BYU, Utah Players Garnering Early First Round Buzz For 2023 NFL Draft

Apr 29, 2022, 1:24 PM
BYU Football - Utah Utes - Kyle Whittingham - Kalani Sitake...
PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 11 : Both Utah and BYU head coaches Kyle Whittingham (left) and Kalani Sitake (right) have players earning first round NFL draft buzz for 2023. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The last time BYU and Utah football had a player selected in the first round of the same NFL draft was in 2013. When Ziggy Ansah from BYU made a meteoric climb to No. 5 and Star Lotulelei was picked at No. 14.

That was the only time the top in-state schools have produced first-rounders in the same year.

But could it happen again in 2023? The buzz is already building towards that being a possibility.

Blake Freeland and Clark Phillips projected as NFL draft first-rounders

247Sports put out their way-too-early first-round predictions for next year’s draft. A player from both BYU and Utah checked into the first round.

Blake Freeland was projected to go No. 21 overall to the Baltimore Ravens from BYU. Heralded cornerback Clark Phillips III appeared at No. 29 to the Green Bay Packers for Utah.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that both of those players are pulling in first-round NFL draft buzz. But their paths to this are far different.

Clark Phillips III snapshot

Clark Phillips III is the highest-rated recruit Utah football has signed in the 21st century. Phillips was originally committed to Ohio State, a 5-foot-10, 184-pound cornerback from Lakewood, California before he flipped his pledge to the Utes.

Philipps immediately filled the void left behind by second-round NFL draft pick Jaylon Johnson. The former four-star prospect has started in all 19 games the past two years since he arrived on campus.

Freeland’s career to this point

Blake Freeland is a little bit different story. A former three-star prospect out of Herriman High School, Freeland was once a quarterback in high school and an all-around athlete.

The 6-foot-8, 305-pound Freeland didn’t play offensive line during his prep career. But former BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes projected Freeland as a big-time offensive lineman in college.

Freeland’s first game action in his football career as an offensive lineman came in 2019 as a true freshman against Boise State. Through three years at BYU, Freeland has started 28 games at offensive tackle, with 13 of those starts coming last season at left tackle, replacing third-round draft pick Brady Christensen.

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

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BYU, Utah Players Garnering Early First Round Buzz For 2023 NFL Draft