NFL Draft analyst John Vogel previews the Nevada Wolf Pack ahead of the 2021 season. Predictions, pre-season grades, and more:
The Nevada Wolf Pack comes off a modest 7-2 record from a shortened 2020 season due to Covid-19. They finished the season nicely with a win in the Idaho Potato Bowl over Tulane. Pretty much the entire team returns for the 2021 college football season. That’s big for a quarterback developing like Carson Strong, the highlighted prospect on this team.
Nevada has quietly been collecting talent out of California and is often hidden by the performances of Boise State, Fresno State, and San Diego State. Under head coach Jay Norvell, Nevada has won at least seven games in each of the last four seasons. Norvell enters his fifth season as the headman, now loaded with a roster that he has just about completely assembled.
Nevada’s opening four-game stretch is going to say a lot about where this team is. They open with a road game in California (Sept. 4th). After a home date with Idaho State (Sept 11th), they go back on the road for trips to Kansas State (Sept. 18th) and Boise State (Oct. 2nd) to open conference play. Boise State promises to be the biggest challenge the team will have to face in the conference. San Jose State could be a problem, too; Nevada will face them at home (Nov. 6th).
Nevada Wolf Pack feature star quarterback Carson Strong (R-So)
#12 | HT: 6’3″ | WT: 210 | High School: Wood (Vacaville, CA)
There’s a reason why I chose Carson Strong to be the main focus of the Nevada Wolf Pack in this article. Entering his third season as the starter, Strong has two full seasons remaining of eligibility. Assuming he stays healthy this season, Strong will have over 30 career starts at the end of 2021. That gives us an excellent idea of where he is as a quarterback prospect.
Strong shows a strong arm and overall natural arm talent. He understands how to throw with touch and velocity and knows when to use those talents. Oftentimes, we see him on tape getting to his third read in a progression, another good trait to have. His pre-snap awareness is usually outstanding as well.
While Strong does have all of these positive traits, there is still reason to be concerned heading into the season. His pocket awareness isn’t great. In fact, Strong often takes unnecessary sacks from just not feeling the pressure around him naturally. His accuracy is spotty – he will underthrow and overthrow receivers deep, sometimes too much for people’s liking. Strong’s release is also elongated because of his footwork. He’s also not very mobile – just enough to move around in the pocket. He does have some room to grow this year and can clean up some of that and improve his grade. Otherwise, he’s probably staying in school for another season.
Pre-Season Grade: 3rd/4th Round.
RB Toa Taua (Jr)
#35 | HT: 5’8″ | WT: 205 | High School: Lompac (Lompac, CA)
While his body structure isn’t typical at the running back position, Toa Taua is an intriguing option for NFL teams looking for an explosive rotational back. Taua is built like a fullback. He’s been a starter for four seasons at Nevada, flashing explosive traits and abilities.
The Nevada Wolf Pack runs a rotational backfield, which helps the tread on Taua’s tires in the eyes of the NFL. While he’s explosive and displays great contact balance, the biggest question that Taua has is his speed. He lacks that third gear that makes him a real problem in NFL secondaries. Regardless, Taua is a solid runner, a more than capable receiver, who should get him a chance on a roster.
Pre-Season Grade: 7th/UDFA
X WR Elijah Cooks (R-Sr)
#4 | HT: 6’3″ | WT: 210 | High School: Atascadero (Atascadero, CA)
Elijah Cooks, unfortunately, saw his 2020 season cut to one quarter after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. When he’s been healthy, he’s been the star of this offense. His incredible catch radius and highlight catch ability has been at the forefront of his prospectus.
Obviously, Cooks has to return to the 2019 form that saw him as the key receiver in this offense. If he comes back as explosive as he was then fully recovered from his injury, he could be a very high pick. If the draft were tomorrow, I’d think that his tape could carry him into day two potentially.
Pre-Season Grade: 3rd/4th Round.
Z WR Romeo Doubs (Sr)
#7 | HT: 6’1″ | WT: 195 | High School: Jefferson (Los Angeles, CA)
When Elijah Cooks went down with a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the opening game, Nevada fans panicked. Doubs, however, calmed everyone down with a truly dominant breakout season as Strong’s favorite target. His deep threat ability opened many holes for the running game to thrive and solidified himself a spot on the Senior Bowl Watch List for 2022.
While he’s explosive, fights well for contested catches, and has the speed to be a solid Z receiver in the NFL, Doubs needs to refine some of his route-running ability. He won by simply being more physical in the Mountain West, which might not transition well to the big leagues with far more physical cornerbacks. The NFL will also want to know why he wasn’t utilized as a run blocker, even on swing passes to his side of the field.
Pre-Season Grade: 2nd/3rd Round.
TE Cole Turner (Jr)
#19 | HT: 6’5″ | WT: 235 | High School: Clackamas (Clackamas, OR)
The Nevada Wolf Pack run a scheme with a lot of NFL-level spread concepts, so it’s going to be interesting to see how Cole Turner plays into the next level. He’s a tight end but more so a Z receiver in the sense that he doesn’t play as often inline as most in this class. His biggest weapon is his ability as a receiver. He offers some speed and ability out of the slot, making some highlight catches through contact.
The biggest questions that Turner brings are how he fits into the traditional tight end mold. He’s a lot like NFL tight end Jimmy Graham, who has struggled to find a role outside of Sean Payton. With as much blocking as tight ends are asked to do, Turner was seldom used in that role. He could potentially see a fit into the “big slot” role, seeing some growth in the league in 2021. It all really comes down to how much Turner grows this season.
Pre-Season Grade: 6th/UDFA.