Can Boise State land two NFL Draft selections this year? Or three? Two is the most likely number. Jeremy McNichols and Tanner Vallejo made it to the NFL Combine, while Thomas Sperbeck did not. That’s a pretty good line of demarcation. Sperbeck isn’t even listed as a trackable prospect at NFL.com as the big event approaches beginning tomorrow night. But he has long been tabbed as a sleeper in the draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. The theory is that there are lots of receivers like Sperbeck out there, although Bronco Nation would surely disagree. The best thing for him may be to go undrafted and then sign a free agent deal with a team that needs help at that position most.
You never know what might come out of the blue (pun intended). Let’s look at the most surprising Boise State draft picks of the past 10 years, in reverse chronological order. Just last year, offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo was a surprise—not that he was drafted, but that he went in the third round to Seattle. Odhiambo was seen as a late-rounder. He was in Bronco teammate Marcus Henry’s kitchen not far from the Seahawks’ practice complex when he received the call from the ‘Hawks. Odhiambo was expected by some to compete for a starting job but saw action only as a backup in eight games last year and didn’t have a breakthrough.
Not all Boise State draft surprises become journeymen, even if they start that way. Center Matt Paradis was a fringe prospect in 2014, especially with his pedigree as a former walk-on who played eight-man football at Council High. Then he was selected by Denver in the sixth round, raising some eyebrows. Paradis spent his first season on the practice squad, as some sixth-rounders do. But the rest has been history, as he played every offensive snap in his first active season with the Broncos in 2015 and won a Super Bowl ring. Last season Paradis was the steadying force on a Denver offensive line that was (and is) in a constant state of flux.
In 2011, the surprise came when cornerback Brandyn Thompson was taken in the seventh round—and safety Jeron Johnson wasn’t. Thompson went to the Washington Redskins and yo-yo’d between the active roster and the practice squad as a rookie. He ended with six games played and two tackles and was cut by Washington at the end of training camp the next summer. Thompson has been in the CFL since and spent last season with Edmonton. Johnson, meanwhile, made the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and was a special teams standout for four seasons, playing in Super Bowl XLIX. He rejoined Seattle toward the end of last year but is currently a free agent.
The other Boise State surprise of the past decade was Legedu Naanee’s selection in the fifth round by San Diego in 2007. Naanee was still riding a learning curve at wide receiver, having spent just two seasons at that spot with the Broncos after beginning his career as a quarterback. His senior season was good but not great, with 35 catches for 541 yards and six touchdowns. But scouts recognized Naanee’s athleticism and potential, and he spent four seasons with the Chargers and another with the Panthers before a final cameo with the Dolphins in 2012. Of the Boise State wide receivers to make it to the NFL, Naanee still has the most career receptions at 108—one more than Austin Pettis—for 1,232 yards and four touchdowns.
Utah State was dealt a blow Monday when sophomore wide receiver Rayshad Lewis, son of NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, tweeted that he’s transferring out of the Aggies program. Lewis played in all 12 games last season and hauled in 40 catches for 476 yards, with both numbers ranking as the second-most ever by a USU freshman. It’s a setback as the Aggies try to get their mojo back following a 3-9 campaign that ended with a five-game losing streak.
Timberline High grad Zach Charme is moving his college football career eight miles to the east. Charme, who was Washington State’s starting punter in 2015 but was relegated to backup duties last year, is trasnsferring from Wazzu to Idaho. Charme punted twice on the blue turf last September against Boise State, but so did wide receiver Kyle Sweet, and the transition to Sweet as a starter began. Charme would have only eight boots all season. In Moscow there’s obviously opportunity, as Austin Rehkow, the Vandals’ all-time leading punter, has completed his career and now eyes this week’s NFL Draft.
First there was Rob Phenicie, who returned to Idaho State to become head coach upon the involuntary retirement of Mike Kramer. That came just a week after Phenicie had departed for Northern Iowa. Now Matt Troxel, who had earlier abandoned his ISU offensive coordinator’s post to take the wide receivers job at Montana, is back in Pocatello as Phenicie’s offensive coordinator. The Bengals were last in the Big Sky in total offense in 2016, but the sense is that Phenicie can get Idaho State out of its rut.
This Day In Sports…April 26, 2012, five years ago today:
Two Boise State players are chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time. Defensive end Shea McClellin was the No. 19 overall pick, going to the Chicago Bears. Then, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded up in the draft to get running back Doug Martin with the No. 31 selection. In the end, Boise State shattered its previous record for players taken in one draft with six. Tyrone Crawford was selected in the third round by Dallas, George Iloka in the fifth by Cincinnati, Billy Winn in the sixth by Cleveland, and Nate Potter in the seventh by Arizona. The winningest quarterback in college football history, Kellen Moore, went undrafted and signed as a free agent with Detroit.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)