People wouldn’t normally peg Washington State, a team that finished 4-8 for the season and 2-7 in their conference, as a team to watch for 2012. But then the Cougars went and hired Mike Leach – a Head Coach notorious for his pass happy offenses and his feud with Craig James – and they became an instant talking point for the upcoming season. It might take a couple of years before Wazzu truly challenges their upper-echelon Pac 12 opponents, but in the meantime they promise to put up plenty of points and passing yards. Here’s a look at the Cougars’ top draft-eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Marquess Wilson* 6’4 185 – The tall, lanky Wilson was a three star recruit out of high school who made an immediate impact as a freshman in Pullman. In his first game he caught four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma State. He added four more 100-yard performances over the course of the season, and finished the year with 1006 yards and an 18.3 yards per reception average. As a sophomore in 2011, Wilson hauled in 82 passes for 1388 yards and 12 touchdowns. His spectacular season included games of 236 yards and two touchdowns against San Diego State, 223 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona State, and an 11-catch game against Oregon. Despite his gaudy statistics, Wilson is very much a work in progress. While his long frame and excellent body control allow him to get to balls other receivers can’t, his technique is very raw. He lines up at the line of scrimmage hunched over at the waist with his back almost parallel to the turf. If he doesn’t correct this, savvier cornerbacks will use his own leverage against him right off the snap. Wilson is all arms and legs, so while he is smooth running down field routes that require subtle fakes, he looks clumsy or awkward on some comeback routes and slants. In addition, Wilson is just so thin that there are going to be questions about his ability to catch passes over the middle. Will Wilson be able to hang in and hold onto a ball with a safety like Troy Polamalu or Eric Berry bearing down on him? Will Wilson break in half if he’s hit? Wilson is almost guaranteed to put up big numbers this season in Leach’s offense, but he might be best served to return in 2013 so he can put on about 20 pounds in the weight room and fine tune his route running.
Travis Long OLB 6’4 245 – Long has been a starter for the Cougars since Day One. As a freshman, he led the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. As a sophomore he was named honorable mention All-Pac 10 (it was still Pac-10 at that time) for the second year in a row, and finished the season with five sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Then last season he finished the year with four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and was named second team All-Pac 12. Long has played in and started all 36 games of his college career at defensive end. This season, he’ll line up as the team’s “buck linebacker” – a hybrid combination of end and linebacker, which will include some new responsibilities for the senior. Long has dropped a little weight, likely in an effort to add some quickness, and it will be interesting to see how that impacts his strength. His ability to provide help in pass coverage is also a question mark. But Long is known as a smart player, and he has the respect of his teammates. His work ethic and desire to handle his new role will not be issues this season. A strong performance in 2012 will showcase his versatility and only help his draft stock.
Also keep an eye on: Jeff Tuel QB 6’3 223, Andrei Lintz WR/TE 6’5 250, Daniel Simmons CB 5’10 184, Tyree Toomer FS 5’11 200