2014 NFL Draft: Sleepers to Watch in Mountain West Conference, Independent FBS Programs

Following Tyler Eifert’s departure to the NFL, Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas could be primed for a breakout season. (Photo: Mark L. Baer — USA Today Sports)

Kaneakua Friel, TE, Brigham Young

After earning the starting tight end job for BYU in 2012, Kaneakua Friel had a solid season. He had 30 receptions for 308 yards and five touchdowns.

Friel has good size, listed at 6’5” and 250 pounds, with excellent athleticism. But despite entering his senior season, he’s still a bit raw. He served on a two-year missionary in 2009-2010 before returning to the team in 2011.

Friel’s rawness shows in his route running and blocking, but he flashed quality route running and drive blocking last season. His biggest issue is his catching. He struggles to catch the ball away from his body and drops far too many passes. Even when he does catch the ball, he too often juggles and catches the ball multiple times before finally securing the ball.

While he doesn’t naturally turn and run after making catches, he does have the power to break arm tackles and tow tacklers downfield for some extra yardage.

His raw skill and freakish athleticism will be what gets him drafted. Friel will likely be a late-round pick if taken, but he’s a quality developmental tight end at the NFL level.

Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State

Utah State’s Tyler Larsen may emerge as the top center of the 2013 draft class.

What separates Larsen from the pack is his knowledge of the game and overall intangibles. He’s a leader on the team and he does an excellent job of reading defenses and preparing his offensive linemen for the upcoming play. He has been calling all of Utah State’s blocking calls since his freshman season, according to Utah State’s official athletics website.

When evaluated by the team, he carried out his correct assignment 97 percent of the time in 2012, including four games where he graded at 100 percent, according to his Utah State player bio. In 2011, he carried out the correct assignment 98 percent of the time with five perfect games.

Larsen is a solid blocker against both the run and pass. He has good footwork and consistently gets leverage against defenders. His intangibles will intrigue pro scouts, and how he is able to help lead Utah State this season under new head coach Matt Wells will also affect his stock.

Larsen is a mid-round pick right now, but he could get into Day 2 if he can emerge as the clear No. 1 center in the 2014 draft class.

More Names to Watch:

Michael LaGrone, TE, Idaho

Although he has only caught 49 passes in three seasons, Michael LaGrone does have solid hands. He will likely be viewed as a fullback/H-back at the next level where he can put his good blocking skills on display.

Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame (Jr.)

Having converted from linebacker to tight end last spring, Troy Niklas is still raw, but he could be the next Irish tight end taken early in the draft. He will gain notice for his combination of size (listed at 6’7″ and 260 pounds) and athleticism, as well as his solid blocking ability.

Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, DT, Boise State

Tjong-A-Tjoe is an athletic defensive lineman with a good motor. He is an unsung playmaker on Boise State’s defense who could be primed for a breakout senior campaign.

Austin Wentworth, OT, Fresno State

Starting all of 2012 at left tackle, Austin Wentworth displayed solid pass protection and run blocking skills. He is a versatile lineman who has also played both right tackle and right guard for the Bulldogs.

Previous Sleeper Articles:

Atlantic Coast Conference

Big Ten Conference

Big 12 Conference

Pac-12 Conference

Southeastern Conference

American Athletic Conference + Mid-American Conference

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Tags: Austin Wentworth, Bene Benwikere, Boise State, BYU, Davante Adams, Fresno State, Idaho, Kaneakua Friel, Michael LaGrone, Mountain West, Notre Dame, Prospects to Watch, Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe, San Jose State, Sleepers, Troy Niklas, Tyler Larsen, Utah State

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