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2023 Hula Bowl Preview

Check out the Mountain West players participating this weekend.

NCAA Football: San Diego State at San Jose State Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 college football season is over, but post-season bowls will be occurring over the next few weeks. Mountain West alums are taking part in the Tropical Bowl, the Hula Bowl, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, and the Senior Bowl. This post will focus on the Hula Bowl.

These events are used primarily as camps with a game at the end. Invited players get officially measured and weighed upon checking in. Then, there are a few days of practice with NFL coaches. The practice time for players is really at the heart of these events.

This is due to the time players and coaches can spend together honing their craft collaboratively. It gives the players a chance to be looked at by coaches who know the NFL game. What better way to understand where and how to improve than to hear it from the source? Receiving this feedback can give the players an edge as they head into their training for the NFL Combine or their respective Pro-day.

Finally, this gives players a chance to stand out. If a player was overshadowed on his team by other talented individuals, wasn’t featured in his offense, or in the case of those in this article, played in a Group of 5 conference, they have the opportunity to open the eyes of the coaches with their play and jump onto the radar before draft time. While the combine and pro-days are also good opportunities for this, the more chances of coaches seeing one play and compete, the better position they put themselves in.

This year, five players from the Mountain West are participating in the Hula Bowl. Below we will provide a brief description of each player and illustrate what kind of showing they need to improve their draft stock.

Note: The Hula Bowl did not post the official roster as of Thursday evening, so some players may be on the roster but not featured here. We relied on player or team accounts to announce their participation. They will be featured in the stock report following the game.

Hula Bowl Schedule:

January 14, 2023

  • 12:00 pm (Eastern time) CBS Sports Network

The Players:

WR Jesse Matthews (San Diego State)

Provided by JCarter83

Matthews had a year where the defenses keyed on him. His results were less than spectacular, with 38 catches, 409 yards, and 3 TDs. While he possesses average size and speed, good for the college level, I think he will struggle to make the draft and would probably be an undrafted pick-up. Pro defensive backs are much better than the competition he’s faced, and he may be challenged to stick with a team. It is not for heart or lack of trying, but there look to be some top-tier wide receivers in this year's draft.

LB Caden McDonald (San Diego State)

Provided by JCarter83

The leader on defense had a year that could be classified as steady. He amassed 41 tackles, including 16 solo, along with 1 interception and 2 sacks. It could be argued those stats were the results of the year that was dominated by the defensive line. McDonald has tremendous physical assets for playing at the next level. 6’3” and 235 pounds make him an ideal pro candidate. He needs to find a system where he can be in a support role and probably an understudy with expectations 2-3 years out. I would guess him 5th round at the earliest.

WR Elijah Cooks (San Jose State)

Provided by Vic Aquino

Cooks is an attention getter; great personality, great on-field performer and still great upside with his resurgence at San Jose State as first-team All Mountain West performer. One of the first things that pops to mind is his past Nevada counterpart Romeo Doubs, who’s now with the Packers and their connection to coach Eric Scott from SJSU, which is another big beneficial intangible - which all amounts to great football mentality and knowledge. Cooks is a bigger, slightly slower version of Doubs, where Cooks can duplicate Doub’s early success if he gets into the right situation. At the Hula Bowl game, all Cooks needs to do is show a few good possession catches and his superior catch radius, and to further exceed expectations, also show some YAC action.

DB Nehemiah Shelton (San Jose State)

Provided by Vic Aquino

First, second and third impressions have always held true for Shelton for this writer. As a dynamic, acrobatic freshman cornerback to a mature, confident, two-time All Mountain West Honorable mention, the biggest thing Shelton can showcase is his football knowledge and field application before and during the Hula Bowl game. When Shelton was an upstart corner, the raw talent was exciting to witness. As Shelton became a mainstay and his physicality blossomed, it became more clear he could have NFL potential. What Shelton will need to showcase is certainly speed, instincts and toughness, but equally important, how disciplined and intelligent he is between run support and coverage.

RB Calvin Tyler (Utah State)

Provided by Graham

Calvin Tyler Jr. took over Utah State’s run game once again for the second straight season, rushing for 1,112 yards and seven touchdowns on the season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 253 rushing attempts. In 2021, Calvin Tyler Jr. rushed for 884 yards on 196 attempts and also rushed for seven touchdowns in 2021, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Calvin Tyler Jr. Back-to-back seasons leading Utah State in rushing yards undoubtedly aids Calvin Tyler Jr. in his draft stock, but a strong performance in the Hula Bowl will only further improve his movement on the draft board.

Note: The weaknesses or questions describing each player below aren’t necessarily the views of the contributors or site, but rather what could be questions or concerns NFL scouts or talent-elevators or the media have about them, which are still worth discussing as they can have ramifications.