Continuing with the week’s theme, today’s post will detail which teams have the best position units in the Mountain West. Voted on by our team, the results can be seen below. This year we added a “pass rush” category to better signify the difference between pass rushers and interior defensive linemen.
The Bulldogs sit atop this position mainly due to star quarterback Jake Haener. He is the best QB heading into the season, and after a remarkable 2021 season, he should be as good or better in 2022. The high expectations for Fresno State’s season start with him, and he seems poised to deliver. This exercise is also about the totality of each position, and although backup Jaylen Henderson isn’t yet on the same level, he is talented and can be effective in a small role to complete Haener if they want to utilize that way.
The Falcons led the conference and nation in rushing last season and they return five of their top six rushers from the 2021 season. Running back Brad Roberts is back and so are his 1356 yards from last season. Joining him as a prolific one-two punch is quarterback Haaziq Daniels, so amassed 734 rushing yards. However, both of those players are recovering from injuries, so they will be eased into the season. Other names joining the mix are Emmanual Michel, DeAndre Hughes, and Omar Fattah. The rushing attack is alive and well at the academy.
No disrespect to the talent over at Fort Air Raid, but the Bulldogs have a very well-rounded group this season in the wide receiver room. Led by Jalen Cropper, the consensus top WR heading into 2022, it could be a special group. Joining him are Ty Jones and Josh Kelly, and both of them have the potential to make a huge impact. Throw in Zane Pope and it’s a veteran group who has shown they can produce on the field. Also, true freshman Jalen Moss was a big-time recruit and could see playing time right away. Look for this group to do big things this season.
After the Mountain West lost the top four or five tight ends from last season across their teams, it is a position that doesn’t boast much depth or star power in the MWC heading into 2022. Kyle Patterson of the Falcons is the top TE entering the season, although his numbers are not eye-popping. Patterson, who once held an offer from Alabama, is more of a blocker for the run-heavy Falcon attack, but he did collect 81 yards on only 3 receptions last season. He should play a key role for AFA again this coming year.
Three or four teams are typically able to produce formidable offensive line units year and year out. One of those teams is the Falcons and they enter the year as the team with the top o-line. It’s a group with a heavy emphasis on veteran experience, with all the projected starters and many backups having started at least one game in their careers. The group is spearheaded by Everett Smalley and Isaac Cochran. However, a few other players could become all-conference selections by the end of the season. Look for them to be a great unit that excels in run-blocking, as usual.
Looking at the interior of the defensive line, the Broncos figure to have one of, if not the strongest unit in the conference (although a few other teams should be right up there as well). Scott Matlock had a monster season last year and next to him figures to be the reliable and steady presence of Jackson Cravens. Behind them are a number of players with either starting experience or past production. On paper, they have the ability to go three-deep in the middle of the defensive line, which will set them up for success in the 2022 season.
San Diego State
If Boise State looks stacked on the interior, then the Aztecs are loaded in the pass-rushing department. Jonah Tavai is the biggest name in the bunch, but he is far from the only big name. Tavai and KeShawn Banks will lead the pass-rushing from the defensive line and pose a significant challenge for opposing teams to plan against. They also generate a steady rush from their outside linebackers, notably Caden McDonald, but it could also include a few others as well. With that many players able to get to the quarterback, the SDSU defense is in good hands.
The Cowboys have held this position recently, but they were edged out by the Falcons this year. Their 3-4 scheme features a number of talented linebackers with the ability to rush the quarterback as well as stop the run. On the inside is junior Alec Mock, who has the size and ability to roam the middle of the field and rack up the tackles. Playing one of the outside linebacker positions is Vince Sanford, last year’s breakout player for Air Force. He excels as rushing the passer, and together they were a terrific one-two punch as they lead the linebacker unit.
The Broncos return a veteran unit that features no shortage of talent in the 2022 version of their secondary. They feature the best safety duo in the conference, as Tyreque Jones and JL Skinner both elected to return for this season. At cornerback, five players have started at least one game in 2021, so both the starters and the backups have talent and experience. They will need to replace Kekaula Kaniho, who was entrenched at the nickel spot the past few seasons, but there are a few intriguing options there.
A few teams in the conference should have strong special teams units, but the Broncos may have the edge. They have the best kicker in the conference in Jonah Dalmas leading the way. Also, they have a returner in Stefan Cobbs who was dynamic when healthy and should be a real weapon as long as he can stay on the field. While they have to find a new punter, there are some in-house options auditioning for the spot, most notably Aussie-style punter James Fragoza. Boise State should be as well-rounded as anyone on special teams during the 2022 season.
- Air Force: 4
- Boise State: 3
- Fresno State: 2
- San Diego State: 1
- The unanimous position votes were quarterback, tight end, pass rush, and defensive back.
- Wide Reciever, offensive line, and defensive line were the positions with the closest races
- Linebacker was the only position where there were more than two different teams receiving votes.
- Three teams held their ground from the postseason voting at the end of last year (RB, OL, DB).
- Looking at the team totals, Air Force led the way, followed by the Broncos. Only four teams were featured among the ten positions and given those are will likely be the top four teams in the conference this year, it displays the separation between the top and bottom of the conference.
There it is. So let’s hear it. Who did we snub? Who did we put on here that shouldn’t be? Let’s hear your feedback in the comments section.
Coming tomorrow: Our Kickoff Week continues as we debut the 2022 Preseason All Coach Team.