuries.
Coming off a Lisfranc foot injury, Muti was limited in workouts at the NFL Combine. However, he did make the most of it. Muti’s 44 bench press reps—the fourth-most in combine history—certainly upped his stock for any scouts with questions about his strength.
Muti was a physical presence both in the run and passing game. Over 193 pass-blocking snaps in his final two seasons, he allowed just three pressures per Pro Football Focus. He was cleared to fully participate in his pro day at Fresno State on March 17, which didn’t happen due to the outbreak of COVID-19. His talent and skill are worthy of a Day Two draft selection, but with teams scouts unsure and unable to check his medicals with the current state of affairs, his stock will possibly take a hit come late April.
DE Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Curtis Weaver arguably produced the best body of work of any Mountain West prospect during his collegiate career at Boise State. He is the Mountain West all-time leader in sacks with 34.
After appearing on the All-Mountain West first team for the third consecutive season, Weaver was the Mountain West defensive player of the year after leading the conference in both sacks with 13.5 and tackles-for-loss with 18.5.
Weaver is one of the best pass rushers in this class. He can be versatile, being able to play as an edge linebacker in a 3-4 or a defensive end in a 4-3. He doesn’t showcase much explosiveness, but the ability to get through lineman with his hands, paired with his bend, makes up for it. Weaver is one of the best prospects coming out of a group of five conferences and is one of the most underrated players in this class. Considering he is projected to be a middle-round selection, if Weaver is able to generate the same fleury of pass rush in the pros, he will make a General Manager look like a scouting mastermind.
OL Ezra Cleveland, Boise State
Ezra Cleveland was an All-Mountain West first team selection the last two seasons. Cleveland started all 40 games he played in and was a staple at left tackle in the last two seasons for the Broncos.
He impressed at the combine with 30 bench press reps and posted a 7.26 in the 7-cone drill. Cleveland also had a 4.46 in the 20-yard shuttle, the fastest time among offensive lineman. He is an athletic tackle that can schematically fit in multiple schemes.
Cleveland, at times, has been inconsistent with his technique and strength to get a good push on defenders. He has been consistent with his run-blocking ability, showing flashes of dominance in the second level of defenders. Some scouts believe he can place anywhere between rounds one and three. In recent mocks on NFL.com and cbssports.com, he was a projected second-round pick.
QB Cole McDonald, Hawaii
Cole McDonald is likely to be a Day three draft pick among quarterbacks. He led Hawaii to its second 10-win season since 2008.
McDonald was top-10 in the FBS in the nation in both passing yards and touchdown passes. He was slightly more turnover prone in his final seasons, throwing interceptions on 2.7 percent of his pass attempts in his junior season compared to 2.1 percent of his attempts in his sophomore season.
McDonald still possesses the ability to read defenses well, going through each read before finding the open target. He did well on improving his accuracy, completing just under 64 percent of his throws last year compared to his sub-59 percentage in 2018.
The quarterback, who ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, is able to escape from the pocket and extend plays with his legs, running for 742 combined yards and 11 touchdowns in his last two seasons. Considering some scouts still have questions about his deep-ball accuracy along with his decision making, the 6-foot-4 quarterback may fall to the late rounds.
LB Logan Wilson, Wyoming
Wilson reached first-team All-Mountain West and third-team All American honors in his senior season with Wyoming. The three-year starter led Wyoming with triple-digit figures in all three seasons. Wilson possesses elite tackling ability with a tenacious drive to pursue the ball.
He has quality play recognition with a quick diagnosis. The 6-foot-2 linebacker could potentially be a linebacker-safety hybrid at the next level, but will likely be a SAM or MIKE linebacker as scouts have seen negatives with Wilson’s coverage ability. Wilson’s stock has risen since the beginning of the season. In a recent Sports Illustrated NFL Draft Preview, Wilson ranked as the ninth-best linebacker and No. 93 on the draft board. Wilson will likely fall to a Day Three selection, but could potentially slide into a Day Two pick.
LB David Woodward, Utah State
Another elite, highly-productive linebacker in college, was David Woodward of Utah State. Woodward really broke out in 2018, leading the conference with 134 tackles, including 12.5 tackles-for-loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles. Woodward was graded as PFF’s highest graded linebacker in 2018, dominating in both the pass and run game. He, like Wilson, shows a strong nose for the ball. He has great tackling ability and high intelligence that NFL teams should covet, despite being undersized at 230 pounds. Woodward has projected as a solid middle-to-late round selection.
LB Mykal Walker, Fresno State
The Mountain West has produced a strong crop of linebackers over the last several seasons. Mykal Walker was second on the team in tackles with 96 and led them with 9.0 tackles-for-loss.
Walker, a two-time All-Mountain West first team selection, played middle linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive end last season for the Bulldogs. He was also the Defensive MVP of the 2018 Mountain West Championship where he totaled 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks with one fumble recovery versus Boise State. He’s an instinctual linebacker with solid tackling ability. He has shown the ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and perform well in coverage, breaking up a combined ten passes in the last two seasons. His versatility could pin Walker as a Day two draft selection.
WR John Hightower, Boise State
John Hightower’s speed is the name of his game. The 6-foot-2 speedster was named to the All-Mountain West second team as both a kick returner and a receiver last season. Hightower led the Broncos with eight receiving touchdowns and 943 receiving yards. He averaged 24 yards per kick return with one touchdown.
While at Hinds Community College, he finished fourth in the national JUCO meet in the 400-meter hurdles. At the combine, he ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.
A team will draft Hightower because of his deep threat ability. Hightower was able to beat corners off of raw speed and can really stretch the field vertically for an offense. He has also has shown the ability to run good deep routes with good tracking ability which should translate to the next level.
At the next level, Hightower will need to show the ability to expand his ability to run different routes and deal with the physicality and speed of some of the league’s top corners. However, with his ability to field returns and be a receiver, Hightower could be a sleeper in a really deep wideout class.
LB Gabe Sewell, Nevada
Sewell was named on the All-Mountain West Honorable Mention team his senior season with the Wolf Pack. He finished third on the team with 52 tackles and second with 5.5 tackles-for-loss. Sewell’s dominant 2018 season, where he recorded 92 total tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks, should help to build draft stock for the linebacker.
The 6-foot linebacker was a staple in Nevada’s 3-3-5 defense as the MIKE linebacker. He possesses great gap pursuit in the run game and plays sideline-to-sideline well.
He didn’t necessarily produce as much of the other linebackers on this list—compiling 276 tackles in his collegiate career—but still makes the correct reads with a high motor. To make it to the next level, Sewell will have to improve in coverage.
Sewell, a four-year starter at Nevada, is likely to go undrafted but should make a team out of camp at the next level.
Matt Hanifan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.