The state of Colorado has always produced NFL talent, but the 2017 draft crop is different, as it promises to be special with several draftable prospects who should go pretty high.
That’s why we had to feature the best prospects locally in the 2017 class, including where they rank on our Big Board (shown in parentheses), their potential draft range and potential landing spots for the top dogs.
1 (9) Christian McCaffrey, RB-WR-PR, Stanford
We featured McCaffrey in our very first Big Board before the college football season kicked off. We had him as a top-15 talent then, and while lots has changed since the preseason, C-Mac’s standing in the draft hasn’t. The former Valor Christian star and Mr. Football in the state of Colorado has gone on to dominate the Pac-12 and is now a coveted NFL prospect who could go in the top 10, a rare feat for running backs these days.
McCaffrey’s a perfect player for the modern NFL thanks to his versatile skillset, and he’ll be an impossible player to match up against. As a runner, he’s great up the middle or outside as he runs with great vision, patience, and burst. As a receiver, he’s a polished route-runner with smooth hands. He’s also a spectacular returner who’ll make magic happen in the open field. One of the best preps to come out of the state, ever, McCaffrey should go in the 8-to-14 range as the Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles seem like his most likely landing spots at this point.
2 (24) Chidobe Awuzie, DB, Colorado
Awuzie’s the other likely first rounder in this group, and he’s been a big-time player in the Pac-12 for a few seasons now. He’s the most well-rounded cornerback in a loaded class, as he’s amongst the best tacklers, the clear cut best Blitzer, potentially the best cover corner in the slot, and he’s competent covering down the sideline with speed and physicality to be a high-level player. That’s a tantalizing package in a passing league.
Awuzie’s versatility makes him a really appealing player in the modern NFL, where sub packages are the norm, and he can be an ace for teams up close on the line while covering the slot. Don’t be surprised if he goes in the top 20 as he has several suitors. The Eagles seem very interested, as do the Tennessee Titans who could pick him at 18 and the Oakland Raiders at 24. He’s an immediate contributor who fits perfectly in today’s NFL.
3 (42) Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado
It took people a while to catch on to Witherspoon, who we featured back in late October, as his size and ball skills really stood out. With the second most passes defended in the country last year (22) ‘Spoon’ was truly impressive, blanketing some of the best receivers in Division-I easily down the field. Showing elite skills in attacking the ball and making crucial plays throughout the year in the process.
He also showed off great speed and explosiveness at the Combine with a 4.45 40-yard dash and a 40.5 inch vertical. Coming from junior college and only starting one year with the Buffs he’s still raw. He especially needs to become a better tackler, but his upside is amongst the highest of any player at any position in the 2017 class. His elite size – 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds – and upside could push him to go very high in the draft with an outside shot of going in the first round.
4 (45) Tedric Thompson, FS, Colorado
Thompson isn’t the biggest, and he might not be the most explosive athlete, but if you had to choose a player you trust as your last line of defense he’s a guy you can trust. What Thompson lacks in measurables he makes up for with instincts as he’s quick to read and react to the ball.
He’s really an intriguing free safety prospect as his speed is more than adequate to cover deep, while he also has some great ability to cover the slot and come downhill in a hurry to make plays on the ball. He’s also a willing tackler who can come in and put a hat on the ball. His technique needs to improve, but he’s got everything it takes, with a little coaching, to be a high-level starter in the NFL someday. His FBS-best 23 passed defended, and third best seven interceptions are the proof of that.
5 (128) Austin Ekeler, RB/WR, Western State Colorado
This might seem like a homer pick after we featured Ekeler a few weeks back as one of the most underrated gems in this 2017 class. But watch the tape, look up his measurables, athletic testing, or his stats, and you might change your mind.
Ekeler was a phenom in Division-II as the leader in rushing yards per game and also the national leader in points scored per game his junior year. He also has some appealing skills as a receiver out the backfield, a role in which he should be featured more as a pro as he’s a bit undersized at 5-foot-9 and 196 pounds.
Get him in the open field, and his athleticism should shine as he runs a 4.3 40 and jumps 40.5 inches. A special athlete and football player.
6 (189) Jalen Robinette, WR-TE, Air Force
Robinette’s an interesting prospect, though there’s tons of depth at the wide receiver position and he could get lost in the mix, but if given a chance he’s got some upside to surprise. His size makes him very intriguing at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds which could allow him to play some tight end at times. A role he could easily play as he’s an experienced blocker playing in the triple option running attack for the Falcons.
Robinette’s production was impressive last season, particularly in his ability to maximize his 35 catches and turn them into big plays with an outlandish 27.4 yards per reception. He also has decent speed for a big guy (between the high 4.5s and low 4.6s) with intriguing ability on deep balls thanks to his size. Robinette also possesses deceiving quickness and change of direction skills as he ran a nice three-cone drill at 6.77 seconds. As a big slot receiving tight end, he’d be very intriguing, and if he can refine his route running he should be able to carve out at least a rotational spot in the league.
7 (198) Jimmie Gilbert, OLB, Colorado
Gilbert is one of three All-Americans on this list with McCafftey and Steelhammer. At CU he was a key player up front for the Buffs as he made the best of his athletic skills and length to create pressure on opposing passers.
In the pros, Gilbert’s slender frame will force him to play linebacker where he should be a more natural fit. He’ll have to work on dropping back and covering more while putting on more weight but his skill set’s very intriguing. He’s a standout athlete who can rush the passer with speed and plays with great pursuit, particularly as a backside run defender. In a 3-4 front as an outside linebacker, strong side backer in a 4-3, or even as a situational pass rusher he should find a role in the NFL.
He might not be a star, but players like him have a purpose in the league these days as speed has been prioritized over power.
8 (203) Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
Liufau’s a great collegiate football player, and at times in his final season, he flashed NFL tools. His game against Michigan really stood out in retrospect as his arm strength looked great, as did his accuracy and ball placement. All important traits for an NFL QB. He also has the size and mobility that fit what the NFL looks for, on top of being a great leader with lots of high-level intangibles.
His accuracy isn’t always consistent, and he’s had some stinkers. Injuries have also followed him throughout his career and his inability to stay healthy really hurt the Buffs by the end of the season. Those are two big concerns for NFL evaluators. But he’s got a bit of Dak Prescott to his game and could surprise if he’s given a legitimate shot in the league.
At the very worst, he’s a backup with high-level character, making him a valuable asset. The draft process hasn’t gone well for him as he didn’t look sharp in passing drills at the Senior Bowl or at the Combine. But he’s much more of a gamer than someone who’s going to impress in shorts throwing against air. Hopefully, he has a chance to prove that at the next level.
9 (205) Weston Steelhammer, SS-LB, Air Force
Steelhammer doesn’t just possess the best last name in all of football; he’s also coming off of a great collegiate career in which he racked up seven interceptions and 80 tackles in his final season. That’s the type of player he is as he was the heart and soul of the Falcons defense playing all over the field.
He plays with lots of heart and won’t be afraid to come downhill and lay the wood against the run or pass. At 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds, he’s isn’t the most athletic safety, and he could be converted to play some linebacker though he’s undersized for that position. He’ll likely start as a special teams contributor and if he can play with high-level instincts and tenacity could make it onto an NFL defense. His value lies particularly in sub packages where he’d be a great run defender with cover skills.
10 (209) Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas
Skipper’s the one other Colorado prep who makes it on this list as a former three-star recruit out of Ralston Valley who made the jump to the SEC starting for four years and 51 games becoming an all-conference selection in the process.
At 6-foot-10 and 309 pounds, you can understand why the big man was recruited to go play big time college football. He uses that length well as his size makes him hard to turn the corner on – more than hard it takes a while to get around him. His length allowed him to play left tackle for the Razorbacks and when he can get his frame on guys, he’s hard to shake loose.
His height is also a weakness as he struggles to play with good leverage and can get pushed back pretty easily. He’s also not the bendiest player making him susceptible to defenders getting under his pads. He’s got some definite skills to play as a right tackle in the pros and coming from a true ground-and-pound style offense should help his transition a good amount.
The Best of the rest
11(262). Kevin Davis, ILB, Colorado State
12(278). Josh Tupou, NT, Colorado
13(282). Samson Kafovalu, DT, Colorado
14(292). Nick Callender, OT, Colorado State
15(294). Kenneth Olugbode, OLB, Colorado
16(312). Alex Kozan, OG, Auburn
17(325). Kyle Sloter, QB, Northern Colorado
18(331). Fred Zerblis, OG, Colorado State
21(334). Alex Kelley, OC, Colorado
19(336). Hayden Hunt, P, Colorado State
20(340). Shane Callahan, OG, Colorado
This group should not be ignored either as there’s plenty of NFL talent here as well. Cory James out of CSU was the highest drafted kid locally last year, though he was a bit of a tweener as an outside rush linebacker who had to convert inside. That won’t be an issue for his former teammate Davis who’s a true middle linebacker and plays like one. However, James was drafted based on athletic skill and that’s the one big knock on Davis who has great instincts and seems to always be in the mix. As a two down backer, he’ll have a role in the NFL.
Tupou is similar to Davis as he might not wow you with athletic skill, but he has what takes to be an NFL nose tackle and be a two down contributor. He might never get paid like a top lineman who’s able to rush the passer, but as a run stuffer, he’ll have a chance.
Kafovalu and Callender both had impressive workouts at their pro days and might get their chance as late-round selections or priority undrafted free agents. Kafovalu’s power is impressive on tape as he even gave Garett Bolles trouble in the Utah game. Callender is still a work in progress, but he has experience playing a coveted position like left tackle and would be interesting in a zone scheme as a guard.
Olugbode could make for an interesting special team contributor and is the type of feisty, undersized linebacker that sometimes surprises in the NFL. Kozan’s another All-SEC player, he’s very un-athletic, but he’s sound and gets the job done. Same goes for Zerblis.
Sloter’s the most interesting name here as a former Southern Mississippi quarterback who transferred and finally got his shot this past season up in Greeley. He has great size and athleticism, in addition to impressive zip and a nice arm. No one’s talking about him, but as a camp arm and practice squad player, he has very intriguing upside.