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The college football season is right around the corner. Week Zero kicks off the 2022 college football slate with a game being played in Ireland between Northwestern and Nebraska. That’s the headliner of Week Zero.
Week Zero will also showcase five Mountain West Conference teams kicking off their season.
During the past three NFL Drafts, Brian Gutekunst has selected two players out of the Mountain West. Green Bay’s general manager traded up in the first round of the 2020 draft to select Utah State’s Jordan Love. In the 2022 draft, Gutekunst took Nevada wide receiver Romeo Doubs.
What players out of the Mountain West could Gutekunst target in the 2023 NFL Draft? Let’s take a look at eight Mountain West prospects that Green Bay fans should keep tabs on throughout the upcoming college football season.
JL Skinner, S, Boise State
Skinner wants to knock you into next week. The Boise State safety packs a punch and will be a tone setter for whatever team drafts him.
This past season Skinner recorded a team-leading 92 tackles. Skinner added seven tackles for loss, two interceptions, and seven pass deflections.
The Packers could look to add to the safety room early in the 2023 NFL Draft. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Skinner has the range and physicality to be a gamechanger in the backend of Joe Barry’s secondary.
Future Green Bay Packer safety JL Skinner. pic.twitter.com/luSZ1cyV9L
— Brennen Rupp (@Brennen_Rupp) June 21, 2022
“The hits he delivers are what get him on Sportscenter on a given Saturday, but it’s the well-rounded skill set that could make him valuable on Sundays in the near future,” Matthew Kenerly, the editor for Mountain West Wire said. “According to PFF, he played about as often in the box as he did further downfield and, at 6-4 and 220 pounds, is exactly the kind of rangy and physical prospect that entices NFL teams these days.”
Patrick McMorris, S, San Diego State
McMorris earned first-team Mountain West honors last season after recording 90 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, and nine pass deflections.
#𝙈𝙒𝙁𝘽 𝙋𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙤𝙣 𝘾𝙤-𝘿𝙚𝙛𝙚𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙋𝙡𝙖𝙮𝙚𝙧 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙔𝙚𝙖𝙧
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) July 21, 2022
The Aztec safety is a versatile playmaker that seeks out contact. He has a high football IQ and is always in the right position to make plays.
“San Diego State has had a knack for putting defensive backs in the NFL and McMorris might just be the next man up in that regard,” Kenerly said. “His knack for being in the right place at the right time helped him lead the team in interceptions last year from the AZTEC position, which is not an easy thing to do. It also speaks to his finely tuned instincts and reaction time.”
Alfred Edwards, OT, Utah State
Edwards is one of the most seasoned offensive tackles in college football. Edwards enters his final season at Utah State with 42 career starts at left tackle.
Edwards looks the part at 6-7 and 325 pounds. According to Pro Football Focus Edwards allowed just two sacks last season.
Ever since taking over as general manager in 2018, Gutekunst has selected at least one offensive lineman every year. With his experience and frame, Edwards could be a day three target for Green Bay’s general manager.
“Edwards has remained remarkably consistent despite the program’s larger ups and downs through his college career,” Kenerly said. “I think he’s been at his best when the Aggies’ passing game is at its best. He’s protected the blind side for both Jordan Love and Logan Bonner, so I believe that strength in pass protection is something to keep an eye on.”
Jalen Cropper, WR, Fresno State
Cropper is listed at 6’0” and 172 pounds. With his weight, he may not be on Green Bay’s radar. That would be a mistake. Cropper is an electric playmaker.
The Fresno State wide receiver has easy speed and is dangerous with the ball in his hands. Since 2019, Cropper has accumulated 969 yards after the catch (PFF).
Jalen Cropper since 2019:
🥉 83.8 PFF Grade (3rd among MWC WRs)
🥉 16 TDs
🥉 969 Yards after catch (3rd)pic.twitter.com/xDlnjyyrfa
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 16, 2022
Kalen DeBoer, now with Washington, did a great job of dialing up manufactured touches for Cropper. They utilized him in a variety of ways and he responded with 85 receptions for 899 yards and 11 touchdowns. He added two rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown. The name of the game is to get the ball in Cropper’s hands and let him create.
Would have had a Day 2 grade on #FresnoState WR Jalen Cropper if he declared in 2022 draft.
Dynamic talent that was utilized on the outside, in the slot and even in the backfield. Crisp route runner who can create after the catch too.
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) July 26, 2022
“I was an early member of the Jalen Cropper fan club after I learned about the speed he brought to the roster as a local high school prospect, and he hasn’t disappointed in that regard,” Kenerly said. “He’s the most established and well-rounded pass catcher in the Mountain West at this point.”
Ilm Manning, OT, Hawaii
Manning, like Utah State’s Alfred Edwards, has been around the block. Manning enters his final season at Hawaii with 47 career starts under his belt.
Manning has been a mainstay for Hawaii since his freshman year in 2018 when he started 14 games at left tackle. He’s a technician in pass protection. With his experience and football IQ, Manning is another day three offensive linemen that Gutekunst could target. Teams may view him as a guard, but the Packers are no strangers in drafting successful college offensive tackles and kicking them inside to guard.
“Manning has been a pillar of stability as Hawaii has transitioned through a few different offenses in his career, beginning with the spread and run-and-shoot and then a more balanced attack under Todd Graham,” Kenerly said. “I’d contend he’s been at his best as a pass blocker. In the modern NFL, he’d probably have to slide inside, but I’d be shocked if he couldn’t compete with his base of knowledge.”
Cole Godbout, DL, Wyoming
Wyoming has had some quality players enter the NFL over the past few years. Cole Godbout could be the next name to join the lists that includes Logan Wilson, Chad Muma, Andrew Wingard, and Carl Granderson.
Godbout finished last season with 70 tackles, seven tackles for loss, five sacks, and five pass deflections. During the previous two seasons, Godbout recorded 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Godbout is going to control his gap and won’t give up ground. He plays with a motor that runs hot and is an active disrupter against the run. Ask Chad Muma why he enjoyed a lot of success and I’m sure he’d mention Godbout.
“Talk about a guy who’s been underappreciated outside of Laramie,” Kernely said. “At 6-4 and 285 pounds, he doesn’t have the traditional physical profile of a defensive tackle but that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the more disruptive interior defenders anywhere in the conference. He stepped up big time as a pass rusher last year in particular, leading Wyoming in sacks, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he did it again, especially considering the Cowboys are reshuffling their group of edge rushers.”
Gary Williams, TE, Colorado State
Trey McBride is gone, which is going to open the door for Williams to potentially enjoy a monster season for the Rams. While playing second fiddle to John Mackey Award Winner, Williams hauled in 21 receptions for 287 yards and five touchdowns.
While Williams may not be as well-rounded as McBride, the 6-2, the 235-pound tight end may be more gifted athletically, with the speed to threaten the same and make plays after the catch. When watching him, he reminded me of Randy McMichael.
“Williams did a good job of being a capable TE2 opposite McBride, and it’s tempting to say that Jay Norvell could use him the same way he did with Cole Turner at Nevada, but the reality is he doesn’t have the same McBride/Turner physical profile,” Kenerly said. “He might actually be better suited in the long run to playing more in the slot, and you might say there are shades of Jordan Reed in his overall game.”
Dom Peterson, DL, Nevada
Peterson has been a disruptive force in the middle of Nevada’s defense. He enters his final season with 151 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, and 16.5 sacks.
He’s the lone returning starter up front this season and will undoubtedly face constant double teams. Peterson is quick off the snap and makes a living in the opponent’s backfields.
“There’s a very good chance he sees a lot of double teams this year as the one guy on Nevada’s defensive line with a strong track record of production, but that hasn’t really stopped him before,” Kenerly said. “Few Mountain West interior defenders have been as effective a pass rusher in recent memory, but he’s been no slouch in run defense. I believe he’s within striking distance of the program record for tackles for loss. Long story short, he’ll get a lot of attention from offensive coaches and, in my opinion, he should get as much from NFL scouts.”