BYU Football’s Top NFL Draft Eligible Players With Matt Bushman Now Out

Sep 4, 2020, 11:32 PM
Brady Christensen - BYU...
BYU offensive lineman Brady Christensen poses for a photo at the Indoor Training Facility at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU’s Matt Bushman suffering a season-ending injury has been an emotional ordeal for the 2020 Cougar Football team. But in the words of offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, “the show must go on”.

Coaches and staff have spoken at length about the depth and talent returning to the 2020 BYU team. Despite all the depth and experience, Bushman appeared to be the only sure-fire NFL Draft pick.

Top BYU NFL Draft Prospects in 2021

Who has the next best case to make it to the professional “show” after their days at BYU are over?

Let’s take a look.

Note: With the NCAA creating a blanket waiver on eligibility this year, all players –including seniors– can return in 2021 if they wish. But these are draft-eligible players who are at least three-plus years removed from high school.

* = Underclassmen

Khyiris Tonga, Nose Tackle

Like Bushman, Tonga turned down the NFL last year to return to BYU for his senior season in 2020. This preseason, Bushman, not Tonga, was named to the Reese’s Senior Bowl Top 250 watch list heading into the season. Which might indicate that Tonga has work to do to improve his draft stock.

Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo said Tonga might be one of the three best tackles in college football this year. A former tight end in high school, Tonga shows plays light on his feet for a guy listed at 6-foot-4, 321-pounds.

Last summer, Tonga was clocked in at a 4.95 40-yard dash which highlights the type of athleticism he has. Now he has to be more consistent and reliable on the field which is something that he has acknowledged as areas he wants to improve.

BYU’s revamped schedule amidst COVID-19 is not as daunting as the previous slate. Tonga should be dominant in a lot of these matchups.

Brady Christensen, Left Tackle*

From a two-star recruit to one of the best offensive tackles in college football, Christensen’s rise has been very impressive. Christensen graduated high school weighing 245-pounds and now he checks in at 300-lbs and standing at 6-foot-6. Ideal measurements for a guy who is tasked with protecting a quarterbacks blindside.

An older prospect due to serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christensen was graded as the No. 5 pass-blocking offensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus. Another dominant year this fall could lead to Christensen mulling over his options with returning or declaring for the NFL.

James Empey, Center*

Empey had the tall task of replacing four-year starter Tejan Koroma in 2018, who had practice squad stints with the Kansas City Chiefs. The former American Fork High star has been nothing but excellent at the center spot. Starting in the last 26 games, Empey could be one of the program’s best centers of all-time. Pro Football Focus grades him as the best pass-blocking center in the country.

Tristen Hoge, Guard/Center

A former four-star recruit, Hoge signed with Notre Dame out of high school before transferring to BYU. Hoge has started in 18 games during his BYU career and is coming back in 2020 from a season-ending injury last fall. Can play any position along the offensive line but he fits best in the interior at guard or center.

The Reese’s Senior Bowl named Hoge to the Top 250 seniors to watch list.

Chandon Herring, Tackle/Guard

Chandon “The Viking” Herring is an incredible athlete that will blow scouts away in a Pro Day setting. Now he has to continue improving in games. Herring was tabbed as BYU’s starting right tackle for week one against Navy. The former three-star recruit is 6-foot-7 and weighs 310-pounds and he runs a 4.9 40-yard dash. There’s a reason Herring ended up on Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks” list.

Zach Wilson, Quarterback*

Wilson enters his junior season with a clean bill of health and the trust from coaches to take BYU’s offense to new heights. The man some have dubbed the “Mormon Manziel” for his ability to improvise out of the pocket both through the air and on the ground. Wilson saw dips in his QB efficiency, TD-INT ratio, and completion percentage last season. But that was during a year that saw him recovering from off-season shoulder surgery plus an injured thumb.

During fall camp, Wilson was considered the clear-cut starting quarterback by coaches and according to Grimes, “earned the job because of his play in fall camp.” Wilson’s ceiling as a quarterback is intriguing and many believe his best football is still ahead of him.

Chris Wilcox, Cornerback

Last summer, Wilcox was already drawing attention from NFL scouts. If healthy, the attention should continue as the NFL continues to look for cornerbacks who have a ton of speed and athleticism. Wilcox is a speedster standing in at 6-foot-2 and 195-pounds.

His lifelong goal has been to make it in the NFL. Now he needs to stay healthy and put together a body of work that he can be a lockdown corner for an entire season.

Isaiah Kaufusi, Linebacker

What NFL team isn’t going to look at a player named Kaufusi? The Kaufusi family is a football institution and Isaiah is the next in line. Posted a career-best 60 tackles in 2019, but he still feels he has more to prove in his game. His best film since being at BYU might be back in 2018 when he dominated against a nationally-ranked Utah team before going down with an injury.

A sideline-to-sideline player, Kaufusi will be used in a variety of ways in BYU’s multiple defenses.

Zayne Anderson, Safety

A nagging shoulder caused Anderson to be back for his sixth year in Provo this fall. Last year, Anderson played in two games in 2019, one at linebacker and then back to his original position at safety before being shut down for the season.

Anderson is a gifted athlete who shed 20 pounds this past off-season to have a body ready to play on the backend of the defense once again.

Troy Warner, Safety

Injuries have been a big problem in Warner’s career at BYU. The redshirt senior has battled a lisfranc injury that has taken a while to fully recover. Now Warner is fully healthy and he’s expected to be a significant contributor at safety and cornerback possibly.

Chaz Ah You, Safety/Linebacker

Ah You started his BYU career in 2017 at safety then switched to linebacker. Now the former four-star recruit is back at safety in a position that the Cougars are calling “Cinco”. Its a hybrid position that will allow Ah You to play safety, sometimes linebacker, or even safety. Great instincts and has big-time talent in the mold of former BYU greats such as Fred Warner and Kyle Van Noy.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Football’s Top NFL Draft Eligible Players With Matt Bushman Now Out