The annual National Football League draft has been a quiet affair for Utah's collegiate prospects in recent years. In the past five years, for instance, only 13 Utah collegiate players have been selected in the business end of the draft - the first five rounds. Last year it was one.
So much for improving Utah's employment picture."It's just one of those cycles, I guess," says BYU defensive coordinator Dick Felt. "There have been good players, but they just don't quite fit the dimensions of the pro game."
As usual, a handful of Utahns will be taken in the middle to late rounds of this year's draft, which will be conducted Sunday and Monday in New York. It is unlikely any of them will go in the first four rounds.
Utah State's Kendal Smith and Brent Snyder, Weber State's Jeff Carlson (and possibly Fine Unga), BYU's Rodney Rice, Pat Thompson and John Hunter all have good chances to be drafted. Utah's Carl Harry could be a surprise pick.
Here's a closer look at Utah's draft prospects.
- Kendal Smith, wide receiver, 5-9 1/2, 185, Utah State. He had impressive numbers - 132 catches the last two seasons, a 17-yard average, not to mention 25 career TD catches and 2,952 career receiving yards. Smith has good speed (4.55), and his size is adequate in today's game.
- Jeff Carlson, quarterback, 6-4, 215, Weber State. Carlson has quietly attracted a lot of attention. Many of the NFL's best offensive teams have sent their top brass to see Carlson for themselves, including Sam Wyche, the Bengals' head coach; Mike Holmgren, the 49ers' quarterback coach; the legendary Sid Gillman, a quarterback consultant for the Chiefs; and Mike Holovac, the Oilers' assistant general manager. All of which is a good indicator of how serious NFL clubs are about a player.
Carlson has a big arm, and although he's not particularly fast, he's elusive and agile. He threw for 6,147 yards, 47 touchdowns and 33 interceptions during his two seasons as a starter (however, 23 of his interceptions came last season). Of course Carlson did play at the Division 1-AA level, but that didn't stop Neil Lomax, among others.
- Brent Snyder, quarterback, 6-4, 220, Utah State. Snyder's size and stats are almost identical to Carlson's. Size durability, arm strength smarts and toughness are his plusses. So are his stats: 6,105 passing yards and 39 touchdowns in two years as a starter. But his speed is a question mark. So are interceptions. He had 35 of them - 21 last year (and 10 of them came in two games alone).
- Pat Thompson, punter, BYU. Thompson is the lone Utahn to be consistently listed among the top players at his position. He punts long (a 44-yard average last year), high and accurate. However, he tailed off at the end of last season (he has recently hired Gary Zauner, an NFL punting consultant, to fine tune his technique). He rates highly, but pro clubs prefer not to use a draft choice, particularly an early one, to sign a kicker.
- Rodney Rice, cornerback, 5-7 1/2, 175, BYU. Except for size, Rice has everything: speed, good hands (12 interceptions in two years), quickness, leaping ability, excellent one-on-one coverage skills. He broke his arm late in the season and missed the post-season all-star games, which didn't help his cause.
- Carl Harry, wide receiver, 5-9, 170, Utah. He's not included on most pre-draft lists, but . . . he's fast, smart, a good student. He's also erratic. He'll make the spectacular catch and miss the easy one. He could go in the middle rounds.
- John Hunter, off. line, 6-8, 300, BYU. He was very erratic throughout his career, but his stock has climbed considerably at the NFL combines, where he has tested well. With his size, his improvement and his fiesty temperament, he could be a surprise choice in the middle or late rounds. One coach called him a "good project-type guy."
- Fine Unga, running back, 5-11, 218, Weber State. He has decent size and speed (4.6). He was an excellent backfield receiver and had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
- Eddie Johnson, running back, 5-9, 180, Utah. Johnson looked like a sure high-round draft pick early in his career, but that was before a serious knee injury. Utah coaches say he has recovered, but it has yet to show on the field. The word is he hasn't tested particularly well at the combines. He could be a free agent.
Scott Peterson and Troy Long, BYU's starting safeties the past two years, aren't likely to be drafted. Neither has the speed or quickness, and Peterson is not considered a physical player. Long, despite his lack of speed, had fine credentials at BYU. Who knows? . . .
BYU's Brian White, an offensive tackle, might end up as a late-round draft choice. The Y.'s other tackle, Warren Wheat, is a likely free agent.
Utah's fullback Brian Bero, a converted quarterback, has received a lot of late attention from scouts. He lacks speed, but he's a good backfield receiver and a powerful runner. Three NFL teams use the U-back now, and that might win Utah's own U-back, Curt Jones, a look.
Utah State's Jerry Brown and Brian Hunsaker have received attention from the scouts. Brown, a four-year starter at guard, has good size (6-41/2, 275) and has tested well. He could be a surprise draft pick. Hunsaker, a defensive tackle, is a fine athlete and has good size (6-5, 265), but he did not do as well as expected last year.