The Group of 5 conferences had four Top 50 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, and an assortment of prospects from Conference USA, the MAC, AAC, Sun Belt, and especially the Mountain West begin this college football season firmly on the 2020 Draft radar.
Boise State edge rusher Curtis Weaver is the marquee prospect. He currently resides at the. Two quarterbacks -- Cole McDonald and Jordan Love -- already have generated serious draft buzz based on their performances in 2018.
Let's closely examine the top 2020 prospects from the Group of 5.
Mason Fine, QB North Texas
At right around 64% completion and a respectable 8.0 yards-per-attempt average, Fine has tossed 58 touchdowns to 20 picks in his two full seasons as North Texas' starter.
He has above-average pocket-drifting ability, is very accurate to the short portions of the field, and routinely moves through his progressions quickly. He operates the Air Raid offense well. But Fine is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. And, no, he doesn't have Kyler Murray-type athleticism.
Despite an ability to subtly move away from pressure within the confines of the pocket, Fine tends to freestyle with his footwork often -- particularly under pressure -- which leads to an assortment of jump throws or passes in which he uncorks the football from a wildly off-balance base. Even though he is small by NFL quarterback standards and gets a lot of throws battled at the line, Fine does boast a live arm that would be considered average at the pro level. With more footwork refinement inside the pocket, he could hear his name called in the 2020 Draft by an Air Raid team.
Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
Now listed at 6-5 and 240 pounds, Bryant looked slender on the field at the move tight end spot in 2018. He did finish second on the team with 662 receiving yards and found the end zone on four occasions. Bryant looks like a big receiver deployed at the H-back spot and has deceptive, long-striding speed with the ball in his hands on plays in which he's schemed open.
There's a lot of rawness to his game as a route runner, and while he's a willing blocker, he needs to add considerable strength to stand up to NFL edge defenders.
LaVante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan
Bellamy has always been an efficient runner in college, it just wasn't until 2018 that he received more than a small portion of the team's carries. Before his redshirt junior campaign, the most attempts he'd seen in a single season was 77 as a freshman in 2015, but he brought a 6.98 yards-per-rush average into last year.
On 205 rushes as the lead back, Bellamy ran for 1,228 yards -- 6.0 yards per -- with six scores on the ground. The compact, 5-9, 190-pounder doesn't run with patience, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It works for him. He instantly presses the hole frontside to either simply accelerate through the intended lane or hit the cutback. He's a tentative linebacker's worst nightmare. Blessed with above-average fluidity in his ankles and solid burst, the Western Michigan star is effective between the tackles and can hit some longer runs.
Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
Weaver has tallied 28 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks in his first two seasons at Boise State. As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, he demonstrated incredibly developed pass-rushing moves and edge-collapsing bend reminiscent of Nick Bosa.
He just needs to display the latter more often. Occasionally, he's pushed past the pocket when he doesn't play super low. However, very few outside rushers possess the effective, wide-ranging hand work and ability to bend the corner of Weaver. His burst off the snap is impressive too. The 6-3, 265-pound prospect has all the makings of being a first-round pick in 2020 if he builds on his first two stellar seasons with the Broncos.
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Love is a super-buzzy sleeper prospect heading into his redshirt season with the Aggies after tossing 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions while completing 64% of his passes at 8.6 yards per attempt in 2018.
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Love is close to looking the part. He's a bit lanky but does have a good arm and is athletic. His outing early in the year against Michigan State was one of his most splashy, an outing with a variety of nice touch passes and connections through tight windows. In the narrow defeat in East Lansing, Love finished the day completing just under 66 percent of his passes for 319 yards but did toss two picks.
The size, athletic traits, arm talent, and flashes of pinpoint accuracy deep make him a fun "high upside" prospect. But his pocket presence, play under pressure, and short-area accuracy left a lot to be desired while watching his film. The offense he operates is tailored to produce a high completion percentage, as yards-after-the-catch are featured. Love will have a dandy of an opportunity to impress draft evaluators and NFL scouts when Utah State travels to LSU on October 5.
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii
At the outset of the 2019 college football season, McDonald is my sleeper quarterback prospect of choice from the Group of 5. The 6-4, 220-pound signal caller completed 58.9% of his passes in 2018 at 8.0 yards per attempt with 36 touchdowns and 10 picks. In May, I zeroed in on McDonald as a . Here's what I wrote.
His disappointing ending to a promising second season at Hawaii can't be ignored. Neither can his blistering start. He has traditional NFL quarterback size, and while McDonald has somewhat of an elongated delivery, his film features a plethora of impressive long throws with plenty of velocity. All check marks on his NFL resume.
Also, he's operating a spread, run-and-shoot offense at Hawaii, a similar attack to the super-trendy Air Raid offense currently infiltrating the pro game. Five years ago, McDonald's offense would've worked against him during the draft process. If McDonald lights up the stat sheet in 2019 and doesn't have a late-season downward spiral before entering the draft, the offense he ran in college very well could be viewed as a positive.
Boise State OL Ezra Cleveland
Cleveland boasts the size, length, and athletic profile to be a stud tackle prospect in the 2020 or maybe the 2021 class -- he's a redshirt junior.
At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he has room to add to his frame and should do so to provide himself more power. But his pass sets are fantastically smooth, and he plays with outstanding knee bend. Because of those two aspects of his game, Cleveland is always ready to strike defensive linemen, and in 2018, he displayed the mature ability to fire balanced and effective punches.
Cleveland has top-end lateral quickness to mirror inside moves and is a solid when getting out in space in the run game, although at times he looks lost when attempting to find linebackers. Also, the Boise State star could play a little nastier, yet he did show adequate upper body strength for a reshirt sophomore last season.
David Woodward, LB, Utah State
As a sophomore in 2018, the 6-2, 230-pound linebacker was everywhere. He tallied 134 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, three pass breakups, and two picks.
An efficient block avoider -- thanks to great agility and hand work -- Woodward sifts through chaos en route to the ball carrier, and the ease at which he changes directions helps when mirroring elusive backs before he gets within striking distance. Woodward isn't a blazingly fast 'backer but isn't slow to the outside or in coverage. With more plays when sinking in zone or running down the seam in man in 2019, and the Aggies star will be a big riser during the pre-draft process.
Michael Warren, RB, Cincinnati
Warren's game is all about low center of gravity, powerful leg churn, and surprising ability to weave his way through the line of scrimmage with bounce.
The 5-11, 222-pound boulder of a back averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a freshman in 2017 on 54 carries. As Cincinnati's lead back in 2018, he accumulated 1,329 yards on 244 rushes (5.4 yards per) with 12 touchdowns. Warren has decent long speed but is mostly a blue-collar type runner who grinds out necessary four-to-five yard gains when most backs would get two or three. Then, right when you're lulled to sleep by those minimal gains, he flashes a run with three or four "hops" through tight quarters between the tackles.
Richie Grant, S, UCF
Grant is a twitchy, active defensive back with a noticeable willingness to stick is nose in against the run and impressive range from the deep middle. He lined up everywhere for the Golden Knights last season at 6-0 and 194 pounds, although his best position is probably free safety.
He had 108 tackles, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and six interceptions in 2018. Despite his high tackle figure, Grant relatively often gets engulfed by blockers and will miss tackles in the open field. His athleticism and instincts get him near the ball frequently against the run and when flying from the middle of the field on a pass play.
Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern
Vildor has been an absolute star at Georgia Southern over the past two seasons with seven picks and 19 pass breakups to go along with 5.5 tackles for loss and 62 tackles in 25 games.
The 5-11, 190-pound outside corner has an awesome blend of smooth footwork, loose hips, and a physical presence at the line that allows him to stick like glue to his assignment. Also, his football IQ is excellent. He reads route concepts quickly and breaks on the football. Speaking of that, Vildor plays the ball in the air as aggressively as any cornerback in the country and has the leaping ability to contend with bigger wideouts trying to high point above him. While not the twitchiest corner, Vildor is a powerful and fluid perimeter corner with the requisite ball skills to thrive in the NFL.