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The 2021 NFL Draft Was Historic Success For BYU

Zach Wilson dons a New York Jets hat after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. (BYU Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – 2020 was a special year for BYU football, who turned the chaos of college football amidst a global pandemic into one of their most successful seasons in decades. That success continues to pay off as five former Cougars heard their names called during the 2021 NFL Draft.

Underclassmen Zach Wilson, Brady Christensen and Dax Milne capitalized on their success and found homes in the NFL. Seniors Khyiris Tonga and Chris Wilcox turned their time at BYU into selections in the NFL Draft. All of those players were under-recruited out of college and turned adversity into accomplishment.

Five players selected in the NFL Draft are the most selections from BYU in one draft since 2002. Zach Wilson became the highest-selected player from BYU in NFL Draft history, when he was selected 2nd to the New York Jets. Brady Christensen was the first BYU offensive lineman drafted in 16 years. And he was selected with the 70th pick, the same as former Cougs Fred Warner (2018) and Bronson Kaufusi (2016).

Needless to say, the 2021 NFL Draft will be one remembered fondly by Cougar fans for years to come. Here are the biggest NFL Draft classes from BYU since 1980, as heard on the “Top 5” segment on Cougar Sports Saturday (KSL Newsradio, Noon-3pm).

BYU’s Largest NFL Draft Classes Since 1980

2002

Following a 12-2 season, the first in the post-Lavell Edwards era for BYU, the Cougars sent five players into the league in the 2002 NFL Draft. Two players went in the 2nd round, TE Doug Jolley to the Oakland Raiders and DE Ryan Denney to the Buffalo Bills. The stars on offense for the Cougars in 2001 were QB Brandon Doman and Doak Walker award winner RB Luke Staley. Doman was taken in the 5th round by the San Francisco 49ers and Staley was selected in the 7th round by the Detroit Lions. The player who had the best career, though, was the last player selected: DE Brett Keisel. The Pittsburgh Steelers picked Keisel with the 242nd pick and he was a steal. Keisel played 12 seasons for the Steelers, making a pro bowl and winning two Super Bowls.

1995

BYU was a Top 25 team in 1994, going 10-3 with a Top 30 offense. It was the Cougar offense that had NFL teams interested in the 1995 NFL Draft, where four out of the five BYU players selected came from the offense. QB John Walsh entered the draft as a junior, due in large part to overly-optimistic draft expectations. He was selected in the 7th round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Two offensive linemen were drafted in 1995. G Evan Pilgrim was selected in the 3rd round by the Chicago Bears and T Eli Herring was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 6th round. Herring told NFL teams he would not play in the league because of his refusal to play on Sundays. Despite that the Raiders still drafted Herring, who otherwise would have been an early selection in the draft. TE Tim Hanshaw was picked by the San Francisco 49ers in the 4th round and DT Travis Hall was picked in the 6th round by the Atlanta Falcons.

1986

In 1985, BYU followed up their national championship season with another solid year. The Cougars went 10-3 and never fell lower than 18th in the AP poll. Many of the stars on the 1984 team entered the NFL this year and it led to seven Cougars being drafted in the 1986 NFL Draft. The highest selection was QB Robbie Bosco, who went in the 3rd round to the Green Bay Packers.

Three linebackers were taken from the stellar Cougar defense. The Cincinnati Bengals took two, selecting Leon White in the 5th round and Cary Whittingham in the 9th round. Kurt Gouveia was selected by Washington in the 8th round. Vai Sikahema became a special teams star after being drafted by the St Louis Cardinals in the 10th round. WR Glen Kozlowski was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 11th round and DB Jeff Sprowls was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the 12th round.

1985

Success brings attention from the NFL, as we have seen in 2021. After a national championship season in 1984, the Cougars had five players selected in the 1985 NFL Draft. C Trevor Matich was a 1st round pick, going 28th to the New England Patriots. DB Kyle Morrell was selected in the 4th round by the Minnesota Vikings. The St Louis Cardinals took G Luis Wong in the 5th round and the Dallas Cowboys drafted DE Jim Herrmann in the 7th round. It was P Lee Johnson who would had the longest career of the bunch. After being selected in the 5th round by the Houston Oilers, Johnson played 18 years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.

1981

The BYU Cougars had the #1 offense in 1980, led by QB Jim McMahon.  After winning the Miracle Bowl against SMU, the Cougars sent seven players to the league in the 1981 NFL Draft. TE Clay Brown was the first to hear his name, going in the 2nd round to the Denver Broncos. Two wide receivers were taken in the draft: Scott Phillips to the Seattle Seahawks in the 4th round and Lloyd Jones to the New York Jets in the 8th round.

RB Eric Lane was also selected in the 8th round, joining his teammate Phillips with the Seattle Seahawks. T Nick Eyre was drafted by the Houston Oilers in the 4th round. Two defensive players were taken in this draft. DE Galen Titensor was taken in the 3rd round by the Dallas Cowboys and LB Glen Redd was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the 8th round.

The Cougars are already seeing the fruits of their success in 2020. Five players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft and even more players signing as undrafted free agents. There’s a new wave of Cougar alumni in the league and more to come. Kalani Sitake and his staff have shown that they can develop 2-3 star recruits into NFL talent. Perhaps last year’s success will help Sitake secure more top recruits in the future. We won’t know for a while how successful this group of players will be in the NFL, but this group will be remembered as one of the biggest draft classes in BYU history.

Listen to the entire segment from Cougar Sports Saturday discussing the 2021 NFL Draft and BYU’s biggest draft classes since 1980.

  • BYU Cougars Scoreboard

  • BYU Cougars Team Leaders

  • BYU Cougars Standings

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