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The 2021 NFL Draft Could Be BYU’s Best in Last 20 Years

Several BYU players could be taken in the upcoming NFL Draft. It could be their most prosperous class in two decades.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at BYU USA TODAY NETWORK

There are two ultimate goals of every college football program. The first is to win a championship and second is to get as many of their players to the National Football League as possible.

BYU has plenty of history in the NFL, with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Steve Young, another Super Bowl champion quarterback in Jim McMahon, along with Pro Bowlers like Bart Oates, Todd Christensen, Chad Lewis, and many others.

Currently, BYU has a healthy crop of Cougars in the NFL starting with All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner. Taysom Hill always grabs headlines and Kyle Van Noy and Daniel Sorensen each have had steady careers on defense. Jamaal Williams is taking handoffs from MVP-frontrunner Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. A host of others are making an impact.

Now, looking ahead to 2021, BYU looks to deliver their biggest NFL crop in at least 20 years. The Cougars have not enjoyed multiple draft picks since 2010 with Dennis Pitta and Harvey Unga. This could finally be the year it happens.

BYU has not had multiple selections in the first three rounds since 2002 (Doug Jolley, Ryan Denney). It’s basically a foregone conclusion that Zach Wilson will be selected sometime during the first round on April 29. Many of the top 15 teams in the draft are looking for a quarterback and most pundits have Wilson second behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence among quarterback prospects, others at worst have him third behind Justin Fields.

The question will be will other Cougars hear their names called that fateful weekend?

Brady Christensen plays the most in-demand offensive line position in the game at left tackle. Every NFL team wants to protect their franchise prize at quarterback. Per Pro Football Focus, Christensen was the highest graded offensive lineman in college football in 2020. Based on that alone, the Bountiful, Utah native should be getting some first round love. Tackles are in high demand and Christensen could be one of the first few off the board if his testing goes well in the pre-draft process.

BYU has not had a first round pick since Ziggy Ansah went fifth overall in 2013. He is the only first rounder to come out of BYU since 2000.

For what it’s worth, BYU has not had multiple first round picks since 1987.

It does not stop there for the Cougars. Tristen Hoge came into 2020 with plenty of hype but illness set him back for much of the season. However, at full strength, he still should be considered one of the best interior line prospects in the draft. He was invited to participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Three other BYU Cougars were invited to that prestigious bowl to help them prepare for a possible future in the NFL. Tight end Matt Bushman got invited after generating plenty of buzz after his first three years in Provo, before suffering a devastating knee injury ahead of the 2020 season. Many teams still view him as a potential big weapon in the NFL pass game.

Khyiris Tonga got some draft buzz as a defensive tackle prospect after the 2019 season. He elected to return for his senior year and it paid off. He set a career high with 3.5 sacks with 36 tackles and five passes defensed. Any NFL team looking to beef up their run defense would be happy to have a player with Tonga’s profile.

Linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi led the team in tackles in 2020 and was also invited to the bowl. He is not getting as much draft buzz as the others but teams usually want to take a good look at a player who is a tackling machine like Kaufusi.

Center James Empey is also getting some draft love. WalterFootball totes him as a top seven center prospect in the draft, although Empey will be returning to BYU in 2021

Other players may get drafted late or, if they go undrafted, should sign quickly as an undrafted free agent. Players like Troy Warner, Zayne Anderson, Chris Wilcox, Chandon Herring and Dax Milne, and more have NFL hopes this spring and should get looks from multiple teams.

However you slice it, it looks like this will be the most prosperous draft class BYU has had since at least 2002, perhaps since the glory days of the 1980s.