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MWCConnection Roundtable: 2021 Draft Prospects

Let’s ask the team.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s roundtable discussion is short, simple, and to the point. Following the 2020 NFL Draft, who (in your opinion) are a few players from each team in the MWC who have the potential to be drafted in 2021? Feel free to include what round you could see them going in as well as teams or schemes they might fit the best.


In 2021, we have the potential to hear some stellar San Diego State players’ names called come April. The most likely of which will undoubtedly be Safety Dwayne Johnson Jr. (of no relation to The Rock) and Defensive Back Tariq Thompson. Johnson is raw, only receiving significant playing time last season, but was solid against the run and flashed great coverage skills as a safety/linebacker hybrid. Pro Football Focus had Johnson as the 10th highest-graded overall and coverage safety in the FBS last season and with all 32 NFL teams subscribing to their services, there will definitely be scouts keeping an eye on him in 2020. Any team that runs a Cover 3 defense that likes to drop a safety into the box, such as the Seahawks or 49ers, will covet him late Day 2 to early Day 3 of the draft.

Tariq Thompson will likely be the highest drafted player from the Aztecs, if not the entire Mountain West Conference. He is listed on the school’s site as a safety but he is really a slot cornerback with the ability to play all over the field. Thompson played 150+ snaps at both deep safety and in the box but took 521 snaps from the slot. He has been phenomenal in coverage, as according to PFF he has allowed just 3 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and 14 PBUs, culminating in a 60.2 passer rating when targeted in his career. He is simply a playmaker in the back end of the defense as he has even forced 5 fumbles since becoming a starter in 2017.

Trouting out three or four receivers is far more common in today’s NFL, forcing defenses to use their nickel and dime packages more often. This means teams need slot cornerbacks as they are on the field just as much as any other position. The need for slot corners, mixed with Thompson’s coverage ability, versatility, and seniority (will be a 4-year starter), will have teams targeting him in the 3rd to 4th round range.

Honorable Mentions: S Trenton Thompson (5th/6th round) and OT Zachary Thomas (7th round/UDFA)


In my opinion there is one clear answer to the question of who is the most likely Falcon to be drafted next year, and that is Nolan Laufenberg, who is entering next year as a three-year starter on the Falcon offensive line. At 6-3 and 300 lbs, he has the size, and would be a good fit especially for the more run oriented NFL teams like the 49ers, Rams, or Titans. He obviously doesn’t have a lot of reps on the pass blocking aspects of the position, so there would be some development needed in that area. This past year, Laufenberg averaged 21 knockdown blocks per game, which is about a third of all offensive snaps. NFL scouts were interested this year in Scott Hattock, who was second on the team in knockdown blocks with 13.5. He is rated by Pro Football Focus as the third best offensive lineman entering next year, behind Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell and first team All-American Wyatt Davis. If he can continue his development and add more power, I could easily see him getting picked in the middle to late rounds of the draft. I would guess that the lack of passing game experience and the fact he plays for Air Force would hold him back from being a high round pick.

It’s also possible Laufenberg’s linemate, Parker Ferguson could be considered as an undrafted free agent. Ferguson is rated as the eighth best lineman entering next year and also has good size at 6-5 and 280 lbs. I think both these guys were unnoticed last year, despite the Falcon’s success, and with the attention brought to them from the high rating by Pro Football Focus, could increase their standings with the NFL scouts.


Honestly, it is hard to see a lot of draft prospects for Boise State in 2021. Many of the Broncos most productive players will be underclassmen. But if we are going to look at possibilities, let’s start with the seniors.

John Bates is probably the best pro prospect in the senior class. He has NFL size at tight end and has improved as a run blocker. However, if Bates is going to get drafted, he is going to need to have a bigger presence in the passing game. But I think he will be a late round pick. Jalen Walker has also emerged as lockdown corner, but he is a little small. If he can become more of a ballhawk, he will have a shot. Some dark horse candidates are Riley Whimpey (linebacker) and Octavius Evans (wide receiver). Both guys have been limited by injuries.

If we are looking at underclassmen that are draft eligible you have to start with Khalil Shakir. Shakir is a special talent who has great hands at wide receiver and could have a big impact in the return game. But it is hard to see Shakir leaving early, I think he will be a candidate for the 2022 draft. Scale Igiehon is also an intriguing prospect as an interior lineman, but Scale is only in his third year of college and still needs to develop as a pass rusher.


I’m not sure that Wyoming will be producing much in the way of NFL draft prospect buzz next season. That said, I will suggest a couple of names.

First, Garrett Crall is the name that came to my mind among the upcoming senior group. Like recent Wyoming draft picks in Marcus Epps (2019 NFL Draft pick) as well as Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia (2020 NFL Draft picks), Garrett Crall will be a 4 year starter on the Wyoming defense come this fall. Crall is 6’5” and 245 lbs and starts at defensive end for the Cowboys. That size is pretty good for translating to the NFL. To this point, Crall has been good against the run while also providing some pass rush (4.5 sacks in 2018 & 4.5 sacks in 2019). If Crall can put together a good fall and get a little more production as far getting to the QB to increase his sacks total, he could be a guy that NFL teams look at on Day 3 in the 2021 draft for depth along the defensive line.

Second, Xazavian Valladay is an upcoming junior. He might be looking at declaring early for the draft in 2021 if he puts together another big year this fall. Valladay ran for 1,265 yards & 6 TDs last season. Luckily for Valladay, the Cowboys return his offensive line from last year. If Valladay and the Cowboy offensive line stay healthy, Xazavian should put up another big year. If so, Valladay might see his draft stock rise enough that he decides to leave early for the NFL.

Alex Wright:

UNLV has not had a player drafted in the NFL draft since 2010, it appeared that Javin White would break that drought this year, but the drought continues for UNLV. But, there is always hope for next season. Currently, there is not a lot of draft hype around any UNLV players, but a big 2020 could boost some players into the late rounds of the NFL draft.

The most obvious pick to get drafted from UNLV is Charles Williams. He played well as a freshman, piling up 763 rushing yards, which earned him the starting job entering the 2017 season. But after an injury in the first game of the season, his progress was derailed. After Lexington Thomas graduated in 2018, Williams was back in the starting role for 2019. In 12 games, Williams totaled 1,257 yards and 11 touchdowns. Averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 104.8 yards per game. With an offensive minded head coach like Marcus Arroyo, expect Williams to be the focal point of the offense again this season. If Williams can get around 1,500 rushing yards and more than 10 touchdowns, he might sneak his way up some team’s draft board and hear his name called.


I’ll examine Colorado State this week, as I think they will have two of the best offensive prospects in the conference in 2021.

Wide Receiver Warren Jackson had a breakout year in 2019, with over 1000 yards receiving being the primary option in the Ram offense. At 6’6” with speed and strength, there is a lot to like with this pick. Expect another strong season from Jackson and for him to be one of the top wide receivers in next year’s class. I think he is an early Day 2 pick as of right now.

Colorado State also boasts one of the best returning tight ends in the country, and the best in the MWC. Trey McBride will only be a junior but I think it’s likely he comes out if he can duplicate or build on last season. 560 yards, 12.4 yards per catch, and 4 touchdowns. Plus, he should be a key target on third downs and in the red-zone. I see McBride as a 4th/5th round guy with the chance to have an immediate (but limited) backup role.

Jake: I am going to take San Jose State for this, and they have one big weapon on offense lining up at wide receiver, Tre Walker.

Walker, who is going to be a senior next season, has lots of potential, and I think he will be a big contributor to his future NFL squad. He had over 1,100 yards last year, while hauling in 14.7 yards per reception. It is safe to say he does well as an intermediate and deep threat. He has increased his yards each season, and will likely continue that next year. He has above average hands and great speed, although his height may hold him back a bit. I do see him going in one of the later rounds. I would love to see him wear a Chiefs uniform because Mahomes knows how to thrive with speedy receivers, and Walker would fall right under that category.

Matt: For Nevada, two players immediately stand out as potential 2021 draft prospects: Wide receiver Elijah Cooks and defensive lineman Dom Peterson.

Cooks, a 6-foot-4 wideout who did not make an All-Mountain West team last season, still has solidified himself as one of the most productive wideouts in the conference. He was fourth in the conference in touchdowns (8), sixth in receptions (76) and eighth in receiving yards (926) last season. Cooks has showcased really good hands and can high-point the football as good as anyone. He may not be the fastest player, but is still an athletic, big-bodied wideout that continuously found a way to create big plays down the field. Peterson garnered nine sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss last season — both second in the conference behind 2020 fifth-round pick Curtis Weaver (Boise State). Peterson, listed at 6-foot and 295 pounds, is a high-motor lineman that can play in the inside and the outside. Over his first two years at Nevada, he was shifted around between the 0-/5-tech in Nevada’s 3-3-5 defense. With a change in the defensive scheme heading into 2020, Peterson could find himself shifting around the line throughout the year.