AROUND THE NFL — The NFL Combine will have a Beehive State flavor when it kicks off Feb. 26 in Indianapolis.
Six Utes will headline a local class of nine local players at the NFL Combine this year, including brothers Cody and Jackson Barton, safety Marquise Blair, linebacker Chase Hansen, kicker Matt Gay and punter Mitch Wishnowsky.
Fresh off a standout performance at two postseason college all-star games, BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki also received a combine invitation. He joins Utah State tight end Dax Raymond, who left Logan a year early to enter the NFL Draft, as well as Weber State offensive lineman Sua Opeta.
Utah's six invitees were among the 20 most nationally, tied with Auburn, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Missouri, NC State and West Virginia.
The best grade amongst most pre-draft projections goes to Blair, who holds 5.63 grade from NFL.com and is projected to be an NFL starter. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound safety played in nine games with six starts after emerging at Utah from Dodge City Community College in Kansas in 2017, and he finished his Utah career with 107 tackles, two interceptions and six passes defended in two seasons with the Utes.
Hansen is projected as a “better-than-average chance to make an NFL roster” by NFL.com. A former quarterback at Lone Peak, the 6-foot-3 Hansen is a two-time all-Pac-12 selection, both at linebacker and safety, and recorded 164 career solo tackles, the seventh-most in Utah program history.
Both Barton brothers are projected to “need time in developmental leagues,” while Gay and Wishnowsky boast 5.2 grades and are projected to make a roster as specialists.
Takitaki survived a troubled start to his BYU career to emerge as one of the Cougars’ leaders on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound native of Fontana, California was a team captain as a senior in 2018, and finished his four-year career with 237 tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries coming off the edge for the Cougars. He’s listed as a player who "likely needs time in a developmental league" by NFL.com (he was also listed as "Taki Takitaki" on the official league combine bio, for what it’s worth).
Raymond is projected to make a roster. But the 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end who prepped at Timpview High, missed the entire 2016 season with a back injury — and he’s two years older than most draft underclassmen after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Still, he rebounded to go for 863 yards and three touchdowns for all-Mountain West honorable mention honors a year after his injury.
Fellow Utah State early departure Darwin Thompson, the Aggies’ leading rusher who piled up 1,391 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, did not receive an invitation to the combine.
Former Salem Hills quarterback Porter Gustin also received a combine invitation. The 6-foot-5, 267-pound edge rusher who played collegiate at Southern California is projected to make an NFL roster.