Two former Utes destined for Pro Football Hall of Fame

Seven players from the 2019 Utah Utes joined the ranks of NFL teams in the 2020 Draft, with the hope of becoming the next superstar at the professional level.

Jaylon Johnson, Julian Blackmon, and Zack Moss were selected within the first three rounds, while Terrell Burgess, Leki Fotu, Bradlee Anae, and John Penisini were taken within the first 200 picks.

The Utes have a proud history of creating Hall of Fame-caliber players, although only one former star currently boasts a bust in Canton – former St Louis Cardinals defensive back Larry Wilson.

However, others will join Wilson soon enough, giving great hope to fellow Utes that they will be able to join the ranks of the NFL’s most elite club. We’ll now look at two players that should be fitted for golden jackets in the near future.

Steve Smith Sr.

The ultimate professional and a man all quarterbacks would want on their team. Smith had a solid two-year career with the Utes, but nothing that would leap off the page. He was selected in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. The wideout would be the heart and soul of the team for the next 13 years.

Smith made an initial impact as a kick returner in his rookie term, earning a First-Team All-Pro berth. He slowly developed as a receiver, building a connection with Jake Delhomme in the 2003 campaign. Smith was an essential cog in the Panthers’ side that reached Super Bowl XXXVIII, notching 1,110 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

He was even better in the post-season, scoring a 39-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl, only for Carolina to lose a thriller to the New England Patriots. In 2005, Smith enjoyed his best campaign, earning his second All-Pro berth courtesy of recording 1,563 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He maintained that standard of play for the next five seasons even amid the Panthers’ struggles on the field.

Once Cam Newton arrived in 2011, Smith provided the veteran leadership to support his new quarterback. Despite being 5ft 9in, he always punched above his weight and was never short of words, notably his famous "ice up, son!" to Aqib Talib. Even as Smith began to age, his excellence never wavered despite leaving the Panthers for the Baltimore Ravens. He ended his career in the top ten all-time in receiving yards, and top 20 for receptions and touchdowns. An incredible tenure.

Eric Weddle

Weddle was another consummate professional and a perfect leader of men on the defensive side of the ball. The safety was considered a stronger prospect emerging from the Utes after a successful four-year career between 2003 and 2006. The San Diego Chargers selected him in the second round of the 2007 Draft and he enjoyed an outstanding 13-year career, which included two First-Team All-Pro berths and seven Pro Bowl nods.

Weddle opted to call time on his tenure after the 2019 season after only one term at his final franchise – the Los Angeles Rams. However, it would not be a surprise to see the 35-year-old return should they make a Super Bowl run. The Rams have a solid price in the NFL betting odds at the moment, and tracking the best betting websites for Sean McVay’s men to make a run would be prudent given that they were only in the Super Bowl in 2018.

Weddle provided security on the back end of the defense during his time with the Chargers, Ravens, and Rams. Few players boasted his range and positional sense to cover the deep areas of the field. No quarterback relished facing a defense when Weddle was on patrol, looking for interceptions. He mustered 29 over the course of his career – leading the league in 2011 with seven picks. Weddle was a model of consistency and rarely had a poor outing – a hallmark of a top-tier safety. He was named in the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s, suggesting that he is already in the reckoning for his gold jacket.

Future Hall of Famers?

Only the true elite can earn the recognition of being named to the Hall of Fame, but two former Utes have shown the way. Will we be reading about the exploits of the 2020 rookie class in the next 15 to 20 years?