Who Is The Best Defensive Prospect In The Mountain West Conference?
By Bill Lund
Mountain West has produced some of the best non-power five conference contenders in recent years. Former conference power BYU has always held a level of national clout from the LaVelle Edwards era. Pat Hill’s Fresno State teams had an anytime anywhere mentality in the early 2000’s with regards to power conference opponents. The conference’s success continued with Utah during the Urban Meyer years and recently Boise State and TCU have each won BCS Bowl games as Mountain West representatives. The recent poaching of teams by the power five conferences has taken Utah (Pac-12 and TCU (Big 12) while BYU (IND) is looking to be the rocky mountain version of Notre Dame. Even with the departures of some good programs, the conference that had six teams in bowl games in 2013 going a respectable 3-3 in those match ups. During the 2014 NFL draft 16 players were selected from Mountain West programs. Boise State, perhaps the most marquee program in the league, has had a selection in the first two rounds in each of the past five drafts.
In 2014, the MWC again boasts some top flight talent that could feature two first round prospects on the defensive side of the ball. Fresno State ‘s Senior Safety, Derron Smith and Utah State’s Junior Outside Linebacker Kyle Fackrell, both show the talent that could merit 1st round consideration in the 2015 NFL draft. We will look at who is the better prospect in this week’s debate.
Derron Smith, Safety, Fresno State
Smith the 5th year player for the Bulldogs returns as the active leader in career interceptions in the FBS with 14. Listed at 5’11’’ and 197 pounds, Smith is on the smallish side for NFL scouts. The reigning two time MWC Defensive Player of the year, Smith is looking to keep the Bulldogs on top of the MWC 2014. Derron Smith is a ball hawk plain and simple, showing playmaking ability with timely breaks and good angles while the ball is in flight. Smith has been very versatile for Fresno State working the deep zones in coverage as well as playing in the box to defend the run. He was second on the team in tackles with 87, and tallied eight tackles for a loss along with four sacks. Smith is regarded by his Head Coach Tim DeRuyter as the “hardest working player” on the Bulldogs team. Derron Smith is a student of the game, a player that looks to master his craft with film study to maximize his ability. He is a scrapper, who is not afraid to mix it up, and like the Fresno mascot, is a bulldog as a competitor.
Kyle Fackrell, OLB Utah State
Fackrell is a draft eligible RS Junior. Fackrell has started 27 games for the Aggies during his two years as a starter. In 2013 he registered 82 tackles, 13 for a loss and five sacks plus an interception return for a touchdown. Fackrell has good size specs, listed at 6’5’’ and 245 pounds. He shows good athletic ability and speed from his OLB position in Utah State’s 3-4 scheme. Fackrell has versatility as a pass rusher, run defender and in coverage for the Aggies. He can cover a lot of grass in the open field but his change of direction in space and ability to transition does need work. Fackrell is young with only two years of playing experience and is still developing his instincts. He has been susceptible to over-running the ball carrier and losing vision on mis-direction plays. These are minor but correctable issues Fackrell can improve upon. Fackrell has the size, measurables and has shown flashes of talent to force NFL execs to take notice.
Who is the best prospect?
Smith is an intriguing and productive prospect. He shows good athletic ability despite his lack of size. His talent and production should merit first round consideration, but could be subject to scouts wanting ideal size specs for the Safety position. Fackrell has the ideal size for NFL scouts and a good burst off the edge. He has been productive in the Aggies 3-4 defense, but has not played at the level Smith has. He is still a developing talent and a big 2014 season will go a long way in determining whether he declares for the 2015 NFL draft. Smith may not be an ideal Safety, but his versatility could allow him to be employed as a Nickel defender, blitzer or deep zone defender much like Charles Woodson was utilized for the Packers during his tenure in Green Bay. In the end, Kyle Fackrell may have more of an upside as a prospect, but Derron Smith has proven to be a player who plays at a high level consistently. Given his track record, Derron Smith will be a productive NFL player and is arguably the MWC best prospect.