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Early Look At BYU Football’s Top Prospects For 2023 NFL Draft

May 1, 2022, 3:00 AM | Updated: 3:00 am
byu, byu football, blake freeland, isaac rex...
BYU football offensive lineman Blake Freeland will be one of the top names to watch from the Cougars for the 2023 NFL draft. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)
(Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU football is now on a streak of consecutive years with NFL draft picks.

In the 2021 draft, BYU had five players drafted, headlined by quarterback Zach Wilson going No. 2 overall to the New York Jets. Then over the weekend, single-season rushing leader Tyler Allgeier was taken in the fifth round to the Atlanta Falcons.

But that’s in the past; it’s time to look ahead to the future. Which BYU players could hear their names called in the 2023 NFL draft? There’s a good chance it will be more than one as the Cougars have a dozen players that could be on NFL radars next year.

“We have a lot of offensive line presence next year,” said BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake. “The decision-making process is going to be down to guys if they want to be here another year or with a degree in hand if they’re going to come out early, even with another year of eligibility left. That’s what it’s going to come down to. We have to accommodate them regardless of when they decide to go to the league and give it their shot. And when they do that, we need to make sure that we do everything we can while they are here and while they can afterward to get them to the league.”

BYU football players to watch for the 2023 NFL Draft

Listed alphabetically

* = denotes fewer than three years played in college football

Clark Barrington, IOL

The highest-graded starting BYU offensive lineman in 2021 by Pro Football Focus was Clark Barrington. A 6-foot-6, 302-pound guard, Barrington earned All-American recognitions from PFF and The Action Network last season for his play.

 

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Barrington has racked up 26 starts during his BYU career as he enters his fifth season in Provo this fall.

A force in BYU’s wide zone scheme, Barrington is a dual-sport athlete in high school who has a nasty mean streak on the field.

Tyler Batty, DE*

One of the best pass rushers in the BYU program, Batty prepares for his third season with the Cougars. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Batty has recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in the past two years.

 

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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake wants more explosive plays from the defense in 2022; Batty could be the answer for that. If he puts up a season where he puts up big sack numbers, he could be a player who has a decision to make about the NFL next year.

Christopher Brooks, RB

BYU has quietly built up a pipeline of running backs to the NFL during the Kalani Sitake era. First, it was Jamaal Williams who the Green Bay Packers selected in 2017. Then former South Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams signed an undrafted free agent contract coming off an ACL injury with the Baltimore Ravens. Williams was a week one starter for Baltimore last year. Now Tyler Allgeier goes to the Atlanta Falcons in round five of this year’s draft.

 

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Will Cal transfer Christopher Brooks be next in line?

Brooks was one of the top offensive players for the Berkeley program in 2019. He received recruiting interest in the Transfer Portal from Purdue, Notre Dame, Arizona State, and San Diego State.

Brooks is the type of athlete that impresses getting off the bus. At 6-foot-1, 235-pounds, Brooks is a bruising back that has the makings to be BYU’s feature ball carrier this fall.

Blake Freeland, OT

Blake Freeland is the type of story NFL scouts love in prospects; freaky dual-sport athletes that have their best football ahead of them. That’s Blake Freeland.

Freeland enters only his fourth year playing the offensive line position as a football player.

 

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It’s well documented that he was once a quarterback, tight end, and all-around athlete in high school. Freeland arrived at BYU as a 260-pound prospect and is now at 305-pounds holding down the left tackle spot.

Since playing his first offensive line snaps as a football player in 2019, Freeland has started 29 games for the Cougars. Last season, he switched from the right tackle position to the left side. 247Sports is already giving Freeland some early buzz as a 1st round selection in the 2023 draft. If he puts together a big year against the schedule BYU has on deck this fall, Freeland could be on his way to being a day one pick.

Jaren Hall, QB

BYU starting quarterback Jaren Hall is flying under the radar right now, but he will have the opportunity to climb up NFL drafts with a big season this fall.

In his first full season as the starting quarterback at BYU last year, Hall completed 64% of his passes, threw for 2,583 yards, and had an impressive 4-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio.

 

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Hall’s decision-making was excellent last season, and he showed that he has the top-end speed to break away from speedy defenders.

Unlike the 2022 class, the 2023 quarterbacks appear to be stacked in next year’s NFL draft. But Hall has the offensive personnel around him to put up some big numbers while improving his accuracy and command of Aaron Roderick’s offense that produced the No. 2 pick, Zach Wilson.

Kaleb Hayes, CB

Hayes, an Oregon State transfer, immediately impacted BYU’s secondary last season. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback started in 10 games and now enters 2022 as BYU’s top cornerback.

 

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Last year, Hayes recorded 12 pass breakups and showed toughness to constantly battle when teams would target his side of the field.

Malik Moore, DB

A former dual-sport athlete in high school that excelled in track & field, Moore shined last year at safety, recording three interceptions. Moore has a willingness to get in the mix and make tackles. Last season he had 32 tackles and three pass breakups.

 

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Puka Nacua, WR

In an NFL that now puts premium draft capital on the wide receiver position, Puka Nacua is an intriguing player. A heralded four-star recruit out of Orem High School that was once committed to USC and then ultimately signed with Washington, Nacua transferred to BYU to be closer to his family and his grandma.

 

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During his first year with the BYU football program, Nacua showed playmaking ability averaging 18.7 yards per catch and hauling in six touchdown grabs. Nacua also proved to be a valuable weapon on jet sweeps totaling 148 yards.

At 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, Nacua has had an NFL body since high school. Another productive year at BYU could make him a Top-100 prospect.

Keenan Pili, LB

A tackling machine as a 4-3 MIKE linebacker, Pili racked up 31 tackles in three games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said in spring that Pili is expected to be back and ready for fall camp this season.

 

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When healthy, Pili was the leader of BYU’s defense that shut down Pac-12 Champion Utah and Arizona State to fewer than 20 points.

Isaac Rex, TE

Rex is working his way back from a season-ending injury against USC last November. The 6-foot-6, 247-pound tight end was a favorite target for Zach Wilson during the 2020 season, recording 12 touchdown grabs.

 

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Last year, the numbers dipped in the receiving game as Rex went from 37 grabs in 2020 to 18 in 2021 and only three touchdowns. Still, his ability to block is the best in BYU’s tight end room. He’s a versatile player that can create mismatches with his size.

Ryan Rehkow, Punter*

During the 2022 NFL draft, we learned that teams will spend draft picks on specialists. For example, two NFL teams drafted punters in the fourth round of this year’s draft, and then another two in the sixth and seventh rounds.

There’s hope for a big leg like Ryan Rehkow to be a future NFL draft pick.

 

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Rehkow has been the starting punter for BYU football over the past two years, and he’s been outstanding. In 2021, Rehkow had a career-best 83-yard punt against Arizona State. Rehkow averaged 48.58 yards per punt for the entire year and had 19 of his 40 punts go beyond 50 yards.

At 6-foot-6, 232-pounds, BYU special teams coordinator Ed Lamb has said Rehkow is athletic enough that he could have played other positions in BYU’s program. But he’s too valuable at punter.

Gunner Romney, WR

Last year, Gunner Romney had all intentions to move on to pursue a career in the NFL. But injuries derailed those plans, and now Romney, a fifth-year senior, is back one for last season.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound receiver had 34 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games played in 2021. Romney dealt with three injuries last season and returned in short order from each setback.

This fall will be an opportunity for Romney to put up big numbers in an offense that has the makings to be a high-powered unit. It also is a chance to prove he can stay healthy throughout a season. During his BYU career, Romney has dealt with a variety of injuries.

 

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Despite the injuries, when healthy, Romney has proven to be a productive receiver at BYU, racking up 1,900 yards and nine touchdowns over the last four years.

Payton Wilgar, LB

With former preferred walk-ons Dax Milne and Tyler Allgeier being selected in consecutive years, it begs the question, who will be the next PWO to get drafted? You don’t have to think about it too hard.

Linebacker Payton Wilgar is the easy choice.

 

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Wilgar used the Transfer Portal as leverage after the 2018 season to get a scholarship; it was a smart move by BYU football coaches as Wilgar has been one of the leaders of the defense.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker from St. George has racked up 168 tackles over the past three seasons. Wilgar’s 2021 season ended early after he decided to have season-ending surgery on his shoulder, a nagging injury he played through last season.

When he’s healthy, Wilgar is a playmaker. He’s pulled down five interceptions and also piled up 16.5 tackles for loss at BYU.

Next in line: Chaz Ah You, Ben Bywater, D’Angelo Mandell, Pepe Tanuvasa, Max Tooley, Earl Tuioti-Mariner.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com 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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