Will BYU Go Three Years Without an NFL Draft Pick?

Following the Brigham Young Cougars’ second consecutive year without a single player selected in the NFL Draft, the natural reaction is to question, “What will happen next year? Will BYU go three years without an NFL draft pick?"

The 2012 Cougars are a senior laden group, and several are rated in the top 15 at their position. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say with any degree of confidence that one of them will be drafted. After all, Matt Reynolds was supposed to be the most “sure thing” BYU has had in the last decade. Therefore, without trying to over hype or excessively downplay the odds, here is the BYU scouting report for the 2013 NFL Draft.

Ezekiel Ansah, OLB/DE, 6’6”, 270 lbs.
Before balking, keep in mind that the Seattle Seahawks just used their first round pick (15th overall) to select Bruce Irvin from West Virginia to fill the role of a pass rushing specialist. Irvin won’t be an every down player, but he was still drafted in the first round. If Irvin was drafted in the first round, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah gets picked up in one of the later rounds.

Although Ansah hasn’t played much during his career, he has the size and speed to catch the eye of NFL scouts. Ziggy has had to learn the game the last two seasons, but reports out of camp indicate that he has caught on and should be a factor this year.

A year ago, Ansah’s position coach Kelly Poppinga raved about his pro potential. After the recently concluded spring practices, head coach Bronco Mendenhall held the same sentiments. Assuming Ansah makes some noise on the field, especially as a pass rusher, the determining factor could be just how well he understands the game. If he can convince NFL team executives that he firmly grasps the game, then a late round selection wouldn’t be surprising.

Braden Brown, OT, 6’6”, 300 lbs.
Brown’s brother Les, who didn’t play college football, was just signed by the Miami Dolphins. It would be humiliating for Braden if he doesn’t make it.

Going into the 2011 season, Brown was rated no. 63 on Phil Steele’s list of draft eligible tackles. He is currently listed at no. 37 by NFLDraftScout.com, which the source CBSSports.com uses to rank NFL draft prospects. What happened with fellow linemen Reynolds and Terrence Brown this year should have been a wake up call. Braden Brown should have done some serious self introspection, and already implemented changes to his regimen if he is serious about an NFL career.

It is hard to say how high Brown’s draft stock could rise with an excellent year. At no. 37, he might have too much ground to cover to be drafted, and may have to settle for a free agent contract.

Romney Fuga, DT, 6’2”, 321 lbs.
Fuga has great size, and has boosted BYU’s ability to stop the run. He hasn’t made it onto many 2013 draft boards yet, but his size will cause scouts to give him a good look. Like Brown, Fuga should have learned a thing or two from Hebron Fangupo’s experience. If Fuga doesn’t have great footwork and upper body strength, then he needs to do something about it now.

The likelihood of Fuga being drafted will largely depend on how well he plays this year, and how well he tests at the NFL Scouting Combine and BYU Pro Day. The defensive scheme employed by Bronco Mendenhall to have the defensive line primarily clog running lanes will work against Fuga (less impressive stats), which makes those combine and pro day marks even more important. Free agent seems likely, but a slim possibility exists that Fuga could make rounds six or seven.

Braden Hansen, OG, 6’6”, 313 lbs.
The same things said about Braden Brown learning from Reynolds and Terrence Brown applies to Hansen. In fact, they are even more important for Hansen. Phil Steele had Hansen rated as the 12th best draft eligible offensive guard a year ago. He is now listed at no. 6 by NFLDraftScout.com. Hansen stands to lose much more than Braden Brown if he is overweight, has a poor ratio of fat to lean muscle mass, or has a sub par season.

If Hansen maintains his draft stock during the season, then he should be the first BYU player since John Beck (2007 NFL Draft) to be drafted in the first three rounds. If not, he will become a borderline draft pick/free agent player.

Cody Hoffman, WR, 6’4”, 208, lbs.
It will take a really special season for Hoffman to forego his senior season in 2013, but the potential is there. When Austin Collie left BYU a year early, he did it on the heels of leading the nation in receiving yards. Notwithstanding that distinction, Collie wasn’t picked up until the fourth round.

Much like Collie, Hoffman has great hands and is a flat out playmaker. They both run a 4.6 40-yard dash. Hoffman, however, has some advantages that Collie didn’t. Hoffman is four inches taller than Collie. While Collie returned some kickoffs during his career, Hoffman has proven to be indispensable on special teams. This will not go unnoticed by NFL scouts.

If he is not a lock for the top half of the draft, then there is no reason for Hoffman to come out early. Therefore, if Hoffman declares himself eligible it is a pretty sure sign that BYU will not go three years without a player drafted.

Uona Kaveinga, ILB, 5’11”, 236 lbs.
The USC transfer is currently rated the no. 14 inside linebacker in the 2012 senior class. This sounds good, on the surface, but Reynolds and Fangupo were both in the 14-15 range at their positions and were projected to be drafted in round four or five. Being sub 6-foot will probably hurt Kaveinga. It also doesn’t help that BYU has a poor track record for having linebackers drafted, which BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL documented earlier this year (click here for details).

Kaveinga will probably be a free agent. The only thing that could change that is if he outplays Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo (no. 1 rated ILB) when the two teams play October 20, followed by another big game in Atlanta (an NFL city) October 27 against Georgia Tech. It wouldn’t hurt to have a big game in the Poinsettia Bowl as well (played in San Diego, another NFL City).

Brandon Ogletree, ILB, 5’11”, 228 lbs.
Ogletree is right behind Kaveinga at no. 15 on the list of top inside linebackers. As such, Ogletree’s scouting report is identical to Kaveinga’s.

Joe Sampson, DB, 5’10”, 213 lbs.
In his first season of college football at the FBS level, Sampson showed that he is a physical player who, simply, knows how to play football. This innate knowledge of the game helped Sampson make several big plays last year. Being 5’10” may cause some to raise an eyebrow, but five of the top 10 rated free safeties are 6’0” or shorter. Sampson can overcome any concerns over his height by continuing to make big hits and game changing plays.

Sampson’s draft stock will largely depend on how much playing time he gets this season. He and fellow senior Mike Hague are competing for the starting free safety spot. Winning the starting position could be the difference between being drafted in the final two rounds or signing a free agent contract.

Kyle Van Noy, OLB, 6’3”, 235 lbs.
Even as a junior to be, many consider Kyle Van Noy to be the best player on the BYU roster. Like Sampson, Van Noy has great football instincts. He has tremendous speed and athleticism. With seven sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss last season, Van Noy has proven to be an effective pass rusher, which is essential for an outside linebacker hoping to go high in the draft.

Surprisingly, Van Noy is rated at just no. 22 among the junior class of outside linebackers. While he has already convinced many that he is the best outside linebacker that BYU has seen in decades, if not ever, he isn’t quite a household name nationally. This low ranking may indicate that Van Noy will not enter the draft early, or might just be a sign of the poor reputation BYU has for producing NFL quality linebackers.

Like Hoffman, Van Noy should only decide to leave early if he is a lock for the top half of the draft. Again, that would be an encouraging sign to Cougar fans that a three year shutout will be avoided.

One final guiding principle for every player’s draft stock is how they play in big games and against quality opponents. How NFL scouts view each of these players in comparison to their peers can swing dramatically with a great or awful game on the biggest stages.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com