Welcome to What’s on Draft. In this weekly column, we’ll be going over the top draft prospects in the state of Colorado and how they played, as well as some players the Broncos could target throughout the draft.
With the Rocky Mountain Showdown now in the rearview mirror, it makes sense to kick things off by looking at some of the best potential NFL talents from the Buffaloes’ 52-31 trouncing of the Rams. Here are the top three prospects from both teams at this point in the season:
University of Colorado
Steven Montez: Right now, Montez is an NFL draft afterthought. As of now, it’d be surprising if he was taken any time before the third day of the draft, but with a strong showing in his senior season, Montez could be selected early on the second day of the draft.
Montez certainly looks the part. He has ideal NFL size, standing at 6’5″ and measuring 230 pounds, a fantastic NFL arm that can make almost any throw on the field and the mobility to escape the pocket and make a play when everything else breaks down.
He just needs polish. You still see him panic a little bit or get jumpy when the pocket gets pushed back towards him. Montez also struggles to read the whole field. Sometimes he’ll get stuck on a single read, or won’t be able to find his other reads once the defense applies pressure. This leads to him tucking the ball to run or taking the sack far too often.
Laviska Shenault: The biggest no-brainer draft prospect in the state of Colorado is Laviska Shenault. Weighing in at 6’2″, 220 pounds, there are very few NFL cornerbacks that could match up with Shenault. Especially once you consider his speed, leaping ability and phenomenal hands to match his titanic size.
Forget the state of Colorado, Shenault is the best player in the Pac-12 and probably the entire west coast as of now. If it weren’t for Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy looking like the second-coming of Odell Beckham Jr., Shenault would be head-and-shoulders above every college wide receiver in what is still a loaded receiver class.
Against the Rams, Shenault made a few incredible plays, namely his dive for the endzone that exuded an audible “Wow!” from the Mile High crowd. Even better though — at least for his draft status — may have been when he spun on an out route to collapse a defending Ram. Shenault has some concerns around his ability to change direction, and on that play he showed that even with his rare combination of size and speed, he can still shift his momentum on a dime.
Mustafa Johnson: Mustafa Johnson is easily the Buffs’ best defensive player and is one of the best defensive players in the nation. This offseason, Johnson was named to the watch list for the Bednarik Award (awarded to the nation’s top defender), Ted Hendricks Award (nation’s top defensive end) and the Bronko Nagurski trophy (also the nation’s top defender).
Johnson is a tweener that’s just a little too big to be a 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end, and a little too small to be a typical 3-4 run-stuffing defensive end. This means his best projection to the NFL would see him used similarly to Broncos’ third-round rookie Dre’Mont Jones. That’s a role he could thrive in, as last season saw him rack up 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in just his first season of FBS football, and he got off to a strong start against CSU, forcing a fumble.
In terms of size, Johnson is nearly identical to Jones. Johnson is listed as an inch taller and ten pounds heavier, but it’s unclear how much of that is his real size and how much of it is fluffed up (as is typically the case with university-written player profiles). He could go even higher than Jones went if he can make the leap everyone’s anticipating in 2019.
Colorado State University
Collin Hill: As of right now, Collin Hill is probably the best quarterback in Colorado, not Steven Montez, but he’s not the best prospect. He’s more polished, more accurate and more consistent than Montez.
Collin Hill was also one of the best players at the annual Manning Passing Academy, outshining Montez.
This is true – Collin Hill did open eyes at the Manning Passing Academy @mpa_info amongst a field with "bigger names…@QBCountry has become a surging resource in the QB development industry. https://t.co/YlsLvgvDUa
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) July 23, 2019
So how is Montez a better prospect? Hill has already suffered two ACL tears which is sure to scare a faction of NFL teams off entirely, and even more until at least the later stages of the draft.
Taking a gamble on a player with that kind of injury history in college is a huge risk. You could be flushing a pick down the drain, but at a point the upside becomes too much to pass up, especially at quarterback. This season, Hill will try to prove he’s the next Jaylon Smith or Myles Jack, and not the next Jake Butt.
Manny Jones: Emmanuel “Manny” Jones projects as a talented run-stopping edge player for the Rams. Through his first two seasons in Fort Collins, Jones racked up 69 tackles, 13.5 of which came behind the line, four sacks, six quarterback hurries, and an interception.
Unfortunately for Jones, as NFL offenses air it out more every season, pass-rush ability becomes more and more valuable, especially on the edge. Meanwhile, a supremely talented run defender like Jones will slip down the boards much like the NFL’s other endangered species, run-stuffing linebackers, box safeties, and ground-game-neutralizing behemoths in the center of the defensive line.
If Jones wants to guarantee he’s drafted, or at the very least raise his draft stock, he’ll have to produce more on pass-rushing snaps.
Cameron Butler is one of college football’s most underrated tight ends. He started for the Rams as a true freshman, and over his two seasons in the lineup has accumulated 41 catches for 483 yards and three touchdowns, though last season he was kept out of the endzone entirely.
Much like Manny Jones rushing the passer, Butler struggles in the area which is most important for him to succeed in, the redzone. Going an entire season as a starting tight end without catching a singletouchdown is a red flag to keep an eye on, but it already appears that he’s righted the ship.
Against the Buffs, Butler caught two passes for 17 yards and a score, breaking his drought. If Butler can continue to be a go-to target for Collin Hill and continues to improve across the board, he could be a tight end prospect to keep an eye on for the 2020 draft.