EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in an occasional series assessing the NFL draft prospects in the Mountain West by Review-Journal draft expert Colton Lochhead.
It’s been nearly a decade since UNLV last had a player selected in the NFL draft.
Guard Joe Hawley was the last Rebel picked by an NFL team; he went in the fourth round of the 2010 draft to the Atlanta Falcons, No. 117 overall. Hawley played in the NFL until 2017, finishing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But that could all change this year as the Rebels have a handful of prospects who could interest coaches and general managers at the next level.
Here’s a look at UNLV’s best hopes for ending it’s nine-year draft drought.
S/LB Javin White
White played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, an annual postseason all-star game that allows draft prospects to show off their skills in front of NFL scouts.
What he brings: Versatility is the name of White’s game. One of UNLV’s defensive leaders this season, White lined up at strongside linebacker, safety and cornerback — oftentimes taking on all three roles in a single game. That versatility showed up in the box score. White was a stat machine, notching 8.5 tackles for loss, intercepting three passes and breaking up another 11.
White has a little stiffness to his hips which limits him in coverage versus smaller, quicker wide receivers, but he looks natural playing zone. He can fly downhill and deliver a strike on the ball carrier.
Where he fits: He has good length at 6-2, but at 211 pounds is too light to play linebacker at the next level. White could grab the attention of a team looking for a versatile developmental safety prospect. His straight-line speed and tackling ability could allow him to contribute as a core special-teamer right away.
OG Justin Polu
Polu accepted an invitation to play in the Hula Bowl, a postseason all-star game that will be played on Sunday.
What he brings: When Polu is on his game, he can be an absolute mauler in the run game. A starter since a freshman in 2016, the senior possesses the size (6-4, 335 pounds), strength and athleticism that NFL teams are looking for in an interior offensive lineman. He’s a solid pass blocker and can anchor versus strong bull rushes, but can struggle a bit against quicker pass rushers.
Where he fits: He’s played guard and tackle at UNLV, but projects better as a guard. He has enough quickness to succeed in zone-blocking schemes, but would be better suited for teams that rely more on gap and power run games.
CB Jericho Flowers
What he brings: Flowers was one of UNLV’s best playmakers this year, with four interceptions and 12 pass breakups, both of which were first among all Rebels and ranked inside the top 20 for all FBS defenders. He’s undersized for a cornerback (listed at 5-10, 180), but he has plenty of athleticism and a scrappy demeanor to make up for it.
Where he fits:Listed at 5-10, he’s shorter than ideal for an NFL cornerback and projects as a slot CB to start. Whether or not he gets drafted could depend on how well he tests for NFL teams (40-yard dash, 3-cone, vertical jump, etc). But his scrappy play, ballhawk instincts and willingness against the run game could make him the most likely Rebel to see his name called come April. If not, he has a real chance to stick on a roster as nickel and dime corners continue to be in demand.
What he brings: A graduate transfer from Florida, Jackson quickly established himself as one of the Rebels’ most physical defenders this season. He was a force against the run and showed no problems with taking on lead blockers and lineman alike. With that kind of mentality, it’s no surprise that Jackson led the team with 14 tackles for loss.
Jackson also has some surprising get-up for a 235-pounder, making a habit of chasing down ball carriers on breakaway runs to save (at least temporarily) a touchdown.
Against the pass, Jackson more than held his own. Pro Football Focus gave him an “elite” 90.7 grade in pass coverage on the season.
Where he fits: Jackson checks a lot of boxes for teams looking for depth at linebacker: Physicality, nose for the football, more than holds his own in pass coverage. He’s not the biggest or tallest linebacker (listed at 6-0, 235) but he’s anything but small for the position. He’d fit nicely for a 4-3 defense team looking for depth at strongside outside linebacker.
Other Rebels who could be draft picks:
OLB Gabe McCoy
Another versatile defender who has played off-the-ball linebacker and shown potential as a pass rusher. At 220 pounds, he projects best as a weakside linebacker at the next level.