GROUP OF FIVE NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS: MOUNTAIN WEST (WEST DIVISION)
By Rebecca Rennie
Part 2 of our look at the Mountain West conference focuses on prospects from the West Division. Many of the players have featured in the recent All-Star circuit, giving additional information to the evaluation. There’s not the star names of the Mountain Division, but lots of Day 3 talent in this group!
Anywhere from Day 2 to undrafted free agent, the variance of opinions on Muti is wide-ranging. The Bulldogs O-lineman has ardent fans among draft media, particularly from analytical avenues; whether NFL decision makers share in those conclusions will be revealed in the coming months. Even his biggest fans recognize that medicals will factor significantly in his eventual draft stock.
The redshirt junior declared early after barely playing in the past two seasons due to a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2018 and a foot injury in 2019. Playing outside at tackle as a sophomore and guard as a junior, his pro future lies on the interior. In addition to his injury issues, some won’t be keen on Muti’s relatively smaller frame and lack of ideal length.
The positives are readily apparent in the minimal game film at guard that is available. Though only playing the first three games of 2019, two of those came against good opposition in USC and Minnesota. Muti’s standout traits include his explosiveness, agility and general movement pluses.
Though length is a concern, his sturdy compact frame is packed with power to anchor at the point of attack. Muti is rarely forced backward, maintaining pocket integrity when challenged physically. Technically sound, he plays with good knee bend, leverage and coordination.
There’s an impression on film that the guard prospect greatly prefers his run blocking assignments over pass protection. Too often he looks unsure of his pass pro assignments in the initial exchanges. Though he holds up well versus power, sustaining blocks is an issue on extended plays. In the latter stages of plays, Muti’s effort level and hustle to impact ongoing plays late is questionable at best, ambling around disinterested too frequently.
Run game assignments sees much more enthusiasm and is unquestionably a highly effective pulling guard and lead blocker in space. His natural movement skills and aggression in this area leads to executing critical blocks on many successful run calls. His abilities in the ground game at his size and athletic traits make him an obvious candidate to project to offenses that favor zone run blocking schemes.
Overall, the pluses in his movement and core strength in particular make him an intriguing prospect. That said, the combination of durability concerns, length limitations, and some uneasy vibes his film gives off regarding his recognitions and effort level in certain situations results in an opinion here of a mid-to-late Day 3 grade.
Though the lesser of the three main All-Star games, there’s opportunities to impress at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. One of the standouts, particularly from the practices during the week, was Rebels safety Javin White. After a productive senior season, including raising his career interception total to nine, his arrow is firmly pointing up.
From his good measurables and arm length, to his fluidity and range as an athlete, to his versatility at multiple spots in the back seven, White has a ton of developmental potential. Offering depth at linebacker, nickel and safety, he projects well to contribute across special teams units also. Fans of App State’s Akeem Davis-Gaither might find a compromise in White later in the draft. Seahawks 2019 pick Marquise Blair out of Utah also came to mind when watching White.
White has experience at corner, safety and linebacker, including around the line of scrimmage. Playing primarily at off-ball linebacker as a senior, the UNLV playmaker also saw time in the slot and dropping deeper in coverage this year. Particularly comfortable with the action in front of him, his closing speed and sideline range are evident.
As in the example below, he’s capable of forcing his path to ball carriers through contact and has a well-earned reputation as a forceful hitter as a tackler. He flashes good wrap-up technique, utlilizing his length.
White’s film is not without questions, however. There’s moment of guesswork in his initial movements off the snap. Incorrect reads can result in taking himself out of plays or into difficult spots. While the recovery speed helps, he can get lost in traffic at times. Though athletic with loose hips, his backpedal needs work. In general, man coverage assignments are not his strength currently.
Combining his strong motor and competitiveness to his athletic pluses and versatility, White is an appealing late-round developmental prospect. The long, lean safety completed his college career with 79 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 11 pass breakups, 3 interceptions and a forced fumble. After his NFLPA Bowl performances, hopefully testing well will complete a strong pre-draft process.
One of only three Mountain West prospects at the Senior Bowl, Ismael entered the event relatively under-the-radar. While Jordan Love and Wyoming LB Logan Wilson are more widely known, the Aztecs center is less familiar with most. Though a redshirt junior, he was able to join the Senior Bowl, having earned his degree. Ismael has been a steady, reliable and composed anchor on the San-Diego State O-line.
Though his consistency shone through during the week of practices, the relative physical limitations were also apparent. The same was felt when delving into Ismael’s 2019 game film. The former 2-star recruit has greatly outplayed that rating, but has modest size, length and core strength. He does compensate somewhat with his leverage, toughness and technique.
Ismael shows good form, coordination and balance. Though he can get pushed back in the pocket at times, he is generally able to reset his feet and re-establish his anchor. The length is ok at 32” but aids his effectiveness through maximizing his extension and consistent hand placement. With 38 starts over his 3 seasons, his experience, recognition and overall football IQ are positives.
Though Ismael is likely limited to playing center only, he has starting potential there. His polished game will appeal, despite a likely lower ceiling. Facing a step-up in competition he saw his share of beats in Senior Bowl 1-on-1 drills. Overall though, the practices were relatively positive, confirming much of the observations reached from his game film. He should be another from this West Division group to hear his name called on Day 3.
The 2020 linebacker class is considered one of the weaker position groups this year. There’s potential to make significant strides up draft boards over the next few months for those who can emerge from a crowded tier behind some of the top names. Walker made the most of his East-West Shrine Bowl appearance as one of the better linebackers in attendance.
He looked the part at weigh-ins with his cut, toned frame, big hands and long wingspan. That was followed by strong practices that displays his explosiveness. A Division II transfer from Azusa Pacific, Walker has spent much of his time rushing off the edge for Fresno. He’s seen increased time at off-ball linebacker this season though and continued with that transition at Shrine week. His quickness lends itself well to special teams units.
Walker’s athleticism extends to good initial burst, flexibility, change of direction and sideline range. An easy mover in space, his traits lends itself well to run and chase play laterally. Able to get depth quickly, he is very functional working backward, in his backpedal and flipping his hips. He could still bring his pass rush experience as a blitzer and at times off the edge. He doesn’t offer much of a defined plan on his rush reps but brings a good first step, energy and motor, and active hands.
The Bulldogs star impresses when free to close on ball carriers. Where his linebacking skills needs work is in stacking and shedding blocks, getting stuck on contact too often. He can have some issues finding an efficient path through congested space. Though generally solid as a tackler, he’s not a true thumper and slips off a few blocks. His finishing could be more consistent.
The former multisport athlete, including as a hurdler in high school, has upside as his game continues to progress. His quickness and range allow him to be scheme diverse and versatile in his deployment. There’s areas of his game to clean up, but could be a useful contributor early with starting potential. Another solid Day 3 investment from this talented Mountain West conference.
It’s been a wild ride over the past two years and endlessly entertaining. However, the time has come to judge the merits of Hawaii’s Cole McDonald as a pro prospect. He’s another who will have his fans, and it’s not difficult to imagine a team expending a draft pick on him. Personally though, he’s going to receive a free agent grade.
A gunslinger from a pass-happy scheme, McDonald is a highly volatile and inconsistent quarterback, risk-taking to the point of recklessness at times. There’s no fear releasing the ball. While there’s some praise for that confidence, the trouble it gets him in is frustrating. Many throws give the indication that there’s not much reading of the defense being applied. Some spectacular plays down the field occur that make for a great highlight package, but there’s unforgivable attempts littered between times.
McDonald certainly has plenty arm strength to stretch the field, hit every level of the defense and hit tight windows. His unconventional throwing mechanics are unlikely to change at this point, including a lengthy, over-the-top release. That’s fine; it’s his style, and the ball comes out quickly with velocity. What must improve though is the footwork as he releases. The lack of coordination between upper and lower body results in some ugly off-target throws and unreliable ball placement overall.
Between the mental errors of decision making and coverage recognition, to the physical errors in his footwork and unreliable accuracy, there’s issues throughout McDonald’s game. It’s not a good look for a potential draftable QB to find himself benched at points during his final year. The TD to INT ratio isn’t completely egregious, but the film reflects the risks he frequently takes that aren’t always punished. It’ll be fascinating to see who picks him up and into what scheme and situation.
The combination of length and ball skills as a corner will almost always get the NFL’s attention. Leading the FBS in passes defended (25), including tied-first in interceptions with 9, 6’0” Luq Barcoo did just that in his senior season. The 3-star junior college transfer had a breakout year in his second season with the Aztecs. That earned him a shot at the recent East-West Shrine Bowl.
Unfortunately, the All-Star event might have exposed him to the extent he may now go undrafted. The length is nice, but at 172lbs he’s rail thin. Given that he also looks to have average speed at best, adding the necessary weight could further limit him in that area. The 1-on-1 drills saw him struggle throughout, being beaten consistently.
Barcoo does flash good ball skills at the catch point on film. His history as a wide receiver contributed to his ability to make plays when in position. Despite the statistical production, it’s clear on film that Barcoo is very technically raw in most areas of his play. Too often late in his reads and reactions, combined with his relatively poor short-area quickness results in easy separation allowed to receiver.
His backpedal is on the awkward side, his hips a little stiff, and the footwork overall is a negative. Though he’s not lacking for effort in the run game, the lack of mass on his frame shows up often. The Aztecs corner is often outmuscled or losing hand fights with receivers. A look in camp still could be available. Being selected in the draft would be a bit surprising at this point, however.
NOTES ON OTHER PROSPECTS:
The San Diego State Aztecs have by far the most potential pro players in this class among West Division teams. One who impressed at the Shrine Bowl was tight end Parker Houston. The 6’2”, 250lb utility player will likely have more of a full back role at the next level. A useful underneath target, he does a lot of the unheralded work as a physical blocker. Though not overly quick, he’s smooth and efficient as a runner, changing directions with little wasted motion. He may go undrafted but would not shock if he made a roster.
The excellently named Rojesterman Farris stood out at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The Hawaii corner was praised for his coverage work and overall practice performances at the event. His quickness and fluidity in his backpedal and transitions immediately impress. That said, some late reactions and some issues staying in phase in general are evident on film. Another slightly built corner, Farris is listed at 5’11”, 179lbs.
Rainbow Warriors receiver Cedric Byrd II had a fantastic senior season. The Hawaii pass catcher totalled 98 receptions for 1,097 yards and 10 touchdowns. His size at 5’9”, 175lbs will see him play from the slot should he make a roster. The JUCO transfer impresses with his footwork, suddenness and sharp route running to get open. The catch radius is small, but he finds space and shows reliable hands.
Kyahva Tezino of San Diego State is another popular linebacker for the mid rounds for many. Also at the Shrine Bowl, he’s stoutly built at 6’0”, 235lbs. However, a lack of athleticism and questionable ability in space and coverage hurts. He brings toughness between the tackles in the initial phases but is slow changing directions and beaten to angles outside. His film felt a little underwhelming.
For all previous articles in this series looking at FCS and Group of Five prospects, click here!
Feature Image Credit: The Fresno Bee
CFB/NFL DRAFT analyst
Rebecca is an NFL Draft analyst focusing primarily on the FCS and Group of Five conferences, and a fan of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Stanford Cardinal. You can find her other articles here and follow on Twitter @bex_r86.