Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Don’t be doubting JL in Denver

Boise State could have ended up with four players taken in the NFL Draft, or only one. The Broncos had two, and it was bad news/good news. JL Skinner fell all the way to the sixth round, selected by the Denver Broncos. Despite a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl three months ago, Skinner didn’t play in the actual game due to a death in the family—then a pectoral injury during training took him out of NFL Combine drills. Definitely factors. Khalil Shakir likewise had a two to three-round drop over projections last year, but he shined as a rookie in Buffalo. Skinner can, and will, take a page out of that book. On the other hand, Scott Matlock jumped from an on-the-bubble guy to the sixth round, as he was picked by the L.A. Chargers. What a huge deal it was for the former Homedale Trojan.


Last Saturday evening, the Chargers website posted a feature: “Five things to know about new Chargers DL Scott Matlock.” It talked about his injury-free career at Boise State, his kick-blocking prowess, his amazing Pro Day and even his “aerial threat,” (two career pass receptions, four yards, two touchdowns). But it didn’t talk about his journey—losing both parents by the time he was in his early teens and being adopted by a family in Homedale, making the adjustment, and earning an FBS football scholarship. Wait ‘til the L.A. media gets a hold of that.


Matlock’s selection adds to a distinguished list of Treasure Valley players out of Boise State to be drafted since the Broncos moved to Division I-A in 1996. The first was Eagle’s Jeb Putzier to Denver. Then came Centennial High’s Brock Forsey to Chicago, Eagle’s Derek Schouman to Buffalo, Marsing’s Shea McClellin to Chicago (as a first rounder), and Timberline High’s Nate Potter to Arizona. If you want to count Council, well, you had Matt Paradis going to Denver. We can debate Washington Commanders tight end John Bates. He was born in Nyssa and spent his grade school years in Fruitland, but he played high school ball on the other side of Oregon in Lebanon. Bates still has family in Nyssa and always considered himself a local kind of guy as a Bronco. You decide.


While Skinner is acclimating to Denver and Matlock to L.A., four other former Boise State standouts will be trying to make rosters as undrafted free agent signees. Tyreque Jones and John Ojukwu are headed to the Tennessee Titans, Caleb Biggers to the Cleveland Browns and George Tarlas to the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s a tough row to hoe, but remember: undrafted free agents usually have choices and can go where they might be needed. Plus, there is certainly precedent among former Broncos stars in that boat. Safety Quintin Mikell went undrafted in 2003 but had an 11-year NFL career, including one Pro Bowl. And cornerback and kick returner Chris Carr, also undrafted in 2005, put together a nine-season NFL career (and had a 100-yard pick-six against Ben Roethlisberger).


There’s a lot of discussion on this—many doubting that Boise State can extend its NFL Draft streak to 15 years in 2024. The Broncos’ top prospects would seem to be kicker Jonah Dalmas (if he can extend his range), running back George Holani (if he can stay healthy and—ahem—get enough carries) and offensive lineman Cade Beresford (if he moves to left tackle and becomes a bonafide road-grader). Maybe one of Boise State’s wide receivers has an explosive season (although the catches next season will probably be evenly distributed). But one year ago right now, you’d be hard-pressed to see Scott Matlock on anyone’s draft radar. Did you have John Bates and Avery Williams on your bingo card three years ago? A Bronco who has a dominant season will get attention. We just don’t know who it’s going to be.


Mountain West fans had to avert their eyes during the NFL Draft. Only five players from the conference were taken, and that’s residue from perhaps the most down year in the 24-season history of Mountain West football. Boise State had the most draft picks…with two. It was supposed to be Skinner or Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener who would go first. Haener did—in the fourth round to New Orleans. Skinner was actually the third MW player to be picked, following San Jose State’s Viliami Fehoko, who went in the fourth round to Dallas (two spots behind Haener). Then after Matlock went to the Chargers, New Mexico’s Jerrick Reed II was also chosen in the sixth round by Seattle. Bulldogs’ star wide receiver Jalen Moreno-Cropper wasn’t even drafted.


The Idaho Steelheads didn’t want to be, shall we say, Boston Bruin’d. The Bruins had a record 65 regular season wins in the NHL, and they got knocked out in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last weekend. The Steelheads posted the best regular season in ECHL history with 58 victories, yet they got the business from Utah early in their first round Kelly Cup series. But Monday night the Steelies won their fourth straight overtime game against the Grizzlies 3-2. Jack Becker tallied 3:48 into the OT to send the Steelies into the Mountain Division Finals.

Mike Prater mentioned the tradition of the hockey handshake line yesterday on IST. It happens at the end of every playoff series, regardless of level. It happened Monday night just moments after the Steelheads ended the Grizzlies’ season. It was especially poignant considering the respect Utah had earned, giving the Steelheads so much grief. How must it feel on the other side—losing four straight in OT? So now it’s on to Allen, and we do mean “on to Allen.” The schedule for the Mountain Division Finals is bizarre. Because of booking problems with Idaho Central Arena, the top-seeded Steelies have to open with two games on the road in Texas. Then, all four of Idaho’s home-ice games will be in a row. Game 7, incredibly, would be on the road (if necessary).


The most interesting news out of college basketball’s transfer portal the past week was Toledo guard RayJ Dennis going in it. Dennis, of course, transferred to the Rockets after spending his first two seasons at Boise State. The move worked out for him, as he was named MAC Player of the Year in his recently-completed senior season. If he doesn’t stay in the NBA Draft pool. Dennis will use his available COVID year as a grad transfer. He averaged 6.2 points per game in his time as a Bronco, and 16.2 in two seasons with Toledo, including 19.5 as a senior. Dennis is best remembered for the lights-out ending when the Broncos came from 18 points down in the final four-plus minutes of regulation against Utah State and went on to win in overtime in 2020. Dennis, then a freshman, scored all 19 of his points in 3½ minutes during the rally.


If Troy Merritt can do by himself this week what he did in tandem with Robert Streb two weeks ago, he could get back in a PGA Tour groove. Merritt and Streb tied for 13th in team play at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, with Merritt playing the weekend for the first time since January. It’s back to the conventional format for the former Boise State star as he tees off tomorrow at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. Merritt’s spirits are good, as always.


The first round matchup for Boise State men’s tennis in the NCAA Tournament Friday is no piece o’ cake, as the Broncos have to face Arizona on its home courts Friday in Tucson. But it will be fun. Boise State coach Luke Shields will be facing his younger brother, Wildcats coach Clancy Shields. Both are former star players for the Broncos under legendary coach Greg Patton. It’s Boise State’s 19th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, but its first since 2015. The Broncos were upset winners at the Mountain West tournament last week. Idaho, meanwhile, won the Big Sky championship last weekend and faces USC Friday in Los Angeles.


Usually coming out of spring games, college football coaches talk about how far their teams have to go before the season starts. Not that Idaho coach Jason Eck doesn’t think there’s work to be done following the Vandals spring game, but, “I think we are right where we need to be,” he said last Saturday in the Kibbie Dome. “We didn’t have any injuries to starters.” Two of those coveted starters are quarterback Gevani McCoy and wide receiver Hayden Hatten, and they picked up where they left off in Idaho’s impressive turnaround season last fall. McCoy was 21-of-30 for 251 yards and a final-play touchdown, while Hatten made nine catches for 98 yards.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by POOL SCOUTS…perfect pools, scout’s honor!

May 3, 2018, five years ago today: After a combined 27 years in the Japanese and American major leagues, Seattle Mariners icon Ichiro Suzuki steps away from baseball at the age of 44 to move into the M’s front office. Both the Mariners and Ichiro insisted it wasn’t a retirement. “When I start using a cane, that’s the time that I think I should retire,” he said. Indeed, he’d end up making a cameo with Seattle the following March in Japan to make it official. Ichiro played 2,653 big league games over 18 seasons after coming over from Japan at the age of 27. He collected 3,089 hits and set the MLB single-season record with 262 in 2004. Ichiro’s 10 straight 200-hit seasons is the longest streak in major league history.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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