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Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL, File

Patrick Kinahan: Utah hangs with elite NFL draft company

By Patrick Kinahan, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Apr. 29, 2020 at 10:17 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Any debate over the best conference in college football is settled without argument each year over a three-day period in April.

Without a doubt, the NFL draft is the ultimate arbiter in determining supremacy for a sport that involves a vote to select the four teams anointed to play for a national championship. And as it has done with great regularly, the Southeastern Conference proved to be best with the most players drafted in last week’s draft.

Through the seven rounds, the SEC led the way with 63 draft picks, followed by the Big Ten at 48 and the Pac-12 finishing third with 32. Accordingly, undefeated national champion Louisiana State had the highest individual amount of players drafted with 14.

“The reason you come to a school like LSU is you want to win a national championship, you want to graduate and you want to get drafted,” coach Ed Orgeron told ESPN.

Locally, once again, Utah dominated. Seven Utes, including six off of last season’s defense, were drafted.

For the first time since 2015, no player from BYU was selected. Quarterback Jordan Love, who went in the first round to the Green Bay Packers, was the only Aggie to get his name called.

As it is nationally with the SEC, the same goes for the Utes in their home state. The Pac-12 program is the undisputed best in Utah.

For recruits considering to play football in Utah the choice is clear — if they want to play in the NFL, the obvious path is to sign with Kyle Whittingham’s program. No doubt, Whittingham is the way.

Just ask Terrell Burgess, who spent his first three years as a reserve defensive back. Finally becoming a starter this past season as a senior, Burgess was drafted in the third round by the Los Angeles Rams.

“It’s really an illustration that if you just don’t abort and jump in a transfer portal or something like that, just stay the course, that good things can happen,” Whittingham said. “And Terrell is a perfect example of that.”

Three other defensive backs joined Burgess in the draft, along with three linemen and running back Zack Moss. Another five players were signed as undrafted free agents.

As often the case with Utah’s recruits, Burgess played a lot on offense during high school before switching over strictly to defense in college. He’s the latest of many examples that Whittingham and his staff of assistant coaches saw something in as a high school player.

To them, the essence of recruiting is about projecting a few years down the road. The same thing happened one year ago with Cody Barton, an often-injured high school safety who turned one season of being a full-time starter into going in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks.

“We really are a developmental program. We’ve been that for a lot of years,” Whittingham said.

“Where we’ve made our money is through developing the players that we get in the program.”

In addition to tying for fifth nationally with the most players drafted, Utah led the Pac-12 with its seven selections. Oregon, which crushed the Utes in the conference championship game, was next with four picks.

Closer to home, one of the greatest rivalries in college football has become completely one sided. By any metric, in a total reversal from a 20-year period in the 1970s and 1980s, Utah has outpaced BYU and is riding a nine-game winning streak.

“We’re in a different place,” former Utah lineman and current offensive assistant Trevor Reilly said during an interview on The Zone Sports Network. “It’s a little bit harder to recruiting down there with the LDS Honor Code thing and, obviously, we have the Pac-12 going for us. It’s just we’re in two different spots. BYU has put out some good players, too.”

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About the Author: Patrick Kinahan

Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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