Which BYU Football Players Are Poised For Wilson-like NFL Draft Rise?

Apr 9, 2021, 1:26 PM
BYU Football - Isaac Rex - Payton Wilgar...
BYU Football players Isaac Rex and Payton Wilgar could be risers in future NFL Drafts. (Photos: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
(Photos: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – Last year at this time, very few expected BYU football quarterback Zach Wilson to be a first-round NFL Draft pick. After an 11-1 season, Wilson is now viewed as a consensus favorite to be the No. 2 pick to the New York Jets.

It’s going to be hard for anyone to go from late-round draft prospect to No. 2 overall. Still, anything is possible if you’re elite and dominate your opposition, as Wilson proved during BYU’s 12-game season in 2020.

BYU Football players who could make meteoric NFL Draft rise in their careers

Who could be the next BYU football players to make a meteoric rise up future NFL Draft boards? Here are the names you should keep an eye on.

Isaac Rex, Tight End

At 6-foot-6, 247-pounds, Rex has the measurables that will instantly pique NFL personnel interests. Then you watch Rex on film, and he’s an elite receiver who isn’t afraid to get in the trenches and block. Rex tied Kyle Pitts, viewed by many as the best overall talent in the 2021 NFL Draft in his redshirt freshman season, in touchdown catches by a tight end with 12.

Rex has endless potential, and he looks to embody what the modern tight end should be as a guy who’s a big-play threat in the passing game along with being a solid blocker.

Puka Nacua, Wide Receiver

Puka Nacua was a high school All-American and one of the highest-rated wide receiver prospects in the class of 2019. Through two years at Washington, mired with injuries and a COVID-impacted year, Nacua comes to a BYU offense that will look to stretch the field. Nacua is a big play receiver who has elite hands. Everything that thrown Nacua’s way, he will grab. In a best-case scenario, Nacua has first-round talent if he continues to develop over the course of his BYU career.

Blake Freeland, Offensive Tackle

It’s not often you hear of a guy going from quarterback to offensive tackle, but that’s the Blake Freeland story. A great athlete at 6-foot-8, 300-pounds, Freeland is going to have the tall task to replace consensus All-American Brady Christensen at left tackle this fall. The good news is that Freeland already has 14 starts under his belt before stepping into the left tackle role.

Freeland started at right tackle in his first two years at BYU. What makes Freeland’s rise intriguing is that his first in-game snaps as an offensive lineman in his entire football career came at BYU. He’s still learning the position and has his best football ahead of him in his career.

Keenan Pili, Linebacker

There were so many stars in the 2020 BYU football team that Keenan Pili’s season sometimes gets overlooked. The former Timpview standout racked up 72 tackles and two tackles for loss and capped off the Cougars 11-1 season with Defensive MVP honor in the Boca Raton Bowl win over UCF.

Pili is 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds and looks to be in a position to take on a huge role in BYU’s defense in 2021 and beyond. He will be a name to keep an eye on going forward.

Payton Wilgar, Linebacker

A perfect 3-4 weakside linebacker, Wilgar has great size at 6-foot-3, 245-pounds. Wilgar has already made an impressive rise in the BYU program from a preferred walk-on to a starter. In his first three years at BYU, Wilgar has racked up 111 tackles and three interceptions. Last season, he showcased his pass rusher abilities with five quarterback hurries.

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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