Durst’s 2020 NFL Draft: Utah Preview
As part of Hogs Haven’s pre-draft coverage, I have been previewing one team per week throughout the college football season. While I an unable to preview all of the conference championships, one of the biggest games this weekend will be when Oregon and Utah battle it out Friday night for the PAC-12 Championship.
After beating Colorado last weekend, the Utah Utes are now 11-1 on the season and will enter the game ranked #5 in the nation. A win will likely get the Utes into the college football playoffs.
It’s notable, that around this time last year, Utah was 9-1, but finished the 2018 season with a 9-3 record after losing to Washington in last season’s Pac-12 Championship before ending their season with a loss to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl.
However, there may have never been a Utah team with so many NFL prospects. Already, six Utah players have been invited to participate in the Senior Bowl, including five defenders. That is more than any school, since Auburn sent nine (six on defense) to Mobile in 1988.
This season, I have watched Utah play USC, BYU, and parts of the Washington and Colorado games.
POTENTIAL FIRST ROUND PROSPECTS
While in terms of NFL prospects, the Utes might have their best team ever, I still don’t view any of their players as first round prospects.
POSSIBLE DAY TWO (ROUNDS 2-3) PROSPECTS
#1 Jaylon Johnson (Jr.) CB 5-11, 194.
Just a junior, Johnson has already graduated, and plans on declaring early for the 2020 NFL Draft. As a college graduate, Johnson would be also eligible to play to play in the Senior Bowl, giving Utah six defenders in the game.
As a very good cover corner, Johnson is arguably the Utes’ top pro prospect. A top-10 ranked cornerback recruit out of high school, he will likely will be one of the top-10 cornerbacks in the 2020 draft class.
Johnson emerged as a First Team All-Pac 12 performer last season as a sophomore, and this season leads the Utes in passes defended (10), which also ranks fourth-best in the conference.
He twisted his ankle in last weekend’s win over Colorado, and might be a game time decision for the PAC-12 Championship.
Dane Brugler considers Johnson a Top-50 prospect, but cautions he doesn’t have ideal size to match up against bigger receiver. According to Brugler, Johnson also “must improve his ability to find the ball, gain proper positioning and make a play without excess contact.”
Johnson has the competitive mindset to play out on an island. He should check all the boxes in terms of what NFL teams are looking for in regards to height, weight, arm length, and speed.
#2 Zack Moss (Sr.) RB 5-10 222.
This season, Moss has 200 carries for 1,246 yards with 15 touchdowns. Just a few days ago, he was named to Pro Football Focus All-American team.
According to PFF’s charting, Moss broke the record held by David Montgomery by forcing a missed tackle on 39% of his attempts (78 broken tackles on 199 carries). Additionally, he finished seventh in total yards after contact with 929, averaging the fifth-best yards after contact per attempt at 4.7, and his rushing conversion percentage ranks inside the top 20 among all running backs.”
As a true freshman, Moss worked in as a back-up to starter Joe Williams finishing with a 84/382/2 line. A starter during his sophomore and junior seasons, he accumulated a total of 2,269 rushing yards with 37 catches, and was believed to be leaning toward declaring for the 2019 draft until having season-ending surgery caused him to miss the final five games in 2018.
Moss is the cousin of former Redskins’ receiver Santana Moss, and was a high school teammate of Utah’s starting quarterback, Tyler Huntley and receiver Demari Simpkins.
In 2019, Moss suffered an AC joint injury to his left shoulder early (Moss was injured after just six carries in the Utes’ loss at USC in September) in the team’s loss to the Trojans, causing him to miss the Washington State game.
In Utah’s 2019 opener, Moss broke 16 tackles against BYU.
The Utes’ all-time leading rusher, Moss is the highest-rated Utah prospect on draft analyst Dane Brugler’s draft board, but has had a history of nagging injuries (knee 2018, shoulder 2019). In uniform, he looks somewhat slow and/or overweight. However, rarely does the first guy to hit him take him down. Moss is a mature and nuanced runner, with good instincts and vision, along with great contact balance. An above average blocker, he can also be useful catching passes out of the backfield. Will wear a defense down in the 4th quarter.
A better prospect than former Utah RBs Joe Williams (Rd4, 2017) and Devontae Booker (Rd4, 2016), his running style reminds me of another Miami native, Frank Gore.
#6 Bradlee Anae (Sr.) DE 6-4, 263.
With one-and-a-half sacks this past Saturday against Colorado, Anae now has 29 career sacks, tying Hunter Dimick’s school record.
A three year starter, Anae has been the PAC-12’s most feared pass rusher that past few seasons.
After leading the Pac-12 with 8 sacks last season, Anae already has a career best 12.5 sacks, with at least two more games left this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, “Anae is an absolute technician off the edge who has given some of the Pac-12’s best tackles – USC’s Austin Jackson and Washington’s Trey Adams – fits this year. Only Ohio State’s Chase Young and Michigan’s Josh Uche have higher pass-rushing grades than Anae’s 90.5 this season.”
Bradlee Anae is a pass-rush specialist! pic.twitter.com/z6dWbx8w00— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 22, 2019
Anae comes from a football family. His father, Brad played in the old USFL.
Between his snap anticipation and initial quickness, Anae is able to defeat average blockers despite his lack of elite length or explosiveness.
While Anae will be seeking to break the Utes’ school sack record this Friday, he will have to earn it, as most of the night he will be going against Oregon’s stud left tackle, Penei Sewell.
PFF’s PAC-12 Player of the Year, they charted Sewell with 420 reps in pass protection, giving up pressure on just 1.4% of his pass-blocking snaps (6 total) in 2019.
This game with go along way in determining if Anae can truly be an effective pass rusher in the NFL, or as much of his production come against weaker competition. Personally, I see Anae as more of a Rd3 prospect.
#99 Leki Fotu (Sr.) DT 6-5, 332.
A 6-foot-6, 335 pound behemoth defensive tackle, Fotu entered Utah as a 6-foot-6, 255 pound defensive end prospect.
Fotu was a first team All PAC-12 in 2018 and is expected to repeat that earning this season.
Last spring, Fotu told reporters that he had heard third- and fourth-round talk before deciding to return for his senior season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fotu showed more as a pass-rusher in 2018 when he racked up 35 pressures.
Potentially, the best pure nose tackle in this class, Fotu probably still goes late Rd3 to early Rd4.
LIKELY DAY THREE (ROUNDS 4-7) PROSPECTS
#23 Julian Blackmon (Sr.) S/CB 6-0, 185.
Just a few days ago, Blackmon was named to Pro Football Focus All-American team.
PFF explains the selection: “The transition to safety from cornerback paid big dividends for Blackmon, as he finished the regular season as the Utes’ highest-graded player on defense among a star-studded cast of characters. Blackmon made nine total plays on the ball including four interceptions and five more pass breakups as he displayed his strong coverage skills more often than not. He missed just seven of his total 56 tackle attempts and recorded 11 stops across the board.”
After starting all 27 games his sophomore and junior seasons at cornerback, this season Blackmon moved to free safety, replacing Marquise Blair (Rd2, 2019). As a corner, many draft analysts graded him as a potential day two pick if he had declared for the 2019 NFL draft.
While PFF grades his overall body of work as elite, there have been some notable struggles I have picked up on when watching the USC (WR, Michael Pittman) and Washington (TE, Hunter Bryant) games and I don’t think he is quite the prospect that Blair was.
#13 Francis Bernard (rSr.) LB 5-11, 242.
A former running back, Bernard’s breakout season didn’t some until his senior season.
He originally started his college career at BYU, before transferring to Utah. He played in 22 games at BYU from 2015-16, starting 12 games in 2016.
Forced to sit out the 2017 season, he started just two games (Washington in the Pac-12 Championship and Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl) in 2018.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bernard been one of the better coverage linebackers in college football with a career 92.6 coverage grade across 766 snaps.
Meanwhile, Brugler writes “while he doesn’t lack for play toughness or violence, the battle is over once blockers latch on, leading to him being washed out of the play.”
While he is a very active defender, I am not sure he is a starting caliber NFL linebacker.
#26 Terrell Burgess (Sr.) Safety 6-0, 194.
Burgess is another Utah player who did not become a consistent starter until just this year, but has played well enough to earn an invite to the Senior Bowl.
Congrats, Terrell! You are proof to all the other players out there that it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. You weren’t on our preseason @seniorbowl watch list but you popped on tape with all the plays you made this year. Nobody earned this invite more than you! https://t.co/DEU14hELzO— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) November 13, 2019
According to PFF, Burgess has a coverage grade of 90.2 (tied for 3rd in the nation), has allowed just 5.7 yards per reception. He also has yet to allow a touchdown into his coverage while nabbing an interception as well as four pass breakups en route to a 57.5 passer rating when targeted.
#1 Tyler Huntley (Sr.) QB 6-1 205.
The“Hallandale Trio” consists of quarterback Tyler Huntley, wide receiver Demari Simpkins, and running back Zack Moss, who were high school teammates at Hallandale HS in Miami Florida.
The biggest catalyst for the Utes dominance this season has been the consistency and leadership of Huntley who is completing 75.5 percent of his passes (2nd nationally behind only LSU’s Joe Burrow) for 2,773 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. Huntley’s 188.65 passer rating ranks 5th nationally and he also has ran for 255 yards and five more scores.
Quarterback guru, Mark Schofield’s RSP Scouting Lens did this Youtube feature on Huntley. Schofield says he remains composed and creates space in the face of pressure, and considers him a very good quarterback prospect.
Huntley is probably the most notable Utah prospect who has not (yet?) been invited to the Senior Bowl, he has already secured an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. While he has some fans in the draft media, most consider Huntley to be a late-round prospect.
#52 John Penisini (rSr.) DT 6-1, 324.
Going into the PAC-12 Championship, Penisini has recorded 35 tackles, seven solo, two forced fumbles and two sacks this season.
He has accepted an invitation to play in the East/West Shrine Bowl, but is seen as a fringe late round/UDFA.
#77 Darrin Paulo (rSr.) OT.
After starting 26 games at RT during the 2017-18 seasons, Paulo started at LT for his senior season.
Rotoworld blurbs Paulo is “almost universally seen as an undrafted free agent right now”, but he has accepted his invitation to the East-West Shrine Game, and a strong showing there could boost him into the back half of Day 3.