Question: Ohio State has not done it, neither has Michigan or Oklahoma. But Boise State has. What is it?
Answer: The Broncos have had at least one early entrant taken in the NFL Draft the last three years, and should make it four, something only 11 other schools have the opportunity to claim this year.
After forgoing their senior years, Kamalei Correa was taken in the second round by the Ravens in 2016, Jay Ajayi in the fifth round by the Dolphins in 2015 and DeMarcus Lawrence by the Cowboys in the second round in 2014. Along with Boise State, the other schools that have had early entrants drafted in the same years and have one in this draft are Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Indiana, LSU, Penn State, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington.
Running back Jeremy McNichols will likely make it four straight years for Boise State to have an early entrant drafted. He and linebacker Tanner Vallejo are both expected to be selected, making it eight straight years the Broncos have had at least one player taken.
The Broncos’ three first-round picks in that span are No. 1 among Group of Five conference schools. In a story on conference successes in the draft, Rivals.com’s Mike Farrell wrote: “Boise State never seems to get the respect it deserves.”
Though neither is expected to become the next first-rounder when the draft begins Thursday, both had strong showings in pre-draft workouts and are mostly projected to be taken on the draft’s final day, Saturday, in the final four rounds.
JEREMY McNICHOLS, RB
Pros: His production is among the best in a deep running back group, and the 88 receptions he had in the last two seasons will help his stock as a versatile option. Scouts have praised his vision and ability to change direction. Running a better-than-expected 4.49-seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine helped alleviate some concerns with his top-end speed.
Cons: His size (5-foot-9, 214 pounds) isn’t ideal, and though he made tacklers miss, he didn’t break through many. He had some fumble issues at times, too. Though he was effective in pass protection, he has plenty of room to improve if he wants to be an every-down back. He also is in one of the deepest running back groups in years, pushing down his stock.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.: “It depends upon the (teams’) opinion of those running backs outside the top 10 group, when you get to this group ... if you put him at the top of that group, he’s a fourth-round pick, maybe a third, put him at the bottom of that group, he’s a sixth-, seventh-round pick. I think after it all shakes out, he’s a fourth- or fifth-round pick.”
McNichols: “Being in the top running back class in the last 10-15 years, and your name is still getting brought up, it’s a good feeling, competing with those guys is good as well. I’m not nervous at all. My resume’s out there, my film’s out there, my times are out there, there’s nothing else for me to stress about.”
TANNER VALLEJO, LB
Pros: He played outside linebacker and nickel for the Broncos, and was productive when he played. He could play either inside or outside for NFL teams, depending on scheme. He’s a very effective force on the edge that can get into the backfield to cause disruption but also can move around in coverage. Pro Football Focus said “he has a real shot at developing into a starter.”
Cons: Injuries have kept him from matching his super-productive sophomore season, so he’s a bit of an unknown quantity. His size (6-foot-1, 228) won’t turn any heads, and that won’t let him make up for his occasional mistakes in overpursuit. He will need to get a little bigger and stronger to prevent being pushed off by blockers or run through when tackling.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.: “More of a late-round pick, he’ll help on special teams right away.”
Vallejo: “It’s sounding good right now to me, from what I’m hearing. I think I’m helping myself out with these workouts and all that, just trying to make one team fall in love with me and take the shot. ... I’m confident in myself that once I get on a team I’ll shine.”
Mock drafts — NFL.com: Third round, 100th overall (Titans); CBS Sports: Seventh round, 233rd overall (Panthers); Fox Sports: Sixth round, 187th overall (Jaguars); Pro Football Focus: Fifth round, 176th overall (Broncos).
NOTES: Former Boise State offensive lineman Mario Yakoo should be an undrafted free agent following the conclusion of the draft Saturday. He had a workout with the Chargers on April 13. ... Kiper said wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck is a “late-rounder or priority free agent that can make a football team.” ... NFL.com picked one likely undrafted player from each FBS school who can make a roster and picked Sperbeck. ... The draft begins at 6 p.m. Thursday with the first round on ESPN and NFL Network, continues at 5 p.m. Friday with the second and third rounds on ESPN (5-6 p.m.), ESPN2 (6-9:30 p.m.) and NFL Network, and concludes with the final four rounds at 10 a.m. Saturday on ESPN and NFL Network.
Boise State draft picks since 2010
*Kamalei Correa, DE/LB, 2nd round (42nd overall), Ravens
Darian Thompson, S, 3rd round (71st overall), Giants
Rees Odhiambo, OL, 3rd round (97th overall), Seahawks
*Jay Ajayi, RB, 5th round (149th overall), Dolphins
*DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, 2nd round (34th), Cowboys
Matt Paradis, C, 6th round (207th), Broncos
Charles Leno Jr., OL, 7th round (246th), Bears
Jamar Taylor, CB, 2nd round (54th), Dolphins
Shea McClellin, DE/LB, 1st round (19th), Bears
Doug Martin, RB, 1st round (31st), Buccaneers
Tyrone Crawford, DE, 3rd round (81st), Cowboys
George Iloka, S, 5th round (167th), Bengals
Billy Winn, DT, 6th round (205th), Browns
Nate Potter, OL, 7th round (221st), Cardinals
Titus Young, WR, 2nd round (44th), Lions
Austin Pettis, WR, 3rd round (78th), Rams
Brandyn Thompson, CB, 7th round (213th), Redskins
Kyle Wilson, CB, 1st round (29th), Jets
* early entrant