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Morning links: And the draft goes on

Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle will find out their professional destinations today. But Xavier Cooper already knows where he's going.

Cleveland selected Cooper with the 96th pick in the draft, which was fitting because he wore No. 96 at Washington State. We have a story and blog post on Cooper's selection. Here is some reaction to Cooper's selection and some analysis from ESPN.

When the pick was made I was covering WSU's baseball game against Arizona. It didn't go so well for the home team.

Cleveland takes Xavier Cooper with the 96th pick

PULLMAN—Xavier Cooper sat at a draft party he hosted with Tacoma football royalty and angrily texted his agent.

Told by his representatives and others that he would be a mid-to-late second round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the third round's end was fast approaching and defensive linemen were flying off the board, none of them him.

"I was getting ready to shut the party down to be honest," Cooper said.

Fellow Wilson High graduates and current NFL players Desmond and Isaiah Trufant and their parents, waited anxiously beside him, wondering when their fellow Ram would discover his professional destination.

To work through his stress, Cooper called a nephew, currently incarcerated. So he was busy when the Cleveland Browns made a trade with the New England Patriots to acquire the 96th pick in the draft, the one that would end his long wait.

With the 96th pick, Cleveland selected the Washington State defensive lineman, adding him to a draft class that already included Washington's Danny Shelton and Utah's Nate Orchard.

Last year the Cleveland defensive line room was full of injuries. This year it will be full of Pac-12 alumni.

While Cooper played primarily at defensive end for WSU, the Browns are expected to use him as an interior player and the team website lists him as a defensive tackle. It's likely Cleveland plans to pair him with the much larger Shelton to provide a pass rush in the middle of their defense.

"They plan on using me right next to him," Cooper said. "Danny's more of a nose tackle, I'm more of a three technique. We're both different players but us together, you're talking about what could be one of the best defensive lines in the national football league for years to come."

In fact, the Browns liked that idea so much they traded up in the draft to select Cooper, taking the 96th pick from the Patriots along with a seventh-round selection in exchange for Cleveland's fourth, fifth and sixth rounders.

While Cooper and Shelton both grew up on the west side of the state – Shelton attended Auburn High – the Cougar said that he never knew the Washington nose tackle growing up.

But Cooper trained with former Huskies Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson, and Desmond Trufant played with Shelton in college as well, and he said all gave glowing references.

His selection makes Cooper the highest-drafted WSU defensive lineman since Dorian Boose and Leon Bender were drafted in the second round of the 1998 draft. He is the first Cougars defensive lineman drafted since the Tennessee Titans selected Rien Long in the fourth round of the 2003 draft.

He started the final 34 of the 36 games he played for the Cougars, leading the team with 9.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt junior this past season, also collecting 37 tackles and five sacks.

"I really felt like he was a difference maker," said Browns general manager Ray Farmer. "The guy played with an unbelievable motor. Ran and hustled to the ball. Showed that quick first-step explosion to beat and block and get upfield. I think the guy has a chance to be a really good NFL player."

Still waiting to be selected are former Cougars Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle, who each will hope to be selected on Saturday as the draft concludes with rounds 4-7. Perhaps boding well for Halliday is that Washington acquired picks No. 112, No. 167 and No. 181 from the Seattle Seahawks as part of a trade on Friday.

The Redskins have been linked to Halliday throughout the draft evaluation process, perhaps more than any other team.

Halliday and Mayle perform for scouts

There were NFL 13 scouts on hand to watch Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle work out on Wednesday, and one general manager.

Scot McCloughlan, the general manager of the NFL team in Washington D.C., planned to be on hand for the second WSU pro day, but it's unclear if he actually made it out to Pullman. Still, there were plenty of representatives on hand to watch Halliday and Mayle perform, and it sounds like they saw what they needed to from both players.

Below is my story from pro day that will run in tomorrow's paper.
  

PULLMAN—Neither Connor Halliday nor Vince Mayle have had an easy journey from Washington State to the NFL so it was fitting that during a workout in front of NFL scouts and executives on Wednesday, the two former Cougars did it the hard way.

Such workouts are usually conducted indoors but because of poor lighting and worse turf in WSU's indoor practice bubble, Halliday and Mayle elected to stage the workout outside on the Rogers practice field.

That meant a little rain, plenty of wind and temperatures hovering just under 40 degrees.

"I've been doing this ever since I was a little kid," Halliday said. "I'm from Spokane, played football here. It doesn't affect me but it does affect the ball a little bit. It is what it is and every ball I threw I threw into the wind. So, hopefully the scouts appreciate that."

The two Cougars began on adjacent practice fields. Mayle running through a gauntlet of four sets of cones spaced exactly 10-yards apart while Halliday played catch with a quarterback that was never drafted but managed an 11-year NFL career.

Mayle, who has signed an endorsement deal with Adidas, wore exclusively his new brand's apparel: cleats, socks, shorts and a skin-tight shirt with the long sleeves rolled up, all a subtle reminder no doubt to the scouts that the 222-pound receiver's obvious strength is his greatest strength.

Halliday, not beholden by any contractual agreements, clashed a thick long-sleeve Under Armour top with black WSU shorts by Nike.

On hand for the workout was Jim Sharkey, who coached Halliday for two years at Ferris High, as well as former WSU football players Jason Gesser and Brandon Gibson.

Xavier Cooper was on hand and had a private workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Halliday threw with an audience for the first time since his ankle was broken on Nov. 1 against USC. Mayle is still nursing a broken thumb that hampered him at the NFL combine.

"It's (still) pretty bad," Mayle said. "It's something I've got to play through."

After posting an uninspiring 4.67-second 40-yard dash at the combine, Mayle's biggest priority on Wednesday was showing the 13 scouts – including three receivers coaches – that he has the speed to outrun NFL defensive backs. He did so on his final attempt, clocking in unofficially at around 4.5 seconds.

"The time doesn’t really concern me that much," said CBS NFL draft analyst Rob Rang. "If he can run in the 4.5s, 4.6s at 222-pounds, I know he's got hops, I know he's got lateral agility to make people miss and I've been impressed by his work ethic. When he signed there were all these questions about his commitment to football and I think he's answered those questions."

Perhaps the biggest obstacles for Mayle are the numerous rising receivers in this year's draft class who are surprising scouts while he simply tries to get back to full strength.

Halliday threw 70 passes, completing all but six. All six incomplete passes were drops, yet the receivers also saved Halliday on a couple occasions by catching poorly thrown balls.

He threw passes to Mayle; former WSU running backs Marcus Mason and Theron West; former Eastern Washington receiver Cory Mitchell and former WSU receiver Jeffrey Solomon.

Conducting the workout was former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn, who coached Halliday's dad for two years at Boise State prior to his long career as an NFL coach and is now helping Connor Halliday prepare for the draft.

Zorn and Halliday reconnected recently at the Western Sports Star of the Year Awards, but Zorn first began scouting the quarterback as an NFL prospect a year ago.

"He came out to a spring practice out here around this time last year to see if I was worth a crap and thought I was alright," Halliday said. "He told me after my senior season that he wanted to work with me."

Halliday acknowledged after the workout that he still doesn't feel 100 percent – he's only been throwing for a couple weeks. But while both Cougars likely could have used a few more days of recovery, time is getting precious.

The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 30 and ends the following Saturday, meaning that teams need to start paring down their lists of prospects. But at least, for now, Halliday and Mayle have their biggest tests behind them.

"I can say it's been pretty stressful but now that I've finally got my pro day over with I can just relax and work out," Mayle said. "A coach told me last night to just enjoy this time because it's the last time I can be careless, be free."

 

Morning links: Cougars prepare for NFL combine

By now Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle are already in Indianapolis registering for the NFL Scouting Combine and Xavier Cooper is en route, since west coast prospects are allowed to travel a day early.

The Combine will be important for all three former Washington State players and for different reasons, since all three have pretty different situations and expectations. For Mayle, expected to be the first Cougar drafted this spring, the week will be about confirming to NFL scouts what they already suspect: that he's got speed to go with his size.

The 40-yard-dash, cone drill and shuttle drills will be important for the receiver, who just needs to confirm that he has the requisite physical tools to translate his superlative numbers in college to the NFL.

It will also be important for Mayle to not drop many balls during the receiver drills since that’s an area in which he struggled late in his college career.

I spoke with Cooper a bit yesterday and he says he's excited to show off his power and explosiveness at the combine and if he, currently expected to be picked in the middle or later rounds, can put up better than expected numbers at the Combine he's got a chance to make himself some money. He's been training with EXOS and says that going up against other pro-ready players – like Donovan Smith out of Penn State – has reaffirmed his belief that he has what it takes to play at the next level, as well as his decision to declare for the draft after his junior season.

Cooper says that he will receive a list of what teams he's going to interview with once he gets to the combine, although he believes he'll be meeting with Denver and Kansas City.

For Halliday, who is still recovering from his season-ending injury, the combine will be about the interviews where he can hopefully impress teams with his knowledge of the game, ability to grasp their offensive concepts quickly, and handle all the other weird stuff that happens in these interviews.

Seriously, they get asked some pretty weird questions.

On to the links:

— The Cougars added an offensive quality control assistant to the football staff.

— On Monday we took a look back at WSU's loss to Arizona.

— Jeff Nusser has an interesting examination of WSU's transition offense.

— Cooper is doing a draft diary with FOX Sports leading up to the NFL Draft. Here is part one.

— Don't miss this profile of Josh Hawkinson, written by Bud Withers.

— Jerry Brewer asks why Washington didn’t win more games with so many players coveted by the NFL.

Three Cougars invited to the NFL scouting combine

Three former Washington State football players have been invited to attend the NFL scouting combine.

Quarterback Connor Halliday, wide receiver Vince Mayle and defensive lineman Xavier Cooper all received invitations to the annual showcase in which players perform drills designed to measure their strength and athleticism and meet with representatives from NFL teams.

Mayle is likely to perform well in this setting given his incredible size/speed ratio. Cooper can greatly help himself by putting up good numbers that show off his explosiveness, which for Halliday the combine is likely to be about proving that he's on the mend after his late-season injury and has been able to continue to put on muscle and weight.

Xavier Cooper will enter the NFL draft

Cooper, 23, is a junior but says he will take online classes to graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman played his high school ball at Tacoma's Wilson High.

"It was a tough decision just because I'm leaving the university that gave so much to me and my family: the opportunity for me to even be here and receive an education," Cooper said. "That was a tough decision but ultimately me and my family realized the opportunity doesn't happen very often for anybody and it was there for the taking and I felt that it was in my heart to go get it."

While the NFL draft advisory board recommended that he stay in school, that is the required recommendation for anyone that is not expected to be a first or second round selection.

NFL draft analyst Rob Rang of CBS says that Cooper does not have to fear going undrafted.

"He's probably an early day-three player, which would mean fourth round," Rang said. "I could see third round. He's a big, athletic guy who moves well. He's shown versatility at defensive tackle and defensive end. You'd like him to be a little bit stronger but he's a legitimate talent."

Cooper started for three years at either defensive tackle or defensive end for WSU. He led the Cougars with five sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss this season. The Cougars will have a decidedly different look on the defensive line next season, as fellow longtime starter Kalafitoni Pole has graduated and is pursuing his own NFL dreams.

He plans to sign with an agent shortly and believes he will be invited to the NFL scouting combine.

"It's a risk but there's risk in anything you want in life and you can't be afraid to fail," Cooper said. "Anything I've wanted I've had to beat the obstacle of being afraid but you can't go anywhere if you're afraid."

While I had Rang on the telephone, I also asked him about some of WSU's other NFL draft prospects.

Here's what he had to say about wide receiver Vince Mayle:

You know, at this point I would say that he's also a third or fourth rounder. It's going to come down to two things. One, he's obviously been very, very productive this year. I'm very curious to see how he performs at the Senior Bowl where he's not the featured target and has to play a more traditional role. And then how he runs the 40-yard dash. He's a very big player and does have some agility and acceleration for a big guy but he's not as physical a blocker as you might think and I just question his pure, straight-line speed.

He's a guy that obviously had a productive season, he's got a chance to really boost his stock if he performs well in the workouts.

Rang added that the drops that plagued Mayle late in the season will be a big concern for NFL teams and that they make it all the more imperative that he performs well in the Senior Bowl and at the combine.

Washington State begins its second bye week

It's a bye week for the Washington State football team so the Cougars not have a press conference today and will not practice until Wednesday. The players will rest, the coaches will recruit and we'll continue with the morning links, which are right after the jump.

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Four Cougars named to Phil Steele’s midseason All-Pac-12 teams

Phil Steele's magazine and website are go-to resources for statheads and football junkies and the relative success of his numbers-based prognostication means his awards lists carry more weight than most other analysts.

That's good news for four Cougars, who were named to Steele's midseason All-Pac-12 teams, including a pair of first teamers in offensive lineman Joe Dahl and receiver Vince Mayle.

Follow the jump for more on their selection.

Thursday morning Pac-12 links

From Pullman — There weren't any signing day surprises for Washington State basketball fans on Wednesday, but new coach Ernie Kent still has more than a month left to fill out his four remaining roster spots. It was a somewhat slow day for WSU news but we held another live chat and put up our Five Questions blog post with defensive lineman Xavier Cooper. CougCenter has a good look at WSU scholarship situation. We're getting closer to the NFL Draft and Deone Bucannon is visiting teams

Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis gives his take on Cal's coaching hire … A pair of Bruins make their decision to go pro official … As did Arizona State's Jahii Carson … Washington receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow received his sentence yesterday.

Bonus Link: This story on Yasiel Puig's defection from Cuba is great.

Five questions with Xavier Cooper

WSU defensive lineman Xavier Cooper is up next in our Five Questions segment.