University of Utah football fans will always love Brandon Burton for blocking a potentially game-losing field goal against BYU at the end of the 2010 college football regular season.
Soon, Ute fans will be rooting for Burton while he wears another uniform. Burton is expected to be the first local player selected in this week's NFL draft, which begins today with the first round. The second and third rounds are on Friday, while rounds 4-7 take place on Saturday.
It is a lean year for local prospects, with Burton leading the way. Burton, a shutdown cornerback at Utah, declared for the NFL draft after his junior season. He had 51 tackles and two interceptions for the Utes last season, and provided their biggest play of the year with the game-saving field goal block against the Cougars.
Burton is projected to be picked somewhere between the second and fifth rounds.
The only other sure bet to be selected in the NFL draft is Utah State cornerback Curtis Marsh. Marsh started his collegiate career as a running back before moving over to the defensive side of the ball. He projects as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Another local player who will more than likely get drafted is former Cottonwood standout Stanley Havili. Havili played four years at USC and is one of the draft's top fullbacks. He could get selected in the later rounds.
Other players hoping for a late draft call are Utah center Zane Taylor and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga. BYU's top draft prospect is safety Andrew Rich.
The local prospects are hoping to enter the NFL at an uncertain time. The NFL owners locked the players out on March 12 before Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minnesota temporarily blocked it earlier this week. The bitter and destructive labor battle between the two sides could only be beginning, giving this year's draft a much different feel than usual.
"We are in a period of uncertainty and that is something you want to remove," Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters in New York on Wednesday. "It's one of the things I don't think is healthy for the players, the clubs and, most importantly, our fans. So the sooner we can get rid of that uncertainty the better."
Uncertainty remains at the top of the draft, where the Carolina Panthers have the first pick. Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who led the Tigers to the NCAA national championship in January, is the favorite to be the first pick. That isn't a slam dunk, however, because there are questions about Newton's character, heart and football IQ. There is no doubting his physical skills, though.
Quarterbacks, including Newton, will be a big theme for this year's draft. At least seven of them could go in the first two rounds. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert will be picked in the top 10. Washington's Jake Locker, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, Florida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton have first-round aspirations, and they'll likely have their names called before the second round ends. The signal-callers' draft stock is boosted because several teams are currently quarterback needy.
Defensive linemen, the guys who will be chasing around the new millionaire quarterbacks, are expected to dominate the first round.