NFL draft weekend is here, and with five WSU players considered drafty-worthy talent, this could end up being one of the most bountiful draft classes in recent history for the Cougars.
Washington State has had one player selected in the NFL Draft every year since 2013, and the Cougars had two players drafted in 2015.
But the Cougars haven’t had more than two players selected in one NFL draft class since 2005, when CB Karl Paymah (third round, Denver), OT Calvin Armstrong (sixth round, Philadelphia) and DB Hamza Abdullah (seventh round, Tampa Bay).
This year, however, could be different.
By the time the final draft selection is called on Saturday evening, it’s possible that the 2018 Cougars draft class might equal the 2005 class, or perhaps, even match the 1998 draft class that saw four WSU players – including QB Ryan Leaf – selected.
WSU Cougars in the NFL Draft since 1960Most players drafted in one year: Eight, 1978
- ... a WSU player was drafted in the 7th round: 2017 - FS Shalom Luani (Oakland Raiders, 221st overall)
- ... a WSU player was drafted in the 6th round: 2011 - C Zack Williams (Carolina Panthers, 203rd overall)
- ... a WSU player was drafted in the 5th round: 2016 - OL Joe Dahl (Detroit Lions, 151st overall)
- ... a WSU player was drafted in the 4th round: 2015 - WR Vince Mayle (Cleveland Browns, 123rd overall)
- ... a WSU player was drafted in the 3rd round: 2015 - DL Xavier Cooper (Cleveland Browns, 96th overall)
- ... a WSU player was drafted in the 2nd round: 2002 - DB Lamont Thompson (Cincinnati Bengals, 41st overall)
Quarterback Luke Falk, defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa, offensive linemen Cole Madison and Cody O’Connell and linebacker Frankie Luvu are the Cougars who stand the best chance of getting drafted by NFL teams in the next three days.
Something to consider, if the best-case scenario occurs and WSU has five players selected in the NFL draft, this year will mark the most Cougar talent taken in one draft since 1990, when six Cougars were selected.
The first round of the NFL draft begins Thursday evening. It’s unlikely that any WSU player will be selected Thursday, but the action could start for the Cougars on Friday, in rounds two and three. Things should heat up for WSU on Saturday, when rounds four through seven take place beginning at 9 a.m. PT.
Here’s a breakdown of where most analysts project the Cougars’ draft talent will end up. Jump directly to your favorite player or scroll all the way to the end.
- Luke Falk
- Hercules Mata’afa
- Cole Madison
- Cody O’Connell
- Frankie Luvu
- Best of the Rest
- Notable Omissions
QB Luke Falk
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Falk will watch the draft in his hometown of Logan, Utah with his family, fiancée and close friends. He’s generally considered a mid-round draft pick.
Here’s our look at everything Falk went through to prepare for the draft.
Projection: Rob Rang, a Tacoma-based NFLDraftScout.com analyst, says he sees Falk getting drafted in the third or fourth round, though, he notes, “there’s a chance he could sneak into the second round.”
NFL.com ranks him eighth among quarterback prospects, with a third or fourth round projection. ESPN’s Mel Kiper thinks Falk could end up going to New England in the third round, while Eric Galko with Optimum Scouting also sees Falk as a potential third round pick, except he posits that the Seahawks might be the team that drafts him. NFL.com’s Gil Brandt ranked Falk the 105th-best prospect available in the draft.
On a recent segment of the show Soul and Science, Trent Dilfer praised Falk for his accuracy, rhythmic throwing and overall consistency.
Here’s Rang’s detailed breakdown of Falk’s strengths and weaknesses, from an interview with The Seattle Times earlier this month:
“We know what he does well. He’s a tough player who reads defenses well and can place the ball anywhere he wants it. He relies more on touch and anticipation than pure velocity. That makes him a better fit for some offenses than others. I’m a fan of Falk in spread type offenses. New England, New Orleans, maybe Miami, those immediately jump out as far as they have multiple receiver sets, and most of the time the QB is receiving ball out of the shotgun and the types of routes they ask receivers to run are often either fades or taking advantage of space.”
EDGE Hercules Mata’afa
Mata’afa opted to forgo his senior year at WSU and declare for the NFL draft. He did well at the NFL combine, but is bit of a puzzle for NFL teams because at 6-2, 254 pounds, he’s linebacker sized, but has only ever played on the defensive line. A former wrestler who’s lauded for his ability to slip by offensive linemen, he led WSU with 22.5 TFL and 10.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position in 2017.
“Mata’afa is the guy someone is going to be willing to get creative to find a role for,” Rang said. “He’s just too productive a player.”
However, Mata’afa’s “tweeter” status could also affect where teams draft him.
“Every team is going to view him as a possible player for them but not necssarily as a player they are going to target,” Rang said.
What works in his favor is that this draft is thin in pass rushers. So, by day three, teams who have yet to pick up any edge rushing talent could look to Mata’afa as a weapon to add if they’re willing to be creative with how they play him, Rang said.
Projection: Rang sees Mata’afa as a fourth or fifth round selection, but adds he might sneak into the third round because of his pass rush ability. NFL.com rates Mata’afa as a fifth or sixth round prospect, while Brandt sees Mata’afa as the 119th-best prospect, which also roughly works out to the fourth round. The Washington Post posits that the Washington NFL team could select Mata’afa with one of its two fifth round picks.
OL Cole Madison
Madison, a Seattle native, was a an ironman for WSU, starting 47 games at right tackle throughout his career. He saw his draft stock rise steadily throughout the pre-draft process thanks to solid performances at the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine and WSU’s pro day.
Even though Madison played tackle in college, while his linemate, Cody O’Connell played guard, it’s likely that the two Cougar linemen in this year’s draft will exchange positions at the next level.
Madison projects best as an NFL guard, partly because his arms are only — yes, “only” — 32 1/4 inches. At 6-5, 308 pounds, he’s not quite as big and girthy as the NFL likes its tackles to be.
Madison played guard at the Senior Bowl and did well there, which will help him in the draft, Rang said.
“He’s a tough guy,” Rang said. “He’s stronger than people give him credit for, and he bends his knees really well and can hold up at the point of attack better than most tackles can.”
Projection: NFL.com projects Madison as a fifth or sixth round pick. NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock rates Madison the 95th-best prospect in the draft, which hints at a late-third round ceiling for Madison. But SB Nation has Madison ranked as the 160th-best prospect, which is more of a fourth round projection. NFL Network’s Ian Rappoport reported earlier this month that Madison has visited with Seattle, Washington and Dallas.
OL Cody O’Connell
O’Connell said in a phone interview from Pullman this week that he isn’t going to watch the draft. Instead, the Wenatchee native plans to hang out with his family, watch some movies, go mini-golfing and take his niece to a trampoline park in Moscow.
“I don’t want to sit there and wait for a phone call,” O’Connell said. “I figured, if anything happens, they’ll call me.”
O’Connell’s stock perhaps peaked after his breakout junior season in 2016, when he earned unanimous All-American honors and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy. His senior season failed to match his junior year, but his size (6-8, 368 pounds) nonetheless makes him an intriguing prospect for NFL teams.
Since WSU’s pro day in March, O’Connell has fielded interest from a couple of NFL teams, and had a private workout with the Texans, he said.
“Most of them want to see me at tackle, just because of my size,” O’Connell said. “I’ll do whatever I need to to play.”
Projection: Rang cites O’Connell’s long 35-inch arms and his strength (he hit 28 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press at pro day) as two big assets. ” I believe his size and strength does warrant late round consideration, but obviously as a right tackle, which will be a challenge for him,” Rang said.
NFL.com’s Lance Zeirlein projects O’Connell as a sixth or seventh round pick.
LB Frankie Luvu
Playing the rush linebacker spot in Alex Grinch’s defense, Luvu had a breakout senior season, finishing second on the team behind Mata’afa with 12 TFL and 6.5 sacks. His speed off the edge and pass rushing prowess could merit consideration in the final rounds of the NFL draft.
Projection: Luvu is a deep draft sleeper. He could maybe sneak into the seventh round, but most analysts, including Rang and NFL.com’s Zeirlein, project that he’ll end up as an undrafted free agent.
Last time a LB was drafted out of WSU: 2002 – Raonall Smith went to Minnesota in the second round (38th overall).
Best of the Rest
WSU’s 2018 crop of NFL draftees is fueled by the Cougars’ 19-man 2017 graduating class. (And, most of those guys came out of the 2013 recruiting class that changed the trajectory of WSU football.)
These players are all hoping to at least get into an NFL camp:
RB Jamal Morrow broke his foot in the bowl game, and the recovery process kept him out of the pre-draft circuit. But he said in an interview this week that he’s fully healthy now and worked out for the L.A. Rams earlier this monthat their local audition day for draft hopefuls.
“It felt good because it was my first time running routes and catching balls since the injury,” Morrow said, adding that he’s fielded calls from multiple teams since that Rams workout that connived the NFL he’s now fully healthy.
RB Gerard Wicks worked out for the Texans and has also fielded interest from the Vikings. DT Daniel Ekuale says the L.A. Rams appear to be very interested in him. He will watch the draft from Seattle with family. CB Marcellus Pippins worked out for the San Francisco 49ers at their local draft hopeful audition day, and will host a draft party at home in Richmond, Calif.
FS Rob Taylor, LB Dylan Hanser, K Erik Powell, DB Kirkland Parker, WR Robert Lewis and DT Garrett McBroom all worked out for scouts at WSU’s Pro Day on March 8.
LB Isaac Dotson, who has retired from football after suffering five concussions in college. If not for the concussion issue, he might have been a late-round draft prospect. LB Peyton Pelluer who missed most of last season with a broken foot, was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will return for one final season at WSU this fall.