Bronco Mendenhall could get used to enjoying NFL draft week.
Unless he’s stoic as Brigham Young’s statue overlooking the quad on campus, he should be leaping for joy after seeing linebacker Kyle Van Noy going in the second round Friday.
His highest drafted players the past two seasons, Ziggy Ansah and Kyle Van Noy, have brought him, his program and sponsoring church tons of publicity and exposure.
Their personal stories have been the subject of television features, magazine stories, blogs on the Internet, newspaper columns and even hardcover books. The Deseret News recently sent sports writer Jeff Call to Africa to research a piece on Ansah; both are featured in “The System,” by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, and Mendenhall’s own book, “Running into the Wind.”
Yes, Mendenhall could get used to draft day. And he should. He needs to. He needs more per annum. And it appears he is serious about seeing that it gets done with a move this past year to cast a broader recruiting net.
This is a good thing.
If 2013 did one thing, it showed Mendenhall and his staff the speed and talent needed to compete with Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Washington, and after going 0-4 against Utah, it became as obvious as a Tiger Wood ailment. Surgery was needed.
Mendenhall has enhanced his approach with a fresh focus and staff and recruiting coordinator.
In 2015, Mendenhall should witness multiple draftees, including prospects Alani Fua or Craig Bills and if they decide to come out early, linebacker Bronson Kaufusi and quarterback Taysom Hill. Don’t count out one-year transfer receiver Jordan Leslie, who is as big, faster and a better jumper than Cody Hoffman.
While the Detroit Lions picked Van Noy in Friday’s second round, they’d already made Ansah a first-round No. 5 pick in 2013. Before Ansah’s draft, BYU did not have anyone drafted in 2012 and 2011.
Head, meet hand for a scratch exercise.
Counting draft picks can’t always be the watermark for how successful a college program is doing. But it can’t hurt. Mendenhall has won a ton of games and taken the Cougar to bowls where he’s won more than anybody at the school. He had a run of 43 wins in four years. BYU had someone drafted every year from 2000 to that 2011-2012 dearth, beginning with Byron Frisch, Matt Johnson and first-round pick Rob Morris in 2000.
But BYU should be more frequent than that in the draft — even with success with having players sign free agent contracts and NFL experts knocking down player stock who are older because of LDS missions.
I’m not advocating BYU should have three to five players drafted every year, but it should produce more. This has been a school tradition with O-linemen, tight ends, QBs and even receivers getting drafted and even more signing as free agents.
Surprisingly, BYU has put 10 receivers in the NFL draft beginning with Casey Boyette and Phil Odle in 1968, Golden Richards in 1973 and the latest, Austin Collie.
BYU should be putting offensive linemen into the NFL every single year. That’s an attainable goal with its recruiting base and especially with the emphasis on the Roger French tradition espoused by current offensive coordinator Robert Anae and line coach Garrett Tujuage, French disciples.
In a period of 11 years, from 1989 to 2000, French had 14 blockers drafted out of BYU, or easily more than one a year. Three separate times, French had three linemen drafted in a single year. The first time that happened was 1995 with Eli Herring, who chose not to go pro, Tim Hanshaw and Evan Pilgrim. The second time came in 1998 with Jason Anderson, Dustin Johnson and Eric Bateman. The third time came in 1999 when the NFL took Joe Wong, Daren Yancey and John Tait.
That 11-year stretch began in 1989 with John Hunter and Warren Wheat. The next year it was Outland Trophy winner Mo Elewonibi, who was followed in 1991 with Neal Fort.
When French left BYU in the late 1990s, he’d put a truckload of players into the big league. Since the Gary Crowton and Mendenhall eras, BYU has produced just two NFL offensive line draftees in 13 years, Dustin Rykert in 2003 and Scott Young in 2005.
That is unacceptable.
If one wonders why it’s been tough to keep quarterbacks healthy, find time to get receivers open, that’s your bookmark.
It is amazing to me that during that period of time, BYU football has produced two of its greatest running backs, Curtis Brown and Harvey Unga. Both established BYU’s career rushing records behind offensive linemen who, if not for Young and Rykert, were not considered draft worthy by the NFL.
Brown, Unga and now up and coming Jamaal Williams are currently in this vortex, and the common denominator during this time is Anae. Imagine what he could do if he had members of the French Legion?
As Mendenhall certainly learned this weekend, for the second May in a row, NFL draft week can be kind of fun.
Even if 2014 produced just one.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.