In the last five years, there have been a total of 46 players from the Mountain West Conference selected in the NFL Draft. Of those 46, six of them were drafted as top 50 picks. The 2018 NFL Draft was top-heavy with the conference, with Leighton Vander Esch, Josh Allen, Rashaad Penny, and Austin Corbett all going in the first 35 picks. The draft fell off rather quickly afterward, with only two players being selected from the second to fifth rounds.
In contrast, the 2019 NFL Draft had only one top-50 selection in Hawaii LB Jahvani Tavai, but had the talent evenly spread out with Josh Oliver, Kahale Warring, and Alexander Mattison in the 3rd round and a good showing in the late rounds with Keesean Johnson, Marcus Epps, and a few others.
For the 2020 NFL Draft, the Mountain West offers a great blend of top-end elite talent along with mid-to-late round talents to offer, in my opinion, the best Mountain West NFL Draft class in years.
2020 Mountain West NFL Draft Class
The top-end talents
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Jordan Love is one of the more polarizing quarterbacks we’ve had in recent memory. Many people, including myself, like Love’s upside and believe in who we see on tape. Others believe Love takes too many risks and isn’t worth the investment. Either way, Love is viewed as a top 15 pick and the top Mountain West NFL Draft prospect in the 2020 class.
Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
The lack of hype for Curtis Weaver is astounding to me, considering his ability as a pass-rusher and his insane production. I guess it’s because he lacks “elite” physical tools. He’s one of the most well-rounded and refined pass rushers in this draft class. I would happily take Weaver in the second or third round and get a guy with 8+ sacks a year potential. Pair him opposite of an elite pass-rusher and let him go to work.
Ezra Cleveland, OL, Boise State
Pro Football Network’s own Tony Pauline has recently discussed how teams are starting to put Cleveland’s name in the first round discussion. It’s easy to see why with Cleveland’s athleticism and ability to move in space. There are varying opinions on whether he will continue at offensive tackle or guard, but the word out there is that Cleveland is going to be drafted higher than many analysts are currently projecting.
Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming
I recently tweeted out that I believed Logan Wilson has a legitimate chance to be the third linebacker drafted in this draft class behind Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray. While that will ultimately depend on his Combine performance, Wilson’s tape is outstanding, and he fits the modern mold of coverage linebackers. Regardless of his testing, Wilson is one of the best linebackers in this class and proved that at the Senior Bowl.
Netane Muti, IOL, Fresno State
Muti is the most talented guard in the 2020 NFL Draft class. However, it is difficult to overlook his medical history, as he hasn’t played a full season since 2017. He’s athletic, violent (in a good way), and powerful, seemingly moving players with ease. Muti has even started at left tackle before getting hurt and then moving inside to left guard. Yet, Muti’s ruptured Achilles in 2018 and his lisfranc injury in 2019 may cause teams to push him off of their boards entirely. There’s no denying Muti’s talent, however. On the field, he is worthy of being considered a top-tier prospect and is arguably the best Mountain West offensive lineman since Joel Bitonio.
The mid-round targets
John Hightower, WR, Boise State
Speed is the name of Hightower’s game, as he established himself as one of the best deep threats in college football last year. He’s a smaller player, standing at 6’1, 185 pounds at the Shrine Game, but I think he can be a John Brown-like player for the NFL team that drafts him.
Keith Ismael, C, San Diego State
Ismael had a standout performance at the Senior Bowl, which is what first put him onto my radar. His tape matched his Senior Bowl showing, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well-developed Ismael was for a small-school offensive lineman. He has a few lapses in technique, namely on his footwork, but he demonstrated great balance and moved well on tape. Ismael has also played center and both guard spots, adding versatility to his already talented resumé. I’ll be interested to see how well he tests at the Combine, but I put Ismael in my top 10 interior offensive linemen for the 2020 NFL Draft, and I don’t think that will change.
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii
McDonald is one of my “pet cats” for this 2020 NFL Draft. He’s just fun. He’s got a cannon of an arm, is excellent on the run, a good athlete, and is simply better than as people think. People will point to his interception totals, but many of those can be attributed to the Run & Shoot offensive system he was in at Hawaii. McDonald is one of the best developmental mid-round quarterbacks, and I would happily draft him on Day 3 over many of the other quarterbacks in this class that are projected over him.
Mykal Walker, LB, Fresno State
Mykal Walker is the small-school version of Zack Baun in this 2020 NFL Draft class. He played at Fresno State as an Edge/LB hybrid, but it sounds like he’s projected to move full-time to off-ball LB at the NFL level. He isn’t the most athletic guy out there, but he’s smart and is more of a smooth mover in space than a twitchy, explosive athlete. The former two-time First-Team All-Mountain West player had a great showing at the Shrine Game as well. His Combine will be the first chance many will have to see him, but Walker is a third to fourth-round pick who could start right away and even be a key special teams contributor.
The late-round flyers
All of these guys are likely fifth-round picks or later and grade as such for me, but all of them are guys I believe could make an impact for an NFL team and be highly-rated backups/lower to mid-rated starters at the NFL level if they land on the right teams.
David Woodward, LB, Utah State
Mosese Fifita, NT, Air Force
JuJu Hughes, S, Fresno State
Daishawn Dixon, G, San Diego State
Dominik Eberle, K, Utah State
Luq Barcoo, CB, San Diego State
Jared Rice, TE, Fresno State
Tipa Galeai, EDGE, Utah State
AJ Schulte is an NFL Draft Analyst for PFN. You can follow him on Twitter @AJDraftScout.