The Mountain West has always been that conference that is right there on the edge of being good or even great. When Boise State committed to leaving the WAC and joining the MWC and TCU it had the potential of being a constant BCS buster if not an eventual BCS conference. However like so many other things in this realignment era it all went away when TCU bounced for the Big East and the MWC was left right where it started. A strong conference with good teams and plenty of talent, here on 20 prospects you need to know in 2012.
TE Gabe Linehan*-6’3, 240 lbs.
When you think of Boise State’s prolific passing attack one of the last things you think about is the TE position. Boise tends to use the TE’s more in the red zone than anywhere else on the field but Linehan’s 10.9 ypc average seem to indicate that he has some potential beyond that and with a new QB and the graduation of WR Tyler Shoemaker may be new opportunities for Linehan to grab receptions.
CB Jamar Taylor-5’11, 196 lbs.
Taylor is the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield for the Broncos. He’s got a good size and speed combination to go along with some playmaking ability. He’s not quite the prospect that Kyle Wilson was for the Broncos but he’s going to be a late riser come next April and he’s definitely a player to watch for.
WR Brandon Wimberly-6’3, 210 lbs.
In what is sure to be one of the most heart-warming stories (and a lock for a Tom Rinaldi Gameday Special) of 2012 comes the story of Brandon Wimberly who in the summer of 2011 was shot in the abdomen and was forced to miss the entire 2011 season. He’s healthy now and ready to pick up where Rishard Matthews left off.
CB Khalid Wooten-6’0, 195 lbs.
Wooten really came on last year as a junior recording four INT’s and five PBU’s. He was also one of the most effective and consistent boundary tacklers in the MWC with 74 tackles. His ability to work in coverage to shut down the opponents top WR will be vital to the Wolfpack’s success this season.
CB LJ Jones*-5’11, 180 lbs.
Another boundary CB prospect who has some playmaking instincts, Jones could be a league leader in INT’s this year. Jones hauled in three INT’s last season and also managed to get his hands on 13 other passes that he broke up. If he’s able to convert even a few of those PBU’s this year into INT’s he’ll become the most feared CB in the conference.
SAF Phillip Thomas-6’1, 205 lbs.
Thomas missed all of last season due to injuries but is back in 2012 and should only help to make Jones and this Bulldog defense better. Thomas who is a playmaker in his own right knows how to make plays in the box coming up in run support or back in coverage. He forced five turnovers in 2010 (3 INT, 2 FF) and broke up another nine passes. He is a ranging safety who does a good job watching the QB, he’ll be a welcomed addition back.
FB Mike DeWitt-6’1, 220 lbs.
DeWitt is Air Forces leading returning rusher and will be counted on heavily to continue to shoulder a heavy load in the Falcons option offense. He’s at his best taking the ball on power running plays where all he needs to do is lower his shoulder and get as far forward as he can. DeWitt was one of the most effective goal line runners in the country last year scoring 12 times and converting multiple down and goal situations.
LB Jamil Cooks*-6’4, 210 lbs.
The big ranging LB prospect plays next to top prospect Alex Means and is just about as talented. Cooks is a do everything backer who can play the run, rush the passer, and even fall back into coverage. He has the size to put on some more weight and strength, and the athleticism to potentially be a versatile scheme flexible prospect. The combination of these along with his high ceiling potential could make him into an attractive LB option.
San Diego State
WR Brice Butler-6’3, 195 lbs.
Brice Butler decided to leave USC this year to come to a place where he could play more and flourish. Butler has always been regarded as a top level player but for whatever reason was never able to crack the top end of the Trojan WR depth chart. He’s got great size, speed, and leaping ability and should be a huge weapon for Ryan Katz and this Aztec offense.
TE Gavin Escobar*-6’6, 245 lbs.
The injection of Butler into this offense should free up Gavin Escobar some to continue to work the middle of the field and be a thorn in the side of MWC defenses. Escobar has great size and quite possibly the softest set of hands of any of the TE prospects. He does a good job catching the ball out away from his body and is athletic enough to adjust to off target passes. With Escobar in the slot and Butler outside the Aztec should be a nightmare to defend.
OLB Korey Jones-6’2, 233 lbs.
The athletic Jones is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of doing as a football player. Jones potential is through the roof if he could just raise his Football IQ a little bit more. Right now Jones rely on pure athleticism and ability to make plays but doesn’t have the instincts or understanding to read the play pre-snap or know where the hole will be to fill it. If he can learn those in combination with his athleticism he’ll quickly rise up draft boards.
CB Marqueston Huff*-6’0, 195 lbs.
Huff will step in and try and replace graduated senior CB Tayshaun Gipson. Gipson was a constant All-Conference defender and was often avoided by opposing offenses because of his ability to make a play on the ball. Huff is a slightly bigger and possibly more athletic version of Gipson, he has smooth hips that allow him to make the transitions and play man coverage and that could help to further replace Gipson quickly.
TE Crockett Gilmore*-6’6, 245 lbs.
Gavin Escobar is not the only junior TE prospect with size and soft hands in this conference. The Colorado State Rams have their own big play TE in Crockett Gilmore. While Gilmore isn’t quite on the level of Escobar, he isn’t far behind either. Gilmore averaged over 10 yards a catch and hauled in four TD’s last season. Look for him to be even more featured in 2012 as QB Pete Thomas continues to develop and senior WR Lou Greenwood takes more pressure away from Gilmore.
LB Shaquil Barrett-6’2, 250 lbs.
Normally you don’t see players jump up a level in competition but when Division II Nebraska-Omaha closed down its football program, Barrett needed a home and Colorado State was interested. The jump in competition certainly hasn’t fazed Barrett who had 99 tackles last season and was a constant presence for the Rams defense. Barrett took a large step up in competition when he moved from DII to the FBS but it may pay off in an even larger way this April.
TE Darius Bright-6’4, 220 lbs.
Like Boise State with TE Gabe Lineham, the University of Hawaii is not where one would traditionally go to try and find a TE prospect however the Warriors have one this year. Darius Bright forced his way into the receiving rotation over a number of other WR options. Part of the reason for that is his reported 4.47 speed despite his size. With that kind of size and speed there aren’t many DB’s or LB’s in the country that can possible keep up with the Warrior’s secret weapon.
DE Paipai Falemalu-6’3, 245 lbs.
As rare as a TE prospects on Hawaii are, a top of the line defensive prospect is even rarer. However in 2012 the Warriors of Hawaii will have NFL scouts flocking to their island to see the Falemalu. Falemalu’s 1.5 sacks last season may not blow you away but his 4.5 TFL and 7 QBH’s should give you more than enough intrigue to know he’s right on the edge of becoming a very good pass rusher. With his size and athleticism Falemalu makes for an intriguing pass rush prospect if he can continue to work on his technique.
DT Nate Holloway*-6’3, 360 lbs.
The big man in the middle is the one responsible for clogging up the offensive line for teammates like Princeton Jackson (see below). The big body DT will now be asked to take on even more as he goes from a clogger to a player who needs to bring the pocket down around the QB. He must improve his technique and stay low through contact, playing with leverage and generating great push against the offensive lineman.
OLB Princeton Jackson-6’0, 210 lbs.
One of the more highly ranked JUCO prospects to come out last year, the Running Rebels were able to snag Princeton Jackson. The former Iowa State signee never played a down for the Cyclones and ended up in Vegas after a stint at Blinn Community College. That may ring a bell since it’s the same school that Cam Newton spent a season at. This time Blinn has produced a LB with exceptional athleticism who has unlimited range.
TE Lucas Reed-6’6, 250 lbs.
Reed is the big TE prospect who has to become more featured in 2012 if the Lobos are going to be competitive. He has a big frame and the athleticism to get down the field and haul the ball in. QB B R Holbrook has to continue to look his way and have faith in Reed. In addition to that Reed must work harder to ensure that his routes are precise and that he has the awareness to identify his coverage and adjust if need be.
OT Korian Chambers-6’6, 322 lbs.
Chambers is a massive OT prospect who can move and who knows how to block. Chambers has spent time on both sides of the line before settling in as the LT for the Lobos. He’s going to be key If QB BR Holbrook is going to take that next step in his development and become a serious prospects. Chambers is quite raw technically but is gifted with size, and power. He’ll need to work on his footwork and on getting his arms extended.