As you know, a few of us writers did a MWC fantasy draft. I didn’t do much research going in, which was a mistake. I had a great theory on how to draft though; pick the best team possible. Here is my MWC fantasy team. Full disclosure, Zach and I got screwed on the randomized drafting order each round.
1st Round, 3rd pick: Air Force Quarterback
I had my sights set on a few different selections for my first pick and although the Falcon QB wasn’t my top choice, it was still in my top group of three, so I was pretty happy. A team could do a lot with than Donald Hammond III, who could very well be the MWC pre-season OPOY this summer. The only downside was it made my team pick a pretty specific direction (more on that in the schemes section).
2nd Round, 4th pick: UNLV Running Back
Again, this wasn’t my top choice here but it was a selection I was considering and overall happy with. Pairing one of the top running backs in Charles Williams to go with one of the top quarterbacks in the conference forms quite the duo for an offense. I picked the 3rd running back unit off the board and ended up with a top 3 RB unit. The only downside is a lack of proven depth behind Williams, but there are no issues with Williams himself.
3rd Round, 5th pick: Air Force Offensive Line
With my top two picks geared towards the ground game, I figured I should get an OL built for this exact thing. It was an excellent unit last year that specializes in boosting the rushing attack. Maybe it was a reach here looking back, but maybe not. Again, I walked away from this round with one of the top units in their respective position.
4th Round, 5th pick: Colorado State Tight End
In my fantasy drafts, my strategy is I’d rather have the top player at positions and perhaps reach a round or two early than continue to draft lower tier players at important positions throughout the draft. Basically, I’ll go high highs and low lows than a team full of middling selections.
That was my thought here. After missing out on some of the top position groupings in my selections above, I go the best Tight End in the conference with Trey McBride.
5th Round, 4th pick: San Jose State Wide Receiver
The top two receiver groupings went in the first round and I felt there was a pretty sharp drop off after the Spartan’s unit. I felt like I didn’t have to reach to get them either, so I was pretty happy with this pick. I got one of the top WRs in the conference with Tre Walker as well as solid complimentary pieces in freshman sensation Isaiah Hamilton along with fellow youngsters Isaiah Holiness and Jermaine Braddock.
It was also at this pick I realized I made what could be a costly error.
6th Round, 3rd pick: Boise State Safety
I spent all of my first five picks, or the top half of my draft, on offense. Last time I checked, college football is still requiring defenses to play. So suddenly I was scrambling here.
This may have been a reach pick but one I felt comfortable making. The Bronco safeties are anything but proven. In fact, they don’t return either of their traditional starters from last season. However, they do return the hybrid safety Kaniho, who is included in this group and is one of the better defensive playmakers in the MWC. With Kekaula Kaniho, the up and coming JL Skinner who is primed for a breakout according to coaches, and the inconsistent but talented Tyreque Jones, who seemed to find his stride the end of last season, I think this becomes a formidable group with a big enough upside to become a steal.
7th Round, 2nd pick: Utah State Linebacker
By this point I’m trying to pick the best of the remaining options, as everyone else had their selections at the remaining defensive positions. I’m also attempting to “research” positions by looking at predicted depth charts. Looking back, I could’ve waited until round 10 for linebackers as I was no longer competing with anyone else for that position. If I remember correctly, I was set to pick Nevada’s DL here but Steve took them the pick right before.
Anyway, this is a pretty good unit for the Aggies and I liked the pick. Kevin Meitzenheimer has a great season stepping up when David Woodward went down. He’s solid with 89 tackles, 2.5 for loss, plus an INT, a FF and a PBU. His counterpart Eric Munoz stepped into the starting role when Woodward went out and performed pretty well, with 36 tackles, 2 for loss, plus 2 picks in 8 games and 4 starts. Even just maintaining those numbers over a full season works just fine.
8th Round, 4th pick: Utah State Special Teams
For this pick, I went back to my philosophy I explained with the TE pick. No one had selected a special teams unit yet and there were already three CBs and four DLs off the board, so I might as well be first at something.
Yes, the Aggies lost both their punter and kicker from last year, including the dominant Dominic Eberle, but I got Savon Scarver as a returner. Pierce Callister got 18 punts last year as a backup and performed well enough to think a jump is possible. Connor Coles is replacing Eberle and I don’t expect him to be at the same level, but I do expect him to make extra points.
9th Round, 1st pick: Colorado State Cornerbacks
Honestly, I think I got really good value here in the 9th round with this pick. No, they are not to be confused with a top unit, but they were a unit with potential. Or at least they were at the time of the pick.
Rashad Ajayi was a started from day 1 at a true freshman and continued that until his injury mid-way through last season. When healthy and on the field, he’s good and coming into his own as an upperclassman now. Making this pick, I assumed that would become the starter on the other side of him after playing in every game as a reserve his true freshman season. I figured Crossley, at highly rated recruit, would make a jump after a year of experience. He still might, just not as a Ram, as he put his name in the transfer portal 5 days after we drafted. I’m still going to claim him for the sake of this exercise.
10th Round, 3rd pick: Fresno State Defensive Line
This was the pick I was least confident in making. Obviously all the top units were gone by this time. I figured if nothing else, this was a veteran position group. Kevin Atkins is solid in the middle of the line. And Alex Cruz had a pretty good first year on the field with room to improve. Basically, they just have to not be a glaring hole and I’m confident that Atkins can bring stout run defense if nothing else.
This team has clear strengths and weaknesses. It’s an offensive-heavy team that will be run first, and the strength of the defense is in the secondary, with that side of the ball getting weaker as it gets closer to the line.
Given the ability of Hammond and Williams, I want to be a run-first and run-heavy team. Although I’ll do some option packages (not triple though with no fullback), it will not be the sole focus of the offense. I am really interested to develop Hammond a bit as a thrower and believe I’ve surrounded him with the weapons to do it.
A short and quick passing game would give this offense a powerful dynamic. Something with the tempo of Utah State in 2018. The SJSU trio of Walker, Hamilton, and Holiness can be interchangeable on the outside or in the slot to cause matchup issues and McBride over the middle and in the endzone is a huge weapon. Plus, Hammond has a big arm that is sometimes on display when AFA passes and the Spartan WRs have speed to burn for timely, calculated deep shots. While this may not be the most explosive offense, it should be an effective one.
Which is a good thing because the defense has some question marks. The strength is in the secondary, so I’m going to run a multiple, nickel-based scheme. The size and speed combo of Skinner and Jones and their projected growth and ability is what will make or break the defense. Those two, plus Kaniho can bounce between the traditional and hybrid safety spots. I could see Jones or Skinner being more of a SAM linebacker on running plays and Kaniho moving in on passing downs. They can all cover, with Kaniho taking care of slot WRs and the other two handling tight ends or bigger wideouts. If I want to get really creative, inserting Jordan Happle (who has nine starts in fourteen games the past two seasons) into a safety spot and moving Skinner or Jones to an ILB role opposite Meitzenheimer if Munoz struggles or teams go full on air-raid.
I think cornerbacks and linebacker hold their own. The cover abilities of Ajayi and Crossley allow for creativity to be focused elsewhere. Meitzenheimer will come up big in the run game and the talent surrounding Munoz allows him to grow into his role rather than having lots of expectations placed on him early. Defensive line is a concern. The goal is for them to be a positive in run defense between Atkins and Cruz taking a step forward. But the defense is definitely lacking a pass rushing presence. Blitzing Kaniho (4 career sacks, 14 career TFLs) and seeing what Skinner can do in that area will help that a bit, but otherwise I expect this team to struggle at the line of scrimmage.
Overall I’m really excited for this team. I think the offense has the floor of a team that can wear you down with the run and I think they can really surprise you in the passing game. If Hammond has what I think he does as a passer, the offense suddenly becomes dynamic, The defense is really a matter of seeing if the versatile strengths can overcome the glaring deficiencies. If Skinner and Jones (and to a lesser extender Munoz and Cruz) can realize their potential, it will allow them to disguise coverage and blitzes as well as anyone. If the young guys are overexposed by trying to learn so many different positions, then the defense is below-average who is pretty good against the run.
What are your thoughts on the makeup of this team?