The 2017 NFL draft proved a little slim for the Cougars, but they could produce several NFL-caliber players for the 2018 draft

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Washington State narrowly avoided becoming the third Pac-12 school to get shut out of the 2017 NFL draft when safety Shalom Luani was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the seventh round. (Arizona and Oregon were the only two Pac-12 schools that did not have any players picked in the 2017 draft.)

But the 2018 draft is likely to be a busy one for the Cougars.

For one, quarterback Luke Falk is widely regarded as one of the top draft-eligible signal callers in 2018. Falk is considered a potential first round pick by many draft analysts, though, he just missed the cut in CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler’s list of top five draft eligible prospects at each position.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News rates Falk the 14th-best draft prospect in the Pac-12 in 2018, and Athlon lists Falk at No. 6 in its list of the Pac-12’s best 2018 draft prospects.

These Cougs will enter the 2017 football season with many NFL types tracking their performances:

QB Luke Falk: He’s got the smarts, the toughness, the intangibles and the gaudy stats. But he’ll face questions about arm strength and the often-heard refrain that he’s a “system QB.” While it may seem unfair to tie Falk’s fortunes to anyone other than himself, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for fellow Air Raid alum Jared Goff of the L.A. Rams to have a good season in 2017 and show once and for all that Air Raid quarterbacks can succeed in the pros. Also, the 6-foot-4 Falk played at 216 pounds last season, but has bulked up to 225 pounds this spring. If he can keep that weight on for the next year, that could help his NFL prospects too. Falk is ranked No. 10 in Bleacher Report’s list of top 25 college football seniors to watch for in the upcoming 2017 season.

OG Cody O’Connell: O’Connell was voted a unanimous All-American in 2016, and at 6-foot-8, 370-pounds, is the sort of physical specimen that makes NFL executives salivate. It doesn’t hurt that he can block and pass protect with the best of them and throw opposing defenders around like rag dolls. O’Connell won’t generate the same amount of hype as an offensive tackle of his size might, but he’ll be a coveted draft commodity if he can, in his senior season, improve upon the big junior year that put The Continent on the college football map. Bleacher Report has O’Connell ranked No. 18 in its top-25 ranking of college football’s top seniors in 2017.

DE Hercules Mata’afa: Wilner, from the San Jose Mercury-News, sees Mata’afa as Washington State’s second-most draftable prospect behind Falk next year. However, this will be contingent on Mata’afa forgoing his senior season to declare early for the draft — something I don’t believe will happen. At 6-2, 255 pounds, with a knack for getting after the quarterback, Mata’afa could definitely make an impact on an NFL roster — potentially, as Wilner says, as an outside linebacker.

LB Peyton Pelluer: A four-year starter at middle linebacker, Pelluer has demonstrated his smarts on the football field and is fully capable of running a defense. But he’s considered just a shade undersized, and he’ll have to prove that he’s got the speed to take his game to the next level.

Several more to watch: 

RB Jamal Morrow could intrigue NFL teams because of his versatility, while fellow RB Gerard Wicks could use a big tackle-breaking, touchdown-scoring senior season to prove his worth as a big goal line back. LB Isaac Dotson could also play his way onto the NFL’s radar with a big senior year. With his size (6-5, 213 pounds) and bloodlines (dad, Charles Dimry was a longtime defensive back in the NFL),WR C.J. Dimry could also earn a shot at the next level if he has a breakout season and learns to use every inch of his big, lanky frame to his advantage in the end zone. RT Cole Madison, a pillar of stability for WSU over the last few years, could also get a look from NFL teams.

On an unrelated note, the Cougars have cracked several way-too-early top 25 rankings for the 2017 college football season. Notably:

—’s Stewart Mandel has WSU ranked 21st.

— The Sporting News has WSU at No. 23

— has WSU at No. 25