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In a whirlwind 2020 where there was so much uncertainty, getting to see nearly every FBS program take the field was a relief. Some teams in conferences such as the ACC and SEC were fortunate to get double digit games played. In the Mountain West it was a different story, as only a handful of teams played seven or more contests due to the late October start.
Moving with a full head of steam towards the 2021, let’s take a look at some lesser known talents who will impact their teams’ performance in what is hopefully a full season:
Boise State Broncos: SS JL Skinner
This pick was made with potential in mind because with Skinner, there’s a ton. A really great thing about him is he rarely gets fooled in coverage and can use his 6’4” 215 lb. frame to body receivers downfield. However, he seems to lack the motor on some plays, looking sluggish when trying to fight off blocks.
If he can play consistently with high energy, he’ll be playing on Sundays just like the Boise State template safety that came before him, George Iloka. He is a hard hitter who drives the ball carrier backwards, especially when he has a clear view of the play. More time in the film and weight rooms for Skinner and he’ll be an All-MWC selection.
Colorado State Rams: DE Scott Patchan
I don’t think I’ve ever evaluated a defensive lineman that wears #1, and walked away not being excited about his game. With Patchan, it’s a copy and paste scenario as he is the top attraction on the defense. The transfer out of Miami was understandable due to transfers like Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, who came in to take playing time from Patchan.
The move to Fort Collins is paying dividends for him, though. In just four games last year, he collected 5.5 sacks and 22 total tackles. Patchan bulked up a little bit since leaving Miami, which helped him translate that quick first step into more power while engaged. In a full 2021 season, he should easily surpass the double digit sack mark.
Fresno State Bulldogs: DE David Perales
The easiest way to get your team back in the game from a defensive perspective is to take the ball away. Perales is a master at this, as he was able to create four fumbles in six games, recovering two of them. Also, he was able to get to the quarterback on many occasions, racking up 4.5 sacks.
Having consistency is something that will definitely bring his name to the spotlight. That was on display as Perales had at least a half sack in all but one game. Not bad from a first time stater who will surely see a production increase in 2021.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors: LB Darius Muasau
Every time Hawaii makes a stop on defense, it seems like #53 is there. As a sophomore in 2020, Muasau had his coming out party and it was an absolute banger. In just nine games played he led the country in solo tackles with 66, had 102 total and even had 4.5 sacks.
In three games he had 14 or more tackles! He’s simply all over the place and has a strong grasp to bring ball carriers down. Another All-MWC first team, or even AP All-America selection, would really raise his draft stock to a potential early college exit.
Nevada Wolf Pack: SS Tyson Williams
Williams is mini but certainly a mighty leader, quite possibly the alpha of the Wolf Pack defense. At 5’9” he’s one of the shortest guys on the field, but he’s a stacked 200 pounds that hits hard. He doesn’t have a ton of top speed, but his immediate read and react skills help him play at a high level.
It seems like every time the ball goes deep when he’s in coverage, he’s there. Also Williams will take chances when he trusts what he sees, such as abandoning his zone to stop a scramble. His improvisation skills have to come from the film study because he seems to always guess right. A full 2019 saw him rack up 85 tackles and with a real possibility that Nevada will play 14 games this season, Williams will challenge triple digit tackles.
San Diego State Aztecs: LB Caden McDonald
McDonald is just a hard nosed linebacker who loves to get after the quarterback. He’s got preferable size for a strong side backer at 6’3” and 235 lbs. He seems to be at his best as a standup end piece being allowed to rush the quarterback at will.
Last season he was able to rack up 4.5 sacks and opened the eyes of the whole conference, becoming a first team All-MWC selection. There’s been rumblings about how he’s been elevating his game all offseason, improving his rush techniques and getting stronger. A double digit sack performance and some forced fumbles will catch the attention of NFL scouts who will definitely take a chance with his edge abilities.
Utah State Aggies: Safety Shaq Bond
Bond is without a doubt the eyes and ears of the Aggie defense. He can come down into the box and is a more than capable tackler. In a full 2019 he was able to make 83 tackles, compared to a shortened 2020 where he still managed to get 47.
In coverage he has the vision and instincts to undercut routes when necessary. This ability has lead to Bond securing a few career pick-six’s, one of which was 100 yards. If all goes well, since Utah State was the beneficiary of a ton of talented transfers, then Bond could be very well be All-MWC with a better supporting cast.
Wyoming Cowboys: LB Chad Muma
Here’s a player that has a ton of intangibles as a linebacker. He comes in at 6’3” and 227 lbs. and plays with an absolute motor. He collected 71 tackles in only six games played last season for the Cowboys.
Staying inside will help him shoot up the draft boards due to production, but if he plays his cards right a 3-4 OLB spot may be in the works. His relentless rush moves and ability to fight off blocks can make him a situational pass rusher. He does such a good job on the blitz from a standup position, so a move outside wouldn’t hurt him in the slightest. He just needs to continue to rack up the tackles and the scouts will come running.