Last month’s NFL Draft went relatively quietly for the Utes, compared to the previous spring when a program record eight players were selected. Kylie Fitts’ selection by the Chicago Bears marked the program’s lone draft pick.
However, the forecast for the 2019 draft could include Utah representation in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – including underclassmen who may be among the top candidates to have their names called by NFL teams.
While producing NFL draft picks may not be the most important measure of a program’s success, it certainly remains a feather in the cap of for any coaching staff on the recruiting trail and in the eyes of prospects who have their sights set on professional careers.
“Obviously, it’s a positive for recruiting, players know if they come to the University of Utah they have a good chance to develop and get to the next level,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said prior to the 2018 draft. “That’s certainly a selling point. It’s also a good way to earn some money. There’s not a lot of jobs that pay what the National Football League pays, especially your first couple years out of college. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s secondary to why they’re here, most importantly, which is to get their degree.”
SIX UTES PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Bradlee Anae, defensive end
Anae came on very strong at the end of his first season as a starter in 2017. He registered five sacks and five and a half tackles for loss in the Utes final four games, and he finished the season with a team-best seven sacks and tied for the team lead with 10 tackles for loss. He also led the team with three forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus selected Anae as second-team All-Pac-12 and rated him the second-best pass rusher among the conference’s edge defenders. While not quite as big as Fitts, he could be intriguing as a pass rushing linebacker in a 3-4 scheme similarly to how several teams projected Fitts. Anae will have eligibility remaining following the 2018 season, so he could return for his senior season in 2019.
Jackson Barton, offensive tackle
Barton gets ready to go into his second season as the Utes’ starting left tackle and boasts the type of length NFL teams covet at 6-foot-7 and 308 pounds, and arguably the team’s best lineman as a junior. The Utes have a strong track record producing pro-caliber offensive linemen. In the past two offseasons, they’ve put five linemen in NFL camps either as draft picks or undrafted free agents. Barton’s predecessor at left tackle, Garett Bolles immediately became the Denver Broncos’ starter as a rookie. The Salt Lake City native comes from an athletic family that includes a pair of parents who were each two-sport athletes in college.
Matt Gay, kicker
The program’s first-ever Lou Groza Award winner as the nation’s top place kicker and a consensus All-American, Gay will have a second season with the Utes to show off his prowess to pro scouts. The former Utah Valley soccer play, ranked fifth in the nation in field goal percentage (88.2 percent, 30-of-34) and made five field goals of 50 yards or more. He led the nation in field goals made (30) and made all 40 of his PAT attempts. Two kickers were drafted by NFL teams in 2018.
Chase Hansen, safety/linebacker
Hansen considered entering the draft this past year before deciding to return for his final season. Injuries limited him from playing his best as a junior, and he missed four games including the bowl game. The Utes will move him to linebacker this coming season and hope to maximize his play-making ability. His versatility at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds should be an asset at the next level. He earned All-Pac-12 honors in 2016, led the Utes in tackles (90) as a strong safety, and had a knack for creating turnovers (three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, three interceptions).
Zack Moss, running back
Assuming Moss continues to be the workhorse back for the Utes in 2018, he’s poised to be one of the top backs in the Pac-12 and perhaps in the nation. Moss, who will be a junior in 2018, ranked second in the conference behind only Bryce Love among returning running backs in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating. A physical runner at 5-foot-10, 217 pounds, he ranked fourth in that same cohort in yards after contact per carry (3.54). In his first full season as a starter, Moss rushed for 1,173 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry and also caught 29 passes for 243 receiving yards. Moss will have remaining eligibility going into 2019, but if he thrives again in a featured role this coming season he could be on the NFL radar.
Mitch Wishnowsky, punter
The native of Australia has established himself as one of the top punters in the nation the past two seasons. A two-time All-American and the 2016 Ray Guy Award winner, Wishnowsky was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2017. He finished 2017 among the nation’s leaders in net punting (sixty, 42.2 yards per punt) and punts inside the 10-yard line (sixth, 19.2 percent). He has also showed off a booming leg on kickoffs in 2017. Four punters were selected in the 2018 draft in rounds 5-7.