Five former Utah football players were invited to the 2015 NFL Draft Combine this week, which is tied for fourth most in the Pac-12 with UCLA (Oregon and USC both have seven and Stanford has six). The rest of the FBS schools in the state of Utah produced just one other invitee.
Former Utes offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi will be the only one to participate on the first day, Friday, Feb. 20, which includes offensive linemen, tight ends, and kickers. Poutasi left Utah early after his true junior season. He started all three years at Utah. He was honorable mention All Pac-12 as a true freshman at right tackle. He spent the next two years at left tackle and was second team All Pac-12 as a junior. He was named the 2014 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Offensive "Out-Performer" of the Game. Poutasi is being favorably compared by many NFL scouts to 49ers guard Mike Iupati.
Jeremiah Poutasi/OL/Utah being referred to as "Mike Iupati Jr" by a number of scouts: http://t.co/DPRaqlwQla— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) February 16, 2015
Poutasi could realistically play three positions in the NFL, left guard, right guard, or right tackle. Poutasi greatest strengths are size, mobility, strength, and versatility, attributes he'll have a chance to show off for scouts on Friday.
Day two (Saturday, Feb. 21) features running backs, quarterbacks, and wide receivers, and Utah wide receivers Dres Anderson and Kaelin Clay will have a chance to show what they can do.
Anderson's senior year was a bit of a disappointment after his strong junior season and was cut short by a tear in his meniscus. In his junior season, he was one of the most explosive players in college football, recording seven receptions of 50 yards or more. He finished the season with 1,002 receiving yards (on 53 receptions). He led Utah in receiving yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He finished fifth all-time for career receiving yards at Utah with 2,077 yards. His seven career 100-yard receiving games is fourth in school history. He also finished sixth in career touchdown receptions (17). Anderson showed his speed, moves in the open field, and general big play ability in his Utah career, but what he most needs to show NFL scouts is that he can consistently catch the ball. Drops were a big problem that plagued Anderson his whole career.
Clay only spent one year at Utah, but he made the most of his opportunity. He was tied for first in the nation in return touchdowns with four (one kickoff and three punt). For his efforts, he was named a first-team All-American and first-team All Pac-12 as a returner and won the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Punt Returner Trophy. He led Utah in receiving yards (523) and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (4). Clay finished 2014 strong as a receiver, especially after Anderson and Tim Patrick had their seasons cut short by injury. Clay has incredible speed and has the fastest 100-meter dash time of any player at the combine with a 10.46.
Clay could rise up draft boards with a strong showing at the combine, given his speed and playmaking ability.
Day three (Sunday, Feb. 22) of the 2015 NFL Draft Combine will see former Utes defensive end Nate Orchard participate as part of the defensive linemen and linebackers. Orchard was dominant in his final season at Utah, recording 18.5 sacks and 21.0 tackles for loss. He was a first-team All-American and won the Ted Hendricks Award (nation's top defensive end) and Morris Trophy (Pac-12's top defensive lineman). He also dominated in the Reese's Senior Bowl, being named the North Team's Most Outstanding Player (according to NFL.com). Orchard has the college production that few players can match, but what he will need to show scouts is that he can succeed at either defensive end or outside linebacker. As of right now, he is kind of seen as a "tweener." Orchard dominated several players projected to get drafted including Stanford's Andrus Peat (a possible top 10 pick) and Colorado State's Ty Sambrailo (a possible first round pick).
The final former Utah player to go is cornerback Eric Rowe, who will participate on day four (Monday, Feb. 23), which will feature the defensive backs. Rowe was a freshman All-American at safety for Utah in 2011. He stayed at safety through his junior season before switching to cornerback as a senior. Rowe was honorable mention All Pac-12 twice in his four seasons at Utah. He also competed at the Reese's Senior Bowl with Orchard. The move to cornerback should benefit Rowe's draft stock. Former Utah cornerback Keith McGill was the highest draftee for the Utes last season after he switch from safety to cornerback as a senior. Rowe has good size as an NFL cornerback (something he would not have as a safety). Utah also has the cornerbacks play an NFL style (mainly press-man). With the success of Seattle's Legion of Boom, many NFL teams are now seeking big, press-man cornerbacks, which Rowe is. Cornerbacks are always at premium on draft day, so a good showing at the combine (especially a fast 40-yard dash time), could help Rowe move up draft boards.
Who could help their draft stock the most?
Realistically, all of the five former Utes at the combine could help their draft stock with a strong showing. Orchard or Rowe could move up into a late first or early second round pick, but I think Clay could help his draft stock the most. Most analysts do not have Clay getting drafted right now. He is on the smaller size for an NFL receiver and does not run the best routes. If he posts a sub 4.30 40 time though, NFL scouts may just forget about some of his short comings. A fast slot receiver can do damage in the NFL (see players like Tavon Austin, who is smaller than Clay but ran a 4.25 at the NFL Draft Combine).
Who could hurt their draft stock the most?
Anderson is the player who I think could hurt his draft stock the most with a bad showing. The season-ending knee injury has to worry scouts at least a bit, so if Anderson shows signs that his knee is still a problem, that could turn teams off.