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These Wolf Pack football stars should snap Nevada's NFL draft drought

Carson Strong, left, and Romeo Doubs, center,
Carson Strong, left, and Romeo Doubs, center, could be top prospects in the 2022 NFL draft. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

The NFL draft came and went without a Nevada football player being selected.

It was the sixth time in the last seven NFL drafts the Wolf Pack didn't have a player pick, the lone exception coming in 2018 when former walk-on Austin Corbett was the No. 33 overall pick. Nevada used to be an NFL draft factory. During Chris Ault's third tenure with the Wolf Pack (from 2004-12), the Hall of Fame coach had nine recruiting classes that produced 20 future NFL players, including 13 who were drafted into the league. It was among the most in terms of Group of 5 schools. But that pipeline has dried up since his retirement.

That should all change in the 2022 draft as the Wolf Pack is bursting with potential pros, especially on offense. Here is a look at Nevada football's top 2022 draft prospects (I only listed players if they could realistically be in the 2022 draft, so you won't see underclassmen like Jacob Gardner).

* QB Carson Strong, jr., 6-4/215: I've been high on Strong since he stepped on campus, and others are coming around, with draft guru Matt Miller tweeting about him as a potential first overall pick. Strong has three years of eligibility remaining, but the odds are better he's off to the NFL after this season than they are of him sticking around through the 2023 campaign. He has excellent size, top-level NFL arm strength, completed 70.1 percent of his passes last year, limited mistakes (only four interceptions to 27 touchdowns), has great work ethic and love of football and will get a chance to showcase himself against two Power 5 schools in 2021. I'm not saying Strong is a first-round lock, but outside of not being a freak athlete (he's a solid athlete not completely limited to the pocket), Strong has all of the qualities you look for in a first-round draft pick. A repeat of his 2020 season will put him in that conversation.

* WR Romeo Doubs, sr., 6-2/200: "Romeo Doubs is a machine." Those are the words of Jay Norvell, and I wouldn't disagree. He scored a touchdown the first time he touched a ball in college via a punt return. After solid freshman and sophomore seasons (the second cut short by a shoulder injury), Doubs broke out as a junior, catching 58 balls for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games. He crushed teams with the deep ball in the first half of the season (155.6 yards per game, nine TDs in first five games) but struggled in the second half (56 yards per game, zero TDs in final four games). Nevada will move Doubs around in 2021, including playing him out of the slot, so defenses can't overload on stopping him. Doubs is a future NFL draft pick and could go high if he channels the first half of his 2020 season. He must continue to improve his route running as "go routing" NFL defense game after game isn't feasible.

* TE Cole Turner, sr. 6-6/240: This year's draft featured a 6-foot-6 tight end (Kyle Pitts) going fourth overall. Turner is another 6-6 tight end who terrorized defenses in 2020. His nine touchdowns were the third most of any tight end in the FBS last season. He caught 49 passes for 605 yards as a junior after reeling in only six catches in his first two seasons. Turner moved from wideout to tight end prior to the year, which prompted the breakout. He's an excellent athlete for being 6-6 and was nails in the red zone on fades and back-shoulder throws. His height is something you can't teach. We're not saying he's the next Pitts (and he must continue to improve his blocking), but Turner has all the elements of a modern tight end.

* WR Elijah Cooks, sr. 6-4/215: Cooks was Nevada's top prospect entering the 2020 season but suffered a season-ending injury in the first game, paving the way for Doubs and Turner to have breakout seasons. Cooks returns for a second senior season looking to put his name back on the NFL draft map. He has excellent size and ball skills at the point of contact. He routinely nabs passes over the top of smaller cornerbacks. Cooks had 76 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. While adding Cooks to Doubs and Turner is huge for Nevada, it will be interesting to see how the passes are spread out and whether all three can have statistically great seasons to make their draft stock surge. There are only so many balls to go around, although Nevada wouldn't be dumb to throw the ball 60 times a game to feed its most talented offensive players.

* DT Dom Peterson, sr. 6-0/285: Peterson is a classic tweener as his height limited his scholarship options out of high school despite putting up terrific prep numbers. That height also will put a ceiling on his NFL draft future. But production is production, and Peterson has had a lot of that during his time at Nevada. In three seasons, Peterson has 111 tackles, 32.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He's played inside at defensive tackle and outside at defensive end, where he'd be most likely to land in the NFL. The size is going to be an issue for NFL teams, but Peterson should at minimum be an undrafted free-agent guy and could make a team ala former Nevada teammate Malik Reed given his ability to get into the backfield.

* OT Aaron Frost, sr., 6-5/310: Frost came to Nevada as a defensive lineman and moved to the offensive line as a true freshman, getting thrown into the starting lineup. He's had a steep growing curve and has been prone to penalties in his career, but he's a physical mauler in the run game and has excellent size. He's played guard and tackle, where he'll line up this season. Long term, he's most likely an interior lineman at the next level. Despite being a senior, Frost has two years of eligibility at Nevada, so he has time to continue improving after making the second-team All-MW squad last year. Nevada graded Frost as its best offensive linemen last season and is bullish that he'll continue to improve given his newness to the position.

* DE Sam Hammond, sr., 6-5/265: Hammond is entering his sixth season with the Wolf Pack and has molded himself from a skinny walk-on to a game-changing all-conference player. The Yerington High graduate hasn't been as productive as Peterson, his linemate, but he has the size to pique the interest of NFL teams. In four seasons, he has 85 tackles, 11.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks. He played through a knee injury last year, so if he has a healthy, double-digit-sack season, he could push his way into an NFL training camp. Fringe prospects like Hammond will benefit greatly from playing alongside guys like Strong, Doubs and Turner, who will draw scouts to all of Nevada's games this season. That opens opportunities for other Pack players.

* CB Berdale Robins, sr., 5-9/170: You have to love Robins, who has supreme confidence (he'd probably tell you he's the best cornerback in the nation). And he did rank among the top FBS cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage last season. He's back for a second senior year, which will mark his second year as a starter. The size is an issue in terms of jumping to the NFL. Listed at 5-9, he's small for an NFL cornerback (the average NFL cornerback is 5-foot-11.5, 194 pounds). But Robins plays bigger than his size. He's tough and physical and is a willing tackler in run defense. He has three interceptions in his career, and if he can nab five or six during this 2021 season, he could make a name for himself in NFL circles.

* RB Toa Taua, sr., 5-9/210: Nevada hasn't had much luck getting running backs to the NFL. Despite having some great backs come through the program, only one has logged an NFL carry in the last 30 years (Don Jackson had 10 in three games in 2016). So Taua faces an uphill battle in terms of getting to the NFL (his brother, Vai, spent time with Buffalo and Seattle but didn't make an active NFL roster despite his record-breaking college career). Taua has put up solid numbers at Nevada (2,354 yards, 4.8 ypc, 18 TDs) and will try and has two seasons of eligibility remaining if he opts to use them.

* LB Lawson Hall, sr., 6-0/235: Hall joins Cooks, Hammond and Kameron Toomer as the last vestiges of the Brian Polian era, with each entering their sixth season with the Wolf Pack. Hall made second-team All-MW last season and has 180 tackles, 16 TFL, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery in his career. He could play his way into undrafted free-agent territory if he builds off last season's all-conference campaign.

* P Julian Diaz, sr., 6-1/215: It's exceptionally rare for kickers and punters to get draft, but Diaz has a huge leg, and is a lefty, which is a plus (the ball spins the opposite direction, which can confuse returnmen). Diaz averaged 46.3 yards per punt last season, his first as a starter at Nevada after walking on. He could make a team via an undrafted free-agent offer.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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