Andrew already wrote an article breaking down running back Devontae Booker's draft prospects in 2016. Booker will likely be the first Ute drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, but there were surely be several other players drafted behind him. We will take a look at some of the Utes that could hear their name called next May. While Utah typically has one surprise early entrant each season (Joe Kruger in 2013, Jake Murphy in 2014, and Jeremiah Poutasi in 2015), we will focus only on seniors.
Siaosi Aiono - center
Aiono is not getting much attention right now, but he could end up getting drafted. He is versatile, having played right tackle as a sophomore and center as a junior. He has 20 career starts heading into this season. His experience, size, and versatility could make some NFL scouts fall in love with him. He is a leader on the offensive line and only allowed one sack last regular season (in 747 snaps). Centers are the least coveted offensive linemen in the NFL Draft, but he could be a late round selection with another strong season in 2015.
Tevin Carter - safety
Carter has the size (6-1 / 210), speed, and talent to make the NFL. In his limited playing time last year, Carter showed his playmaking ability, his coverage skills, and that he is a hart hitter. The biggest obstacle for Carter to make the NFL is health concerns. He missed spring football in 2014 due to an injury and only played in four games in the 2014 season. If he can stay healthy all season, Carter will likely have a big year. He has the athletic ability to rise up draft boards with a strong showing at the NFL Combine a la former teammate Eric Rowe. In only four games last season, Carter recorded two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. The other main potential knock on Carter could be age as he will have played six total years in college. He will be a 24 year old NFL rookie in the 2016 NFL season.
Jason Fanaika - defensive end
Fanaika gets the huge task of replacing Ted Hendricks Award winner Nate Orchard. Fanaika played linebacker and defensive end last season for Utah, but it seems like he will focus solely on defensive end this season. Fanaika has the size (6-3 / 270) to play defensive end in the NFL. Even though he did not start, Fanaika was a disruptive pass rusher last season, recording 5.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He also recorded an interception when playing linebacker. Now that he will be a starter, expect his numbers to increase. There are also a lot of former Utah defensive ends in the NFL, so scouts will take notice if he approaches double-digit sacks, which is a strong possibility.
Tom Hackett - punter
Hackett won the 2014 Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter. Hackett showed accuracy and leg strength last season. His ability to place the football punting is truly impressive. The problem Hackett will have in getting drafted is usually only one or two punters are taken. Hackett's rugby-style punting is not seen in the NFL, so he will have to show scouts he can do tradition punts well (which I believe he can). Winning the Ray Guy Award is also not a guarantee of getting drafted. The last Ray Guy Award winner to get drafted was 2007 winner Durant Brooks, who was selected in the 6th round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Only five Ray Guy Award winners (out of 12, not including Hackett in this total) have been drafted.
Jared Norris - linebacker
Norris is not a flashy player and as such has not received much notice yet from draft analysts. All Norris does is makes plays. He led Utah last season with 116 total tackles. He is a classic, hard-nosed linebacker who finds the ball and makes plays. He will be a senior this season and will likely become one of the main leaders of the defense with players like Nate Orchard and Brian Blechen gone. WIth another 100+ tackle season, it will be impossible for scouts and media to ignore Norris. I expect a big season from No. 41 that will move him up draft boards.
Gionni Paul - linebacker
Paul is another Utah player who is not getting much love yet from draft analysts due to injury concerns. Paul missed part of spring camp and the first two games of the 2014 NFL season with a broken foot. He also had to miss the final two regular season games and the bowl game due to surgery on his foot. Despite only playing in eight games, he led Utah with four interceptions. Paul was a master at baiting quarterbacks into throwing the ball his way. He is an athletic sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can make plays in the running and passing game. A healthy Paul could open some eyes around the nation and lead to him getting drafted.
Kenneth Scott - wide receiver
Scott's career has been slowed by injuries (he missed almost all of the 2013 season and reportedly battled an injury in 2014). When healthy, Scott is a very good receiver. He is a big receiver (6-3 / 208) with a basketball background. He uses this skills to his advantage and can out-jump defenders for the ball. Scott is not the fastest player, but he runs good routes and has good hands. An underrated area of Scott's game is as a blocker. Scott will be entering his final season at Utah. He is the only starting receiver returning from last season. He finished first on the team in receptions (49) last season, tied for first in touchdowns (4), and second in yards (501). He will be the unquestioned leader of the receivers, and if he steps up and has a big season, he could find himself selected in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Jason Whittingham - linebacker
Whittingham struggled with injuries his junior season, but he showed a lot of promise as a sophomore when he finished second on the team with 81 total tackles, leading to honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. If he can build off of what he did as a sophomore, he could make a case for himself to make an NFL roster. He may be considered a bit of a tweener since he is not quite big enough to play defensive end but may not be fast enough to play linebacker in the NFL.
Do you agree with these players, are there some you feel are missing?