There are six former Utes invited to the NFL Combine this year, which is already less than a week away. Prior to the NFL Combine, we will take a look at which former Utah football player has the best chance to be drafted first. RB Devontae Booker, S/LB Tevin Carter, DL Jason Fanaika, P Tom Hackett, LB Jared Norris, and LB Gionni Paul were all invited to the NFL Combine, so it is likely it will be one of them. In the last few years, there have been several candidates for the first Ute drafted, but this year it seems like there is really only one viable candidate: Booker. Now, things could change after the NFL Combine if another player has a monster combine, causing teams to fall in love with their measurables, but right now, Booker looks like the heavy favorite to be the first Ute drafted. Booker is coming off a knee injury that cut his 2015 season short. How well he has recovered from the injury could affect where he is drafted.
Running backs have become devalued in the NFL Draft lately, which hurts Booker's draft stock. Five years ago, it would have been an anomaly to have less than three running backs selected in the first round. Now, it is rare to have more than even one taken in round one. Teams are putting a higher priority than ever on offensive players in the passing game (quarterback, wide receiver, and left tackle) and defenders to stop the pass (pass rushers and cornerbacks). This year, most mock drafts only see former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot going in the first round. The consensus No. 2 running back is former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. After those two, there is little agreement between players like Booker, Arkansas RBs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon, UCLA RB Paul Perkins, and Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise. Much of where Booker could help his draft stock is at the combine. The biggest knock on Booker right now is his top-end speed, so a good showing at the combine could really help his case and show teams he has recovered from injury.
Most mock drafts still only cover the first round (that should start to change after the combine though). Walter Football's mock draft and San Diego Union Tribune's mock draft both include four rounds. Walter Football has Booker as the only Ute drafted in the first four rounds, going in the fourth round pick No. 100 to Jacksonville. The San Diego Union Tribune has Booker going in the third round, pick No. 74 to the New York Giants and Fanaika to Tampa Bay in the fourth round, pick No. 105. CBS Sports has a ranking of all NFL Draft prospects. They have Booker as the No. 4 RB and No. 64 prospect overall, seeing him as a second round prospect. Fanaika is the No. 113 prospect and is projected a third to fourth round pick. Hackett, the two-time Ray Guy Award winner, is the No. 1 overall punter and No. 155 prospect, making him a fourth to fifth round prospect. Norris is the No. 215 overall prospect and is seen as a sixth round pick. Paul is rated the No. 271 prospect and Carter is the No. 299 prospect. Both are seen as a seventh round picks or undrafted free agents.
Here at Block U, we will continue to keep you updated on former Utes draft stock. The NFL Combine starts Tuesday, Feb. 23 and runs through Monday, Feb. 29. Here is a complete schedule of the events at the NFL Combine, which will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.