Utah Utes: The 2000s have been good to the Utes in the NFL draft | Opinion

When Devin Lloyd was taken in the first round of the recent NFL draft, he became the 64th player drafted from the University of Utah since 1999 (2000-22) – almost double BYU’s total in that time – and the fifth Ute chosen in the first round. That ranks Utah in the top 35 in the nation during that time in total draft picks.

As a followup to last week’s breakdown of BYU’s fortunes in the NFL draft, how have Utah’s draftees fared in the NFL? Glad you asked.

Eight of the 63 (we can’t count Lloyd yet), never played a down in the NFL.

Three of the 63 played one season or part of one season, but a total of seven played in 15 or fewer games (some were spread out over two seasons).

Thirty-six players played at least three seasons – about the league average – and 13 of those were drafted in the later (5-7) rounds.

Twenty-four players played five or more seasons (17 of them for seven or more seasons).

At least 14 of them played in the Super Bowl, several of them more than once. Guard Chris Kemoeatu played in three Super Bowls with the Steelers and won two rings. Eric Rowe won two rings, as well.

Five players played in the Pro Bowl – Alex Smith, Jordan Gross, Eric Weddle, Zane Beadles and Garett Bolles.

At least eight Utah players achieved a certain level of stardom.

Mike Anderson, who famously played in the school marching band and did not play high school sports, was Offensive Rookie of the Year. In eight seasons, he rushed for 4,067 yards and 37 touchdowns and caught 92 passes for another five touchdowns.

Steve Smith became one of the greatest receivers in NFL history during a 16-year career. He finished with 1,031 catches, 14,731 yards, 81 touchdowns. He ranks 12th in career receptions and ninth in total yards.

Jordan Gross became the finest tackle in the game before retiring after 11 seasons.

Los Angeles Rams defensive back Eric Weddle in coverage against the Cincinnati Bengals during Super Bowl 56 Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. The former Ute great came out of retirement for chance to win his first Super Bowl ring.

Steve Luciano, Associated Press

Safety Eric Weddle probably produced the best professional career of any Utah player ever and is certain to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (although another safety, Larry Wilson, is close to the honor). He was voted first-team All-Pro twice, second-team All-Pro three times and played in six Pro Bowls.

Bolles and Beadles became two of the best offensive linemen in their era.

Alex Smith will be remembered for the gruesome leg injury that knocked him out of the game for more than a year, but he earned Pro Bowl honors before that and threw for 35,650 yards and 199 touchdowns while producing a won-lost record of 99-67 -1.

Paul Kruger played eight seasons and 114 games, making 221 tackles, 45 tackles for loss and 35 sacks. That doesn’t even count two sacks he made for the Ravens at critical times during Super Bowl 47, a 34-31 win over the 49ers. In 2014 he collected 11 sacks, 36 solo tackles and four forced fumbles for the Browns.

Other former Utes produced very good careers, if not quite on the level of stardom.

Sean Smith, a cornerback, played nine seasons and had 14 interceptions and 427 tackles. He might still be playing today if not for a felony assault charge that sent him to prison for five months in 2018.

Star Lotulelei never quite lived up to his name or his first-round selection, but he did play eight seasons, mostly for the Panthers, and played in the Super Bowl.

Koa Misi quietly collected 358 tackles as a linebacker for the Dolphins during a seven-year career.

Rowe won two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and was also part of a coaching decision for Super Bowl LII that has been second-guessed repeatedly. Malcolm Butler, who made a game-saving goal-line interception in the Patriots’ previous Super Bowl appearance and had been the starter throughout the season, was mysteriously benched for the game. Rowe started in his place and had four solo tackles and two pass deflections. But the Patriots lost and the benching of Butler has never been explained and continues to be discussed.

Andre Dyson, a cornerback, collected 22 interceptions and 317 tackles during an eight-year career and he and brother / fellow Ute Kevin Dyson became the first brothers to score touchdowns in the same game.

The jury is still out on the players taken in the more recent drafts, but of the 14 Utah players drafted from 2018 to 2022, 12 are still in the league (another is on a practice squad). Clearly, Utah has become one of the top schools for producing NFL players.

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During his 16-year NFL career former Ute great Steve Smith amassed 1,031 catches for 14,731 yards and 81 touchdowns. He ranks 12th in career receptions and ninth in total yards.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

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