The NFL draft was not kind to Mountain West football players.
The pros evaluated and picked 12 players from the league that includes BYU and Utah and their seven brothers. Southern Cal had 11 players drafted.
One group of MWC players that may have been overlooked by the experts is the receivers. There were 42 college receivers drafted, only four were of MWC stock and one of the best in the league, Wyoming's Jovon Bouknight, had to go the free-agent route to get a crack at the big league.
As a group, not including tight ends, the MWC receiving corps were consistently outstanding in 2005. These guys may not be the so-called stud athletes the NFL got in Ohio State's Santonio Holmes, the first receiver taken, and Florida's Chad Jackson, the fastest sprinter in the combine back in February, but they make plays all day long.
BYU's Todd Watkins had a mediocre senior year, but he has the height and skills to make the Cardinals. CSU's David Anderson's 4.58 time in the 40 isn't as fast as Watkins and San Diego State's Jeff Webb (4.40), but he ranked No. 7 in the NCAA in yards per game receiving (101.75) and he finds daylight. Bouknight ranked No. 9, followed by UNM's Hank Baskett at No. 14 and Webb at No. 21.
Now, before someone argues these guys got big numbers against inferior defenses in the MWC, consider this one: The worst pass coverage was not just by No. 104 BYU in 2005 or even MWC defenders. The worst pass defenses in college football were from the Pac-10. The shell shocked included No. 106 Washington, 110th Stanford, 112th Washington State and 115th Oregon State. And consider that No. 96 Iowa, No. 97 Minnesota, No. 101 Northwestern and 103rd Notre Dame allegedly come from among the elite big boys of college football.
No wonder USC ran into trouble against Texas.
MWC pass-catchers were good. Don't underestimate them in seasons to come, even the free agents. Throw in Utah's Travis LaTendresse's stats and the league's top six receivers caught a combined 426 passes for 5,000 yards and 56 touchdowns. Again, that doesn't count tight ends, nor BYU's leading receiver, Nate Meikle.
Bouknight stumbled at the combine, posting a stinky 4.75 time in his 40. It may have cost him a draft spot. He expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. Instead, Bouknight, a pesky playmaker, signed a free-agent pact with Carolina.
The MWC top wide receiver picked was TCU's Cory Rodgers, taken by Green Bay, the No. 104 player taken in the fourth round. Webb went to Kansas City in the sixth while Anderson and Watkins were seventh-rounders.
The draft means money and a closer look by personnel directors and NFL coaches. At times, it doesn't mean much more. Look no further than former Utah lineman and free-agent signee Barry Sims with the Raiders; UCLA free-agent receiver Drew Bennett with the Titans, a former QB who had more than 1,000 yards; Missouri Southern undrafted receiver Rod Smith with the Broncos, who chiseled out a 10-year career and is approaching 10,000 yards; or Wayne Chrebet of the Jets from Hofstra, another 10-year former free agent whom many consider the best third-down receiver in the NFL.
Local players from the leagues we're used to seeing the non-BCS kind make good. There are plenty of make-good stories from the have-nots of college football.
Utah State's 5-foot-11, 184-pound Kevin Curtis, the 74th pick of the 2003 draft, keeps turning heads since he walked on at Snow College from Bingham High and is now in his fourth year in the NFL, with the Rams.
And wasn't Utah's Steve Smith, a sixth-year player for the Carolina Panthers, better than Randy Moss this past year? Smith ranked No. 1 in the NFL in receptions with 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 TDs.
Watkins could stick with the Cardinals if he pushes himself. Anderson could be the next Steve Largent, Webb may be the best MWC receiver at the next level, UNM's Baskett has all the physical tools to stay in the league and the Horned Frogs' Rodgers can play myriad positions.The NFL may have rained on the MWC parade draft day. But someday, this league's 2005 playmakers may prove them wrong.
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