Future Utes in the NFL

Utah has a large draft class for 2015 with some players projected to go high

On Saturday December 20th, the Utes finished their final game of the season with a dominating win over Colorado State. For many of the players it was not only their final game as Ute, but maybe their entire football career. For a few Utes however, it was the culmination of one chapter of their football careers and the beginning of another. Nate Orchard, Kaelin Clay, Dres Anderson, Eric Rowe, and Jeremiah Poutasi have each been spending the offseason preparing for the biggest job interview of their lives, with potentially millions of dollars on the line. Lets take a deeper look at each of these guys and their potential to add to a legacy of great Utes in the NFL. For each Ute you will see a Draft Projection, and comparable player.

Nate Orchard – OLB/DE
2nd round (#57th overall) to the Carolina Panthers
NFL Comparison –Ahmed Brooks/SF
Nate Orchard is coming off a huge season in 2014, as well as a big game at the Senior Bowl and a solid combine, he currently has a lot of momentum in his favor to become a high round draft pick. Nate is seen as a OLB/pass rush specialist at the next level and if the draft were based solely on game film from the most recent season Nate would surely be a lock to go in the first round of this draft, but unfortunately for Nate, the NFL seems to put more and more emphasis on physical/athletic ability tested at the combine, along with the fact his might be the deepest position in this year’s class. This may be detrimental to Nate because he certainly isn’t the biggest, fastest or strongest DE/OLB in this year’s draft, but his ability to get to the QB is elite, but its based on relentlessness, instincts, and craftiness.
From a production standpoint Ahmed Brooks is a fringe Pro-bowler nearly every year, he is consistently productive, year in and year out in each facet of the game. He gets sacks, pressure, plenty of tackles, an interception or two, but really has a knack for making the impactful play on third down. He also looks good doing it because of the personnel around him. This is why I believe the Panthers grab Nate in the middle of the second round. Personally I believe that he will be seen as a steal if he goes anywhere later than the mid-second round pick. With former Ute Star Lotuleilei and Luke Kuechly around, Nate’s lack of lateral quickness will be minimized as plays will be pushed toward him. Nate’s strength of making a play in the backfield will be emphasized with people having to pay so much attention to his teammates, he will get the one on one matchup he needs at this level.

Jeremiah Poutasi – OG/OT
3nd round (#93 overall) to the Indianapolis Colts
NFL Comparison – Mike Iupati/ SF
After a very sub-par year in 2013, Poutasi really came to play in 2014. He seemed to learn a great deal, work even harder at his craft, mashed it together with his undeniable talent and athleticism and boom, he had a fantastic year in 2015. He was dominant from a run-blocking standpoint, moving and throwing guys around like they were nothing. He was solid but not as dominant in the pass game, protecting whichever QB was playing that week.
Iupati and Poutasi are nearly identical in size and skill set, but what sets Iupati apart (pro bowl) is his aggression and his instinct, something that Poutasi really lacks. He isn’t quite nasty enough, and as a guard it is something that he will have to learn. The question is, can this really be taught? It is Poutasi’s size and ability to drive defenders back that are making NFL scouts take notice. While he is still somewhat raw and reliant on his talent to overpower DE’s, a polished Poutasi is a Pro-Bowl caliber player. Jeremiah has also shown that he is quite quick-footed and athletic, especially for his size (6’6 330), which is more necessary for a guard when it comes to pulling and making a block at the second level of the defense; this along with his intelligence, make him more than capable of picking up the right defender. Blocking for a QB like Andrew Luck would be an ideal fit for Poutasi’s skills, since Luck is very mobile and has a quick release, his weaknesses when it comes to sustaining a block will be covered up slightly. His proficiency as a run blocker should have a big impact on the Colt’s weak run game, creating bigger holes for whoever the running back may be next year.

Kaelin Clay – WR/KR
5th round (158 overall) to the Kansas City Chiefs
NFL Comparison – Ted Ginn Jr/ AZ
Kaelin started this season on a record breaking course as a special teams game changing ace and as the season progressed he maintained that title, but also began to show flashes as a very skilled receiver. His number one weapon is and always will be his speed, which is a marquee ability, favorable to any NFL team. Add in his vision of the moving field, and lightning quick feet, he is without question the best return man available. While we know almost exactly what he is as a return man, we still have more to see as a receiver. Clay showed the ability to run past and away from just about every college DB he faced, however he didn’t show the ability to consistently make the catch in traffic, something that every receiver on the NFL level needs to be able to do. The other aspect of Kaelin’s game that will need to improve is his physicality at the line of scrimmage. In the NFL the receiver needs to be able to get his hands dirty and get physical with their opponent, whether it be getting off the jam, or blocking during the run game; Kaelin needs to improve on this in order to be a viable option to stay on the field.
Much like Clay, Ted Ginn Jr was an outstanding return man in college for Ohio State, but (at least at the college level Ginn) was a very good receiver as well, which vaulted him to a top 9 pick in 2007. That pick turned out to be WAY TOO high, because Ginn just hasn’t really panned out as a very good WR in the NFL. However he IS still playing, because of his playmaking skills as a return man. Clay can surpass Ginn as a WR, but like Ginn it will be primarily his return ability that will keep paychecks coming.
No wide receivers scored a TD for the Chiefs in 2014, which makes them a perfect fit for Kaelin for a number of reasons. Primarily as a return man he will be able to take off some of the pressure of DeAnthony Thomas, who with his slender small frame may not last long as a returner. A Special teams unit featuring Clay and “DAT” waiting to return kickoffs would easily be the most exciting in the NFL. But his ability to separate downfield as a WE will not only open himself up for Alex Smith, but open up Dwayne Bowe, Travis Kelce, and don’t forget about Jamaal Charles, all of whom will be a little more open underneath and across the middle. I don’t genuinely see Clay as a starting receiver in the NFL, however, he improved every game, he is gifted athletically, and works very hard. You just never know.

Dres Anderson – WR
5th round (160 overall) to the World Champion New England Patriots
NFL Comparison – Markus Wheaton/PIT
Dres came into the 2014 season with high expectations looking as one of, if not the, top returning receivers in the PAC-12 conference. He was known as a “speed guy” who could get away from defenders, but also make big time plays after the catch. Those expectations weren’t met, due in big part to the QB’s inability to get him the ball, along with an OC who only liked to run or throw it no further than 12 yards. By the time the Utes began throwing it down the field a bit more, Dres was out with an injury and the season at for Dres was a bust. However despite the injury and lackluster season, Dres has film and statistics from the previous year proving he is an NFL caliber wide receiver. Like Clay, Dres’ speed is huge, but unlike Clay, Dres can make the tough catch, out jumping and out working his opponent for the ball. If you can remember Markus Wheaton out of Oregon State a few years ago, you will remember a very good receiver. Much like Dres he is fast, tall, somewhat slender and seems to be a good indication of what we can expect from Dres at the next level. Wheaton had a solid second year (53 rec, 644 yds, 2 TD’s) after an injury plagued rookie season. With a solid QB and pass happy playbook this is well within the realm of possibility for Dres.
Dres is talented, he understands his role as a WR, and with his underestimated ability to block on the edge and down the field for his teammates. This “team first” mentality and play, along with his attention to the details of his game will make him a Belichick type player. With Tom Brady throwing him the ball we may see a side of Dres’ game we never saw at Rice Eccles stadium. Falling this far in the draft is not something Dres will be happy about, but it will motivate him even more to fulfill his potential, and make him the steal of the draft.

Eric Rowe – DB
2nd round (#39 Overall) to the Chicago Bears
NFL Comparison – Jimmy Smith/BAL
CB or S will be one of the big questions with Eric Rowe, with his size and having played both positions during his career at Utah, he can be seen as versatile. With the shift heading to bigger CB’s in the NFL some feel like this is where he will end up. However his playmaking numbers, while strong, were not outstanding in really either position. Where Rowe really may make an impact is lining up against NFL TE’s, his length and speed should enable him to fight for any ball thrown his way. Pass deflections are underrated by fans because every throw could/should be intercepted, but to coaches and personnel a deflection is the primary responsibility of the DB.
Rowe will need to be matched with a coach who can help him reach his potential as a CB, the potential that was left unmet as a Ute. He showed his abilities at times this year, but other times he seemed unsure and lost as a CB (early in the year). Jimmy Smith was a first round pick in 2011 by the Ravens, has shown some promise, but may at this point be a solid backup. He was injured this year and may have lost his starting spot. Just like Rowe, Smith is fast, tall, and aggressive at the line. Unlike Smith however, Rowe has yet to meet his potential. What he has going for him, is that he seemed to get better each game, and under the tutelage of a strong position coach, he could become a solid NFL player. Frankly whether its CB or S, it really doesn’t matter, because he will get his chance and he has shown that is all he needs.

Most of us will root for these guys no matter what pro team they are on, because we have watched these players essentially grow up as we followed them from high school through their college careers. It is exciting as football fans to speculate and discuss draft position and future success, it’s one of the many aspects that makes football so popular. The truth is however, that nobody really knows where these players will end up, or what kind of careers they will have; anywhere from role players, busts, starters, pro-bowlers, or even a hall of famer, but the fact remains; the very strong legacy of Utah Utes being represented in the NFL is about to get a big boost.

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