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Peak Perspective: 2023 Top 20 Players in the Mountain West

Who are the top players in the conference to watch out for this year?

With the beginning of the season just 45 days away, it’s a perfect time to look at the stars of the Mountain West conference. Here are my top 20:

Couple of things to note. This is my personal list, not the official site Top 10. That will be out next week. Also, this is also the subject of this week’s Hike’s Peak episode. If you would like to check it out, it’s linked at the bottom of the article. Make sure to listen to the first two episodes, too, since all the offseason episodes will still be relevant until the beginning of the season.

PLAYER KEY: [Height/Weight], (former school)

STATS KEY: (MW stat ranking), grades from PFF

1. Cam Lockridge // SR CB Fresno State [6’0”, 183]

  • 39 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack, 5 INTs (T1st), 1 P6, 9 deflections (5th) / 76.4 coverage grade

“The Locksmith” is the obvious choice for the top corner in the MW, but it may be time to talk about him being a top three corner in the nation. His five picks were tied for the most in the conference, and he was 5th in pass deflections with nine. He was a huge part of Fresno State’s turnaround from 1-4 to MW champs and a bowl win, winning MVP of the championship game in Boise with his two interceptions. There’s no reason to think the wiry, fleet-footed Lockridge won’t dominate the conference once again.

2. Tory Horton // SR WR Colorado State [6’2”, 175 lbs]

  • 71 catches (4th), 1,131 REC yards (1st), 8 REC TDs (2nd), 15.9 YPC (4th) // ‘22 MW 1st team

After a decent first two seasons at Nevada, Horton followed Jay Norvell to Colorado State. He rewarded his coach with a breakout season, leading the league in receiving yards. Horton is one of the best deep threats in the country, and despite being underweight for a typical NFL wideout, it would be shocking if he wasn’t playing on Sundays in 2024. With another year of development for Rams QB Clay Millen, Horton might end up re-writing a few records before he leaves Fort Collins.

3. Easton Gibbs // JR LB Wyoming [6’2”, 230]

  • 121 tackles (2nd), 9 TFLs (T20th), 3 sacks, 1 deflection, 1 forced fumble // ‘22 MW 1st team

Following a solid first two seasons in Laramie, Gibbs has cemented his spot as the next to join the fraternity of incredible Wyoming linebackers. His 121 tackles was 2nd in the conference. He led the Cowboys in tackles in nine of their 13 games, and rightfully earned a MW 1st team nod. If Gibbs has another year with 100+ tackles, he’ll be forced to choose between his senior year or jumping to the NFL.

4. Jack Howell // JR S Colorado State [5’10”, 200]

  • 108 tackles (3rd), 3 TFLs, 0.5 sack, 3 INTs (T5th), 3 deflections, 1 forced fumble // ‘22 MW 1st team

Howell contributed from day one, with 64 tackles as a true freshman. In year two, he emerged as one of the best safeties in the Mountain West, finishing 3rd in tackles and 5th in interceptions. He also had an absurd stretch in the first two months of the season where he averaged almost 13 tackles a game. One of just three sophomores on the MW 1st team, Howell will no doubt be the centerpiece of the Rams defense once again.

5. George Holani // SR RB Boise State [5’11”, 208]

  • 221 attempts (4th), 1,157 rush yards (3rd), 10 rush TDs (5th), 5.2 YPC (5th) / 24 catches, 151 REC yards, 3 REC TDs // ‘22 MW 2nd team

Holani burst onto the scene in 2019, winning MW Freshman of the Year, but injuries limited him to just 12 games over the last two years. Finally healthy, he had the best year of his career, rushing for ten scores and the 3rd most yards in the conference. The three headed monster of Holani, Taylen Green, and Ashton Jeanty terrorized defenses all year, and will only be better after another year of development. Though there’s a chance that Jeanty gets more carries, Holani should be a lock for another great year.

6. Mo Kamara // SR ED Colorado State [6’1”, 250]

  • 44 tackles, 16 TFLs (T2nd), 8.5 sacks (T4th), 2 forced fumbles / 69 Run D, 81.6 Pass Rush // ‘22 MW 2nd team

Kamara had a chance to leave Fort Collins after his junior year. He was 2nd on the team in TFLs and sacks, and no one would have blamed him since staying would mean his 3rd head coach in four years. He stayed put, and tied for 2nd in the MW in sacks, as well as tying for 4th in TFLs, earning 2nd team honors for his efforts. The speedy edge used his COVID year to return for one more run, and will be a popular preseason DPoY choice.

7. Cam Stone // JR CB Hawaii (Wyoming) [5’10, 181]

  • 35 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INTs, 10 deflections (T3rd), 1 forced fumble / 78.9 coverage grade // ‘22 MW HM

The first two years of Stone’s time in Laramie were spent as a rotation player. Finally getting his chance to start, he broke out as one of the best corners in the conference. He was 3rd in the league in deflections, as well as helping out in the return game. Wanting a change of scenery, Stone found a home with Timmy Chang in Hawaii. Expect an all conference caliber season from the Texas native.

8. Payton Zdroik // JR DT Air Force [6’0”, 260]

  • 30 tackles, 10 TFLs (T10th), 5.5 sacks (T14th) / 72.5 Run D, 79.5 Pass rush

In his first chance to be a starter, Zdroik made it clear that he’s the real deal. He was 2nd on the team in sacks and TFLs, and he played the best football of his career down the stretch, with 4.5 sacks in the Falcons final five games. Stats don’t tell the full story here, though. When you watch Zdroik on film, his pure speed is undeniable. If he can add some more muscle this offseason, he’s going to be one of the best interior lineman in the country.

9. Chevan Cordeiro // SR QB San Jose State [6’1”, 190]

  • 60.7% CMP rate (5th), 3,251 pass yards (1st), 23 pass TDs (1st), 6 INTs (7th) / 265 rush yards, 9 rush TDs (T8th) // ‘22 MW 2nd team

Cordeiro spent his first four years at Hawaii, and after throwing for 4,876 yards over his two years as a starter, he left during the mass exodus from Todd Graham. After deciding on San Jose State, he flourished, leading the conference in passing yards, passing TDs, and touchdowns responsible for (eight more than 2nd). With one year of eligibility left, he’ll be the best player on a Spartan team that hasn’t won more than seven games since 2012.

10. Cade Beresford // SR OT Boise State [6’7”, 305]

  • PFF grades: 65.3 Pass Block, 72.9 Run Block // ‘22 MW 2nd team

After four years at Washington State, starting just nine games during that time, Beresford decided to explore his options. He chose to come to the blue turf, and immediately locked down the right tackle position. Starting all 13 games, and grading out solidly, he earned a second team nod. He was a key part of the rushing renaissance that the Broncos went through mid-season, and should be one of the best offensive tackles in the conference once again.

11. Kaleb Holcomb // SR OT Air Force [6’4”, 265]

  • PFF grades: 81.5 Pass Block, 83.4 Run Block

Though Air Force has to replace a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, right tackle Kaleb Holcomb is an anchor to build around. After starting eight games as a sophomore, he started every game in 2022, helping Brad Roberts win MW OPOY. His PFF grades are the 4th best of any returning player in the country. Holcomb’s consistency will be relied on even more now that Everett Smalley won’t be on the field, but he should be up for the challenge.

12. DJ Schramm // SR LB Boise State [6’0”, 235]

  • 107 tackles (4th), 11.5 TFLs (T12th), 0.5 sack, 1 forced fumble // ‘22 MW 2nd team

Schramm was a rotation piece for his first four years in Boise. As a senior, he finally got his shot to start, and he seized it, finishing 4th in the conference in tackles and earning a MW 2nd team nod. With one more year of eligibility, Schramm returned to school to be the defensive backbone again. If he matches last years’ production, that’s a big boost for a defense that will still be figuring out their front four. If he exceeds what he did last year, there’s no telling what the Broncos are capable of.

13. Camby Goff // SR SPUR Air Force [6’1’, 205]

  • 42 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 INTs (T5th), 9 deflections (T5th) / 70.1 Run D, 80.7 coverage grade // ‘22 MW HM

As a true freshman, Goff played sparingly, and got a good amount of play time as a sophomore. Now a full time starter at the spur position (linebacker-safety hybrid), he emerged as one of the best coverage athletes in the MW. He was tied for fifth in interceptions and pass break-ups, and was a force in the run game. With another offseason to better understand his role, Goff is one of multiple stars on a Falcon defense that should be one of the best in the country.

14. Taylen Green // SO QB Boise State [6’6”, 220]

  • 61.3% CMP rate (3rd), 2,042 pass yards (4th), 14 pass TDs (3rd), 6 INTs (7th) / 588 rush yards (15th), 10 rush TDs (T5th) // ‘22 MW HM

The sky was falling in Boise. The Broncos lost to UTEP for the first time ever and sat at 2-2. Andy Avalos made the switch at QB (and Offensive Coordinator), and thanks to Taylen Green, the rest is history. Green turned a stagnant offense into one with a potent rushing attack, and provided a steady hand if the passing game was needed. He led them to an undefeated regular season in MW play, only to be stopped by a red hot Fresno State team in the championship game. The change of fortune for the team was undeniable, though. Green won Freshman of the Year, finishing 3rd in the conference in completion percentage, 4th in passing yards, 3rd in passing TDs, and 5th in rushing scores. With a full offseason as QB1, the sky that was once falling is now the limit for the sophomore.

15. Trey Taylor // SR S Air Force [6’0”, 205]

  • 69 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 4 deflections // ‘22 MW 2nd team

Two years after coming to Colorado Springs, Taylor started ten games as a sophomore and contributed 62 tackles. His junior year saw him take another step in his development, making more plays in the box and grabbing two interceptions. He was named to the MW 2nd team, and should be just as effective as a senior.

16. Cole Godbout // SR DT Wyoming [6’4”, 290]

  • (7 games) 33 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1 D / 85 Run D, 63.3 Pass Rush

After one redshirt season, Godbout became one of the Cowboys starting nose tackles, and he’s kept that job ever since. He had 70 tackles and five sacks in 2021, being named to the MW 2nd team, and was well on his way to another great season before a foot injury cut his season short. When he was on the field, though, he was a beast. Godbout is one of the best run defenders in the conference, and while not as much of a problem as a pass rusher, he can still get to the QB, as he has eight career sacks. If he can stay healthy this year, he’ll be one of the best DTs in the MW, no doubt. In his absence, players like DeVonne Harris, Braden Siders, and Jordan Bertagnole showed their sky-high potential. If all four are on the field for the entire season, they’ll likely create more havoc than any other front four in the conference.

17. Cade Bennett // JR OG San Diego State [6’3”, 305]

  • PFF grades: 82.4 Pass Block, 53.5 Run Block // ’22 MW 2nd team

Bennett transferred to San Diego State from Oklahoma State after two seasons there. He won the starting job at left guard, and started every game on his way to being the only sophomore on offense on either all MW team. Though his run blocking grade looks rough, it’s misleading, with how much stress the Aztecs’ run-heavy puts on their pulling guards. He’s as solid as they come, and should be one of the conference’s best lineman this season.

18. Ashton Jeanty // SO RB Boise State [5’8”, 205]

  • 156 attempts (11th), 821 rush yards (10th), 7 rush TDs (T12th), 5.3 YPC (T3rd) / 14 catches, 155 REC yards // ‘22 MW HM

A four star recruit, Jeanty forced his way onto the field immediately. Alongside George Holani, he was electric every time he touched the ball. Despite not being the lead back, he finished top 12 in the MW in every rushing stat. His final game, the Frisco Bowl versus North Texas, he ran for a career high of 178 yards. He’s an absolute wrecking ball when he’s running downhill, and good luck catching him if he gets to the second level. Though he’ll still be behind Holani to start the year, Jeanty is so talented that the Broncos may have no choice but to give him the bulk of the carries.

19. Peter Manuma // SO S Hawaii [6’0”, 190]

  • 70 tackles (20th), 3 TFLs, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 4 deflections, 2 forced fumbles // ‘22 MW HM

Manuma was a three star recruit that decided to stay home and play for Hawaii. As a true freshman, he was installed as the starting strong safety, and immediately became arguably the best player on the Warriors defense. Besides the fact that a true freshman producing like this is absurd, Manuma is one of the hardest hitting, most athletic safeties in the conference. The honorable mention he received will likely be the lowest honor of his career, with there being no indication that he won’t get better and better as Timmy Chang’s program is built up around him.

20. Harrison Waylee // JR RB Wyoming (NIU) [5’10”, 192]

  • 165 attempts (7th), 899 rush yards (6th), 5 rush TDs (T13th), 5.4 YPC (T3rd) / 17 catches, 119 REC yards // ‘22 MAC 3rd team

A former two star prospect, Waylee had triple digit carries in all three of his seasons at Northern Illinois. Before getting injured in 2021, he was averaging 114.8 yards a game. Finally getting a full season of play, Waylee had over 1,000 all-purpose yards and was named to the all MAC 3rd team for his efforts. He entered the transfer portal and ended up at Wyoming, where he’ll be the Titus Swen successor. Not including 2020, the Cowboys have had a running back rush for at least one thousand yards every year since 2017. As the focal point of the offense, Waylee is expected to be one of the most productive players in the entire conference.

Honorable Mentions (one from each position): JR QB Doug Brumfield (UNLV), SR RB Kairee Robinson (SJSU), JR WR Ricky White (UNLV), SR TE Treyton Welch (WYO), JR OT JC Davis (UNM), SR OG Mose Vavao (FresSt), JR C Jacob Spomer (FresSt), SR DE DeVonne Harris (WYO), SR DT Hale Motu’apuaka (USU), JR LB Cody Moon (SDSU), SR CB Michael Anyanwu (USU), SO S Ike Larsen (USU), SR K/P Jack Browning (SDSU)

For Hike’s Peak episode three, click here.