A seven-year streak of having players selected in the NFL draft continued for Washington State last weekend when left tackle Andre Dillard and quarterback Gardner Minshew were taken off the board in the first and sixth round, respectively, in Nashville.
It’s anyone’s guess how next year’s draft will look for WSU, but the program’s recent track record – in the win/loss column and with draft selections – suggests the Cougars will have something to celebrate when the event moves to Las Vegas in 2020.
Knowing there are plenty variables in play between now and then, we take a look at five WSU players who could hear their names called this time next year, from most likely to least likely.
1. Jalen Thompson, safety
Of the Pac-12 players taken in the recent draft, no position had a higher selection rate than defensive back. Seven of the 33 selected were defensive backs and one year ago, some thought Thompson would be part of that crowd, and would have an opportunity to make the NFL leap after his junior season. Thompson didn’t cultivate the same numbers he did as a sophomore – not a sign of his regression as much as it was a byproduct of WSU’s defensive scheming – but he returns as one of the league’s top safeties after earning all-league honorable mention in 2018. Pound for pound, he’s one of the fastest players on the team and as sure of a tackler as the Cougars have had at the position during the Mike Leach era.
2. Dezmon Patmon, wide receiver
The Air Raid doesn’t pick favorites, so Patmon won’t be targeted as much as he might elsewhere and because of Easop Winston’s emergence at the “Z” position in 2018, he’ll also have to share reps. But if the senior-to-be can even match his production in 2018 – 61 receptions for a team-high 816 yards and five touchdowns – he’ll have a good chance to become the first Cougar receiver drafted since Vince Mayle in 2015. Patmon continues to fill out his 6-4, 225-pound frame – which projects extremely well to the NFL – and coaches insist he still hasn’t broached his ceiling. “He’s still got room to grow,” outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “If I can get him to play as good as he looks, he’s really going to be special.”
3. Abraham Lucas, right tackle
Lucas being drafted in 2020 obviously hinges on the offensive lineman making a decision to forego not just one, but two more years of college eligibility. And, yes, it’s unlikely he’ll do that, but it doesn’t mean he won’t have the opportunity. For one, it isn’t a bad time to be an offensive tackle at WSU. Lucas’ predecessor at right tackle, Cole Madison, was picked by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft and last weekend, Dillard was taken in the first round by Philadelphia. Lucas was tabbed a Freshman All-American last year – something Madison and Dillard never achieved – and he could be more projectable at the next level than both, standing at 6-7, 320 pounds. Last year, Mike Leach called Lucas “one of the best offensive linemen in the conference” and Dillard labeled him “some kind of robot or demigod.”
4. Tay Martin, wide receiver
Next on the list of WSU receivers who could catapult themselves into the draft conversation is Martin, a junior who probably has more untapped potential than even Patmon. The Louisianan tied for fifth in the Pac-12 with his eight touchdown catches last season and made 69 receptions for 685 total yards. Even with those numbers, Martin fought inconsistency all last season, totaling 100-plus yards in three separate games and finishing with 30 or fewer in six others. At his best, Martin is easily an NFL-caliber wideout, and if he can tap into that more times than not this fall, the rangy, athletic “X” receiver will have a chance to leave school a year early and pursue a pro career.
5. Gage Gubrud, quarterback
Each of the last four starting quarterbacks to start for Leach have earned NFL opportunities and it isn’t lost on anyone that the coach turned the last two – both former walk-ons – into sixth-round draft picks. Gubrud doesn’t have Luke Falk’s height or precision, or Minshew’s mojo, but his ability to improvise might be better than both and his starting point, as a former FCS All-American with 11,026 yards of total offense under his belt, is better than Minshew’s was this time last year. There’s a reason he’s the last player named on this list, but if Gubrud can produce in the Air Raid like a few of his predecessors did, he’ll have an opportunity at the next level. Winning the job, of course, is step one.