DENVER – One out of every 11 players in Broncos training camp has something in common – they played at schools currently in the Mountain West.
“It gives me a lot of confidence to see guys that came from the same conference I came from – the one that they look down on,” said receiver Hunter Sharp, who starred at Utah State. “We’re still able to come here and play at the same level as the guys they ranked ahead of us.”
Sharp is a long shot to make the Broncos’ roster, as he was listed at No. 6 on the depth chart released Tuesday. But he’s here now, and he is one of eight players from Mountain West programs vying for spots on Denver’s roster. This list includes players from Boise State (center Matt Paradis and defensive end Billy Winn), Colorado State (outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo), Hawaii (linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams) and Nevada (linebacker Brandon Marshall and tight end Virgil Green).
To provide a comparison to the Mountain West’s eight players in Denver’s camp, there are 11 from the SEC, eight from the Pac-12 and six from the Big 12.
Of the 90 players in Broncos camp as of Tuesday, 33 come from programs outside the Power Five conferences.
Small-school players have always made an impact. Jerry Rice and Walter Payton head a long list of Hall of Famers from programs not in major conferences. But with rules changes granting the Power Five autonomy to govern themselves and as the disparity in resources grows larger, smaller schools would be wise to trumpet their players who go on to professional success.
In the case of the Mountain West, there are many examples. Derek Carr (Fresno State) just signed the richest contract in the NFL with the Raiders. Jay Ajayi (Boise State) ran for 200 yards three times for the Dolphins last year on the way to the Pro Bowl. Brian Urlacher (New Mexico), Marshall Faulk (San Diego State), Chad Hennings (Air Force) … the list goes on.
“I think the consensus now is, even with quarterbacks, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from,” said Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, a candidate to be taken first in next year’s NFL draft. “You look at the best quarterbacks in the NFL and they’re from all over the place. It’s not just Power Five schools. That helps recruits who are deciding whether they should walk on at Power Fives or take a scholarship at a Group of Five.”
It’s easy to forget this when seeing which college football games dominate network broadcasts on Saturdays, and when you see that 24 of 25 teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 come from the five major conferences.
But athletes continue to come from those schools on the periphery, and some are eyeing a career with the Broncos.
“I see a comparison and it helps me, uplifts me to go harder,” Sharp said. “I’m a big believer in that especially because I come from a small school. That will always be my mentality.”