Mountain West Football: 12 Players Who Deserved More Attention In 2022
A number of standout performers across the Mountain West flew under the radar last season.
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Who earned more appreciation than they received?
The Falcons defense had an outstanding season as a unit despite landing just two players on the postseason all-conference team, which means that individual standouts like TD Blackmon may have been overlooked. In addition to compiling an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 86.9, the seventh-highest mark in the FBS, he also posted 68 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 13 quarterback hurries despite playing only 540 snaps, 16th-most among Mountain West linebackers.
At the beginning of the season, not many people would have believed that Latrell Caples would finish first among Broncos pass catchers in receptions and receiving yards while tying for the team lead with four touchdowns, but he did so by rarely wasting an opportunity with the ball in his hands. Caples had only one drop in 73 targets and established himself as one of the best slot receivers anywhere in the Mountain West, so it’s easy to get excited about what he and Taylen Green might accomplish with a full year together next fall.
Boise State! Taylen Green ➡️ Latrell Caples for the 50 yard TD! pic.twitter.com/5R2l8UQ0PD
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) November 25, 2022
Justus Ross-Simmons didn’t fully hit his stride until the second half of the season, but the young wide receiver flashed plenty in his first year of action and should be one to watch headed into 2023. Only Hawaii’s Jalen Walthall had more receptions among freshman pass catchers in the Mountain West but, more importantly, he made the most of his 44 targets.
Beyond averaging 16.3 yards per catch, the second-best figure in the conference, Ross-Simmons also averaged 8.0 yards after the catch per reception (which also ranked second) and had one drop despite an average depth of target of 13.0 yards that ranked ninth. If you weren’t paying attention before, now’s a good time to start.
Things aren’t going great for the #CSURams up in Boise, but there’s still flashes of where this program could be in a year or two. Big freshman-to-freshman play here from Clay Millen to Justus Ross-Simmons pic.twitter.com/AQnpCmYwiL
— Tyler King (@King_TylerB) October 30, 2022
While injuries took their toll on both sides of the ball, LJ Early started all but two games and very quietly put together a great season. In racking up a 80.8 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, Early allowed only 17 receptions on 43 targets, a 39.5% rate that was second-best in the Mountain West, and led the conference with 13 forced incompletions.
LJ EARLY‼️@lj_early | #GoDogs | 📺CBSSN pic.twitter.com/1D6tqURCty
— Fresno State Football 🏆 (@FresnoStateFB) November 20, 2022
Could an outstanding small sample mean big things are ahead for running back Tylan Hines? After transferring in from Air Force, Hines saw more and more work as the season progressed and, despite carrying the ball just 83 times, averaged a whopping 7.64 yards per attempt and scored twice. Furthermore, if you ignore Pro Football Focus’s snap minimum, Hines’s 90.8 running grade ranked first among all Mountain West running backs.
The Plano, Texas native also proved he could be incredibly hard to catch this past season, too. He forced 33 missed tackles and posted a 151.3 Elusive Rating according to PFF, as well, a metric which “[measures the] success and impact of a runner with the ball independently of the blocking” where Hines ranked 11th among all FBS players at the position.
Tylan Hines has his first career touchdown as a Rainbow Warrior. 49-10 Michigan in the 4th quarter.
— Ka Leo Sports (@KaLeoSports) September 11, 2022
The Wolf Pack got most of their standout performances from veterans like Dom Peterson and Bentlee Sanders, but linebacker Drue Watts played like someone that Ken Wilson could build around on defense. He finished 2022 with 57 total tackles, the third-most among Mountain West freshmen, three sacks, and nine tackles for loss, the last of which came in large part to an eight-game streak with at least one TFL.
Takeaway ➡️ Points
Drue Watts with the pick, and the Pack turns it into Talton's third FG!
Nevada within one, at 17-16!#BattleBorn // #HomeIsNevada pic.twitter.com/LJLFHB0YAE
— Nevada Football (@NevadaFootball) November 27, 2022