SDSU’s NFL numbers grow by at least nine

Aztecs NFL Draft
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Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Motivation is one of the keys in life. It is especially important for elite athletes in their drive to continue working despite accomplishing much in their athletic arenas. Even the best players go out of their way to take offense to the slightest criticism to fuel their will to prove their “haters” wrong.

In the spirit of this endeavor, this article chronicles the 2022 SDSU NFL Draft class. It also contains the two players NFL teams choose before the Aztec greats at their respective positions. These athletes now have the ire of Aztec Nation.

Overall, the Aztecs 2022 draft class was impressive. Their four selections were tied for the most in the 2000s. The 2008 and 2012 teams also had four players chosen. SDSU has had a player selected in each of the past six drafts.

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Cameron Thomas: Third Round, Pick Twenty-Three, Arizona Cardinals

Thomas was the only Aztec selected on the second day of the NFL Draft. There had been hope among the Aztec faithful of a few more in the early rounds of the draft, but that should not take away from Thomas’ accomplishment. He came into SDSU as a two-star recruit without a clear-cut position due to his slight weight. Through effort off the field, he reworked his body and reached his dream of playing in the NFL. Early indications are the Cardinals plan to use him as an OLB in their 3-4.

Players Chosen Before:

Alex Wright UAB

DeMarvin Leal Texas A&M

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Daniel Bellinger: Fourth Round, Pick Seven, New York Giants

The second Aztec drafted, the hulking tight end did not have to wait long to hear his name called on Day Three. He was selected seven picks into the final day. Like Thomas, Bellinger was part of the 2018 recruiting class, and the two worked together to transform their bodies. Bellinger’s selection this early in the draft suggests NFL evaluators expect him to outperform his college statistics.

 Players Chosen Before:

Jeremy Ruckert

Cade Otton

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Matt Araiza: Sixth Round, Pick One, Buffalo Bills

The NFL is a copycat league, and Araiza fell victim to that trait. He did not craft his game after the established way of punting. While he gained fame and notoriety for it, more conservative punters were selected in front of him. There may be some angst that he dropped from where draft experts expected him to go, but for any specialist to get drafted is an amazing accomplishment.

Players Chosen Before:

Jordan Stout Penn State

Jake Camarda Georgia

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Zach Thomas: Sixth Round, Pick Seven, Chicago Bears

Thomas benefitted from the draft process more than any other Aztec. At the conclusion of last season, he was firmly down the list of SDSU’s eligible players. Thomas worked himself into the draft by showing impressive athleticism, first at the East-West Shrine Game and then at the NFL Combine. Going into 2021, SDSU’s coaches raved about his “natural” switch to left tackle. His pre-draft performance put his ability to play the more athletic left tackle position into perspective.

Players Chosen Before:

Braxton Jones Southern Utah

Vederian Lowe Illinois

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Greg Bell                      Undrafted Free Agent                Lions

Bell was the unparalleled star of SDSU’s offense in 2021, and he looked poised to join the ranks of drafted running backs from SDSU. Whatever the reasons were for his fall in the draft, he offers an enticing combination of size, speed, and strength. If given an opportunity, Bell could be among the best undrafted free agents in this year’s class.

Players Chosen Before:

Brittian Brown UCLA

Isaih Pacheco Rutgers

Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

William Dunkle               Undrafted Free Agent                        Eagles

Dunkle had one of the oddest draft processes. He left SDSU a year early after earning All-American honors. He was expected to be a relatively early selection, but he generated very little buzz from January to April. He was not a full participant at SDSU’s Pro Day. Now with the opportunity to do what he does best, the hometown hero should have a chance to make a roster or a practice squad if he can regain the form that made him a household name in San Diego. He certainly fits the reputation of the type of player Eagles fans will love.

Players Chosen Before:

Andre Stueber Michigan

Marquis Hayes Oklahoma

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Segun Olubi                                   Undrafted Free Agent                  49ers

At SDSU’s Pro Day, a Jets scout asked Olubi if he would be in shape if the scout brought him to New York. Olubi promised he would and now has a chance to make good on that pledge only with the 49ers. Olubi’s performance at SDSU’ Pro Day was terrific. He showed that he was an elite athlete running a 4.44 40 at 225 pounds. The former team captain’s immediate hope at a roster spot is on special teams. He was arguably the Aztecs’ best performer in that phase in 2020.

Players Chosen Before:

Daniel Hardy Montana State

Jesse Luketa Penn State

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Tayler Hawkins               Undrafted Free Agent                      49ers

On every field he has been on, Hawkins has produced. Rumors of an impressive performance at SDSU’s Pro Day gave some hope he could be drafted. Instead, he will head to San Francisco with a chance to impress. Hawkins is a versatile player with good size. He brings a dying quality in the NFL: good tackling ability. Like most free agents, his clearest path to a roster spot is on special teams.

Players Chosen Before:

Jaylen Watson Washington State

Christian Matthew Valdosta State

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Trenton Thompson        Undrafted Free Agent   Giants

Another special teams stalwart for the Aztecs, Thompson, will try to carve out that role in the NFL. He played exceptionally well as the nickel defensive back last season. That versatility could allow him to earn a spot on the practice squad. He should be able to replicate a greater number of opposing defenses for the offense to practice against when they are installing a game plan. Thompson’s move from a solid player to a first-team selection should inspire players left in the program by modeling how much growth is possible.

Players Chosen Before:

Elijah Hicks California

Nazeeh Johnson Marshall

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