Smith_FresnoRankings of the top NFL prospects from the Mountain West Conference. Included are 68 draft eligible players as well as notes from a number of prospects around the conference.

Boise State 

I graded running back Jay Ajayi as a fourth rounder but can tell you he’s graded much higher in the scouting community.  Several area scouts tell me they could see Ajayi landing in the second round if he has a good campaign then enters the draft.

Conversely receiver Matt Miller, who I stamped as a potential seventh round pick, does not even register on the radar for a number of scouts. 

Colorado State

I recently saw USA Today, a publication I wrote for in the not too distant past, rated Colorado State as the 73rd ranked team in the nation, which is surprising.  NFL prospects aside I’ll go on record and say the Rams will contend for the Mountain West title this year.  Scouts love the next level potential at CSU and it starts with tackle Tyler Sambrailo.  Several told be they think Sambralio is the one of the better senior tackle prospects in the nation and perhaps the tops offensive tackle on the West Coast. 

Linebackers Aaron Davis and Cory James are both undersized, chase and run defenders who could make rosters as back-ups/special teamers. 

Tight end Kivon Cartwright is another CSU prospect I rate highly.  He comes with natural pass catching skills and good length.  Speed will be the determining factor in his final draft grade as Cartwright does not present himself as a true seam stretcher. 

As posted on twitter the other day, I view quarterback Garrett Grayson as a poor man’s Blake Bortles.  He has a similar game and more than enough arm strength to play at the next level.  I would like to see Grayson be more consistent looking off the safety and not staring down primary targets but he has a great deal of upside.

Fresno State

Were it not for the amazing amount of offensive production that left for the NFL last April, Fresno State could be one of the better teams in the Mountain West.

Safety Derron Smith is the top prospect from the program in my opinion.  He’s a tough run defender with good ball skills.  Size is an issue as Smith may struggle to measure 5-feet/10-inches and 200-pounds.  That said he has a lot of Earl Thomas in his game. 

Scouts are very high on receiver Josh Harper who shows tremendous quickness and run after the catch skill.  For my money Harper is good but has no great physical characteristics which sets him apart.  Playing without Derek Carr this season will be a challenge. 

I feel linebacker Kyrie Wilson is a solid prospect with a large degree of upside and someone who will move up draft boards if he continues to improve.

Hawaii

I have a feeling its going to be another ugly campaign for Hawaii which is sad.  Its always nice to see the team from paradise be competitive.  Junior defensive tackle Calen Friel caught my eye on film.  He large, mobile and forces the action when focused on the task at hand. 

Nevada

I’m told scouts really like quarterback Cody Fajardo, who I stamped with a sixth round grade.  He’s a mobile passer with a good arm yet a signal caller who forces passes into double coverage and sprays throws. 

San Diego State

Ezell Ruffin is a solid receiver who could move up draft boards if he hits his stride.  He’s dependable, deceptively fast and wins out for contested balls.  He grades as a last day pick entering the season but could end up top 120 next April with a big year and good pre-draft workouts.

Junior Darrell Greene is a guard who really caught my eye on film. He’s big, strong and mobile.  Greene handles opponents at the point of attack while also displaying a lot of skill blocking in motion.

San Jose State

The return of linebacker Vince Buhagiar, who missed last season with a torn labrum, is something to keep your eye on.  Off the 2012 film he was a small yet intense linebacker who willingly sacrificed his body to make tackles.   At full health he projects as an eight linebacker/special teams player.

UNLV

Receiver Devante Davis is very impressive in all areas of the game.  He’s smart, tough and dependable.  Davis is a terrific third down receiver and really plays like the go-to guy opponents cannot stop.  He plays bigger and faster than his size/speed numbers and I feel he’s underrated in the scouting community.

Junior tight end Jake Phillips is one to watch.  He’s more a traditional player at the position, rather than the oversized receiver teams now want at tight end.  Phillips is a solid pass catcher that’s also dominant as a blocker.

Utah State

Last October, I informed an agent friend to keep an eye on then sophomore linebacker Kyler Fackrell.  After breaking Fackrell down on film I was even more impressed.  He’s big, imposing and forces the action up the field or outside the box.  I love Fackrell’s physicality as well as his instincts and discipline.  He does struggle making plays in reverse, showing stiffness and an inability to backpedal.  I presently grade Fackrell as a 2nd/3rd rounder and word as this time is he’s likely to enter the draft.

Wyoming

Walker Madden, Wyoming’s starting left tackle last season, received high praise from scouts but left the team due to personal reasons.   

Senior linebacker Mark Nzeocha reminds me a bit of Christian Kirksey, third round pick of the Cleveland Browns who played his college ball at Iowa.  While I don’t grade Nzeocha as draftable at this point, he has that same undersized yet explosive, speedy, sideline-to-sideline style of play.


Rnd

Name

School

Pos

Yr
2-3 Kyler
Fackrell
Utah State OLB 4Jr
3rd Derron Smith Fresno State S 5Sr
3rd Joshua Harper Fresno State WR 5Sr
3rd Tyler
Sambrailo
Colorado St T 5Sr
4th Jay Ajayi Boise State RB 4Jr
4th Garrett
Grayson
Colorado St QB 4Sr
4th Cory James Colorado St OLB 4Jr
5th Darrell
Greene
San Diego St G 4Jr
5th Devante Davis UNLV WR 4Sr
5-6 Donte Deayon Boise State CB 3Jr
6th Ezell Ruffin San Diego St WR 5Sr
6th Cody Fajardo Nevada QB 5Sr
6th Kivon
Cartwright
Colorado St TE 5Sr
6th Trent
Matthews
Colorado St S 4Jr
6th Jamal Ellis Fresno State CB 3Jr
6-7 Kyrie Wilson Fresno State ILB 4Jr
7th Matt Miller Boise State WR 5Sr
7th Aaron Davis Colorado St ILB 4Sr
7-FA Brett Boyko UNLV T 4Sr
FA Mark Nzeocha Wyoming OLB 4Sr
FA Armand Nance Boise State DT 3Jr
FA Tyeler
Davison
Fresno State DT 5Sr
FA Bernard Blake Colorado St CB 5Sr
FA Wes
Schweitzer
San Jose St T 4Jr
FA Eddie
Yarbrough
Wyoming DE 5Sr
FA Terry Poole San Diego St T 4Sr
FA Deandre Jones Wyoming CB 4Sr
FA Jake Phillips UNLV TE 4Jr
FA Calen Friel Hawaii DT 4Jr
FA Travis Raciti San Jose St DT 5Sr
FA Patrick
Mertens
Wyoming DT 6Sr
FA Darian
Thompson
Boise State S 4Jr
FA Cody Wichmann Fresno State G 5Sr
FA Jack Lamm New Mexico G 3So
FA Walker Madden Wyoming T 5Sr
FA Jared Roberts Colorado St K 4Sr
FA Sonny
Puletasi
Wyoming OLB 5Sr
FA Bill Vavau Utah State G 4Sr
FA Karl
Mickelsen
Fresno State ILB 4Sr
FA Jalen
Claiborne
Wyoming WR 4Sr
FA Connor Rains Wyoming T 5Sr
FA Jeremy Ioane Boise State S 5Sr
FA Alex Wheat Utah State WR 4Sr
FA Dontrell
Onuoha
San Diego St DT 5Sr
FA Dominic
Rufran
Wyoming WR 4Sr
FA Joshua
Quezada
Fresno State RB 5Sr
FA Vince
Buhagiar
San Jose St ILB 5Sr
FA Vandrell
Sullivan
UNLV WR 5Sr
FA Moses Samia Hawaii DT 5Sr
FA Kyle Roberts Nevada T 5Sr
FA Bryan Larsen Utah State DE 5Sr
FA Corey Bell Boise State OLB 4Sr
FA Curtis Riley Fresno State CB 5Sr
FA Kevin Whimpey Utah State T 5Sr
FA Jamal Price New Mexico G 4Sr
FA Beau Yap Hawaii DE 5Sr
FA Charles
Keeton
Utah State QB 4Sr
FA Joey Iosefa Hawaii FB 5Sr
FA Zachary Vigil Utah State ILB 5Sr
FA Ronald Butler Utah State WR 4Sr
FA Richard
Turner
Nevada WR 4Sr
FA Broderick
Hekking
Nevada DE 5Sr
FA Kody Afusia Hawaii G 5Sr
FA Charles
Garrett
Nevada CB 5Sr
FA Sean
Shigematsu
Hawaii T 5Sr
FA Javarie
Johnson
New Mexico OLB 5Sr
FA Crusoe
Gongbay
New Mexico RB 4Sr
FA Saqwan
Edwards
New Mexico CB 5Sr

WardThe NFC West features the top two teams in the conference, a third franchise on the rise and one that seems to continually struggle.  While the Seahawks and Niners look to sharpen their edge, the Cardinals wanted to add the final touches while the Rams moved forward with another arsenal of picks, thanks in part to the Washington Redskins.

Arizona Cardinals:   Arizona was the best team in the NFL to not make the playoffs last year and they entered the draft picking at the bottom of each round. The Cardinals raised some eyebrows by selecting Deone Buchanan in the late first round. The former Washington State standout is a physical, in-the-box-safety that most pundits expected to go on the drafts second day. Still, playing in the toughest and most physical division in football, the Cardinals upgraded their size and athleticism with this choice. Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas was the team’s second round selection. Niklas is a huge, what you see is what you get, type of player with a very good pedigree. He won’t stretch the defense like many of the modern tight ends but his size and strength should allow him to contribute in the intermediate to short passing game as well as the running game. Kareem Martin was a good value pick near the end of the third round and gives the team some more depth along their defensive line. With San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis all having talented offensive lines the pick also fills a need for the Cardinals. Pittsburgh State receiver John Brown is an explosive receiver that is a nice fit for Bruce Arians system and Logan Thomas gives the team a developmental quarterback that has enough potential to develop into a starter down the road. Alabama defensive end Ed Stinson is a solid, if not flashy, player that should help strengthen the team’s defensive line depth, along with Martin. Receiver Walt Powell is a pass catching machine that needs to make an impact on special teams in order to make the roster.

Grade C+ The Buchanan pick in round one was a mild surprise yet Niklas and Martin were good value.  If Arians can get Logan Thomas back to his 2011 form it will be a steal for the organization.

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San Francisco 49ers:  The 49ers arguably had the league’s best roster entering the draft and shocked many by turning their eleven picks into twelve rather than trading up for a few select players. Jimmie Ward was chosen by the team to be the nickel back of the present as he grows into being the strong safety of the future. Ward is a heady player with high character and an excellent motor. He is expected to win the nickel job immediately. For the second year in a row the 49ers selected the draft’s best running back when they chose Carlos Hyde. Unlike Marcus Lattimore the year before however, Hyde is fully healthy and was taken with a premium selection. He looks to be the heir apparent to Frank Gore, who enters his final season under contract. Marcus Martin was the team’s third round selection and represents great value at a position that has some uncertainty. Martin should have every chance to win the starting job from Daniel Kilgore heading into the season. Chris Borland was a break from Trent Balke’s tradition of prioritizing length and athleticism for defensive players. Borland is a feisty, technically sound, tackling machine and might be able to bridge the gap while the team awaits the return of Navarro Bowman. Brandon Thomas, like Marcus Lattimore and Tank Carradine the year before, will get a redshirt season. He was rated as a potential second round pick and would have been among the first interior linemen off the board had he not hurt himself during a workout. Bruce Ellington is a player that impressed the team during workouts. He has a chance to win the starting punt and kickoff return jobs and find some time as a vertical threat on offense. Dontae Johnson is a tall physical specimen that the team will attempt to develop into a press corner. For his first season or two he will be expected to find a place on special teams. Aaron Lynch is a supremely talented player with some off field issues. As a fifth round pick he is well worth the risk. Florida Atlantic cornerback Keith Reaser will redshirt this season as he rehabs an injury. Kenneth Acker is a long shot to make the roster long term but is insurance for the team against Chris Culliver’s likely 2-4 game suspension. Afterwards he should wind up on the practice squad. Kaleb Ramsey will need to have a great camp in order to earn a roster spot. The Boston College defensive end has impressive size and athleticism but a long injury history and the 49ers are eight men deep with Tank Carradine (last year’s second round redshirt) also fighting for a roster spot. Trey Millard, the talented fullback from Oklahoma, will also spend this season on injured reserve. San Francisco also added Stevie Johnson and Blaine Gabbert to their receiving corps and backfield respectively through trades involving picks in this draft. Shane Skov, who was recruited to Stanford by the Harbaugh coaching staff might also find a home on the team after signing an undrafted free agent deal. The team also signed Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner whom Harbaugh is said to be high on. The 49ers used this draft to attack the bottom of their roster after filling their few roster spots with their earliest picks.

Grade A  The Niners were unable to orchestrate a trade to move into the top half of round one so they attacked the top half of the draft selecting for need then later selected value picks with upside.  The problem for San Francisco is there’s not much room on the roster for all the selections so expect a number of there players to land on the depth charts or practice squads of other teams.  

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Seattle Seahawks:  Colorado receiver Paul Richardson could turn into the steal of the second round. Richardson is a talented playmaker that shows enough speed to stretch the field. Second round pick Justin Britt was graded as a mid round selection but the Seahawks have a tendency to value offensive linemen differently than the rest of the league. The Missouri tackle is a player to watch over the next few seasons. Cassius Marsh, from UCLA, is a talented pass rusher that the defensive staff will enjoy using. In order for that to happen the former Bruin will need to stay out of trouble. Kevin Norwood is a dependable receiver that could have a long career as a possession receiver. Norwood is a hard working prospect with good size and the ability to play special teams. He should also immediately find a home in certain third down packages. According to Seattle insiders the one player that their staff really fell in love with was Kevin Pierre-Louis. The Boston College linebacker was compared by one Seahawk scout to Navarro Bowman. Pierre-Louis is an athletic player that had some great workouts during the scouting process. He needs to learn to translate those skills onto the field more but the team appears to be very excited by him. Middle Tennessee State defensive tackle Jimmy Staten was a lightly regarded prospect that will be fighting for a spot on the practice squad. Marshall offensive tackle Garrett Scott the teams sixth round pick, was recently cut after exams revealed a heart condition which will prevent him from playing. Eric Pinkins is a large bodied safety that the team can develop over time. He will likely find a home on the practice squad before having a shot to produce on special teams. Arkansas running back Kiero Small was a barely scouted full back who is an explosive, even concussive, blocker in short yardage situations. Undrafted free agent defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is a player to keep an eye on.

Grade C Seattle used the depth in this draft to take a lot of developmental players, especially in the late rounds. While both receivers could quickly see action as rookies, its difficult to see how this draft makes them better in 2014 though it could pay huge dividends in future years.

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St. Louis Rams:  Using the second overall pick on Greg Robinson surprised no one. The Rams clearly liked the Auburn tackle for some time and felt as if they had a clear need at the position. Robinson is expected to start his career at either right tackle or guard before moving to the left side in a year or two. Wherever they put him, he’s a day one starter, as the second overall pick should be. The Rams used their second pick in the first round to select Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald giving the team the rare opportunity to select the best offensive and defensive linemen available in the draft. Donald is a disruptive one gap player that should team with Michael Brockers to give the team a very good set of defensive tackles. Florida State defensive back LaMarcus Joyner was the team’s second round pick. Joyner doesn’t have ideal size to play cornerback or safety but he has the ball skills and athleticism to be a nickel cornerback. The Rams got great value by selecting Tre Mason in the third round. The former Auburn product is a talented between the tackles runner who will push for playing time early. It’s worth noting that both Mason and Robinson were college teammates of Jeff Fisher’s son Trent while at Auburn. The Rams, like each of the other teams in the NFC West, took a physical safety prospect when they selected Maurice Alexander. Alexander is a pure strong safety with a big frame that should help immediately on special teams. Missouri cornerback EJ Gaines has only marginal size but is an effective punt return man that offers potential as a dime cornerback should he make the team. SMU quarterback Garret Gilbert was a highly recruited high school player that played most of the 2010 BCSNCG as a true freshman following an injury to Colt McCoy. Gilbert is an accurate quarterback that could develop into a long term backup for the team. Portland State tackle Mitchel Van Dyk is an immense developmental prospect that needs a season on a practice squad while he refines his game and adds mass. Ohio State safety Christian Bryant is a long shot to make the team unless he impresses on coverage units. St Louis took Michael Sam in a historic moment for reasons outside of football. Practically speaking, though, this could be a great fit for both Sam and the team. Sam is a self made player that isn’t quite big enough or fast enough but manages to produce through consistent technique, solid character, and high effort. With Robert Quinn and Chris Long entrenched as starters and William Hayes as the primary backup Sam has a chance to earn a roster spot as a fourth defensive end where his consistency and effort should be maximized. Tennessee St. center Demetrius Rhaney had a great workout on his pro day and as such was drafted as a developmental lineman. Like Van Dyk before him he is likely to see time on the team’s practice squad.

Grade A  The Rams did well on paper, as they always seem to do.  Transferring their high draft grades into football production has not been seamless.  Regardless, the talent on the roster is now much improved.

MackThe Division who represented the AFC in the Super Bowl hope to take the next step.  Three of the divisions four teams made the playoffs, something the AFC West hopes to replicate next season.

Denver Broncos:  The Denver Broncos rode Peyton Manning to a divisional title and a Conference Championship despite playing in the AFC’s toughest division in 2013. While Denver did not use all of their picks (they traded out of the fourth round and picked up an additional fifth next year) they made solid value choices near the top of the draft to replace their free agency losses. First round cornerback Bradley Roby has all of the tools required to be a starter as a rookie. If not for an unfortunate arrest weeks before the draft he might have been the first cornerback chosen, despite a poor season in 2013. Cody Latimer was a late climber up draft boards and could be an upgrade over Eric Decker once he learns the system. Offensive Tackle Michael Schofield offers the team a developmental player that can compete for playing time sooner rather than later. Linebackers Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson are developmental prospects that should find a home on special teams coverage units for their first season. Michael Paradis, a sixth round pick, is a perfect fit for Denver’s blocking scheme and provides youth and depth to the offensive line, along with Schofield.

Grade B+  Roby and Latimer come with great upside though neither are sure things.  The real value lay in the offensive lineman as both Schofield and Paradis could be starters by year two.

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Kansas City Chiefs:  The Chiefs surprised a lot of people by making the playoffs in Andy Reid’s first season due in large part to the play of Alex Smith, whom the team acquired from San Francisco for a package of draft choices, including this year’s second rounder. Despite having needs at other positions the Chiefs selected Auburn defensive end Dee Ford in the first round. The Chiefs could have used another receiver to pair with DeWayne Bowe but instead chose to add the hard working Ford to their outside linebacker rotation, presumably as a pass rush specialist. With their next pick Kansas City selected Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines. Gains is both tall and long and has the ability to make plays on the ball, as evidenced by his 31 passes defended over the past two seasons. He has rather smallish frame and is not a force in the running game and it might take a season or two as a dime back before he is able to compete for a starting position. Fourth round pick DeAnthony Thomas should be an immediate replacement for Dexter McCluster and Aaron Murray is a good fit as a developmental quarterback that should, at worst, have a long career as a dependable back up. Zach Fulton and Laurent Duvarney-Tardif are both impressive physical specimens that will need to develop their game in order to have a long term future in the NFL.

Grade B- This draft is the classic boom or bust draft.  Can Dee Ford stand up over tackle at the next level (something he did not do at the Senior Bowl) and is he more than a one trick pony?  Can Phillip Gaines learn to play to his forty time?  Will DeAnthony Thomas stay healthy?  A lot will be gained if the answers are positive.  

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Oakland Raiders:  The Raiders, as always, entered the draft with a roster short on talent and short on picks. Unlike previous years, however, this year the team managed to get both great value and impact players in their draft day haul. Kahlil Mack was regarded by many scouts to be the safest pick in the draft (with some calling him the best.) He will immediately give the Raiders a defensive cornerstone around which to build their team over the next decade. He should also harass the opposing quarterbacks in the division with consistent pressure. Amazingly the Raiders followed up a home run first round pick with another home run in the second round. The team was unable to hide its love for Derek Carr despite the fact we reported on May 7th the Raiders were considering him in round one. That they were patient enough to wait until the second round to take the local star quarterback, for a change, is evidence that the team is starting to take a different approach to the draft. Guard Gabe Jackson is a physical player that should be a future starter for the team. Oakland added Justin Ellis and Keith McGill in the fourth round. Both were solid value picks that have high upsides. Ellis is ready to step into a defensive tackle rotation immediately while McGill offers better than prototype size and speed and could pay huge dividends should he develop. The Raiders used their three seventh round selections on developmental defensive players. Shelby Harris was highly rated by TFY before his career hit a wall. Jonathan Dowling and Travis Carrie, like McGill, have the size, speed, and athleticism to play in the NFL but need further refinement. All three will likely find a home on special teams at the outset of their careers.

Grade A For the most part the Raiders got value through much of the seven rounds.  Mack and Jackson will start as rookies, Carr gives them long term potential and their day three picks are all legitimate roster players.

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San Diego Chargers:   The Chargers surprised no one by taking cornerback Jason Verrett in the first round. Verrett might be the cornerback with the best coverage skills in this draft. He is so skilled that teams were willing to overlook his 5‘9” stature and at worst will be a solid nickel back for the team. Georgia Tech linebacker Jeremiah Attachou is a solid pass rushing outside linebacker that can also play defensive end in a four down-lineman set. Chris Watt was a nasty power run blocking guard in college and will add toughness to the Chargers interior offensive line. Ryan Carrethers is a small time college player with the potential to develop into a starting defensive/nose tackle once he irons out some of the details in his game. Marion Grice could find a home as a situational running back behind Ryan Matthews while Tevin Reese offers some big play ability in a smaller than average body.

Grade C+ The Chargers didn’t wow anyone on paper rather they got solid prospects who fit their system.  In the end this was a solid six player draft.

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