San Diego State won a program-record 12 games in 2021. You don't do that without a bunch of really good players, and when you have a bunch of really good players, you expect them to end up in the National Football League.
A pair of those really good players are leaving SDSU a year early to chase their pro football dreams. Defensive end Cameron Thomas and tight end Daniel Bellinger are entering the NFL Draft. Both players had a year of eligibility left on Montezuma Mesa.
Thomas is the reigning Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a 1st team All-American. He made his intentions known in a social media post on Thursday.
Thomas, 6'5" and 270 pounds, is expected to be a late 1st or 2nd round pick, which comes with a substantial signing bonus. Different mock drafts have him going on Day 1 to the Cowboys or Patriots, or on Day 2 to a plethora of teams. Thomas, a Carlsbad High School alum, was one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the nation this season, finishing in the Top 5 in sacks and tackles for loss.
Bellinger caught 31 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt junior. His production was limited in an Aztecs offense that didn't throw the ball often (or at times very well), but he's far and away the best blocking tight end in this year's draft class.
At 6'6" and 250 pounds, Bellinger should have a long future as a second tight end because of his blocking ability, but if a professional coach realizes he has good hands as well, he could be a starter at the next level.
Both players have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl in February, where they will be coached by NFL staffs and get plenty of time to improve their status in the eyes of front office-types. They'll also both be headed to the NFL Combine, as long as the league is still able to hold its annual prospectpalooza in Indianapolis amid COVID-19 concerns.
One more Aztec, all-universe punter Matt Araiza, has not yet made his NFL Draft intentions known.