While TCU is gone and Boise State will soon follow, the Mountain West isn’t completely dead in terms of NFL level future talent. Boise State and Nevada are still the big boys of the conference (for at least one more year), but none of their juniors made my top in the Mountain West list.
Instead, it was Fresno State and Colorado State that boasted a majority of the Top 6.
1. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Brother of another former Fresno State stud, Derek will be aiming to have a similar college career and a far better (and more upright) pro career. A 6’3, fairly well built passer, Carr showed fantastic consistency a season ago from the pocket. His timing, transition to his second read, and pocket presence were solid, especially for a sophomore quarterback. He was able to work the ball around the offense, working from outside in smoothly and with adequate footwork. He can improve his release consistency, footwork in his set up, and get more accurate in middle of the field crossing routes. But he certainly has the natural talent to one day be an NFL passer.
2. LJ Jones, CB, Fresno State
A feisty, versatile cornerback who can play in the nickel or on the outside, Jones will need to step up this year as safety Phillip Thomas comes back from injury and no other defensive back has much experience. Jones attacks the ball carrier well with good tackling technique, and stays tight to his receiver within 15-20 yards well, breaking up passes smoothly and aggressively in that area.
3. Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State
The 6’6, 245 powerful weapon for San Diego State, new quarterback Ryan Katz will hope he’s as consistent and reliable as he was for Ryan Lindley a season ago. Escobar’s build allows him to be an adequate downfield blocker, along with some versatility to line up as a non-inline receiver and make plays in space. A readzone threat as well, he has the tools to be what the NFL is looking for in tight ends nowadays.
4. Weston Richburg, OC, Colorado State
One of the best centers in all of college football (up for the Rimington at one point last season), the 6’4, agile and explosive off the ball Richburg has some experience at offensive tackle as well. If he has another strong season and leads his now fairly experienced offensive line to a successful running season and protecting first year starter Connor Smith, he should be on NFL radars come his senior season.
5. Chris Nwoke, RB, Colorado State
Nwoke’s NFL dreams are likely directly tied to the play of Richburg and the rest of the offensive line. Nwoke isn’t a burner, but did a great job of exploding with balance up and through the hole and was able to break off arm tackles well in traffic for consistent, meaningful gains. He’s a jack of all trades, master of none (flashes pass blocking and pass catching ability too), but if he can remain productive and improve his open field vision, he could become an NFL prospect.
6. Mike Edwards, CB, Hawaii
A former Tennessee Volunteer, Edwards was active in the passing game last year thanks to a smooth transition in his hips and balance as he made his turn upfield with vertical receivers. He struggled to open up inside to cut off in-breaking routes, but seems to have the foot speed, vision of the route (especially upfield), and reaction physicality that is needed for either zone or man coverage at the next level.