He's well-rounded. He can do everything. —Ty Detmer on Jamaal Williams
PROVO — It’s been eight years since BYU had multiple players selected in the same NFL draft.
That slump could end this weekend, as running back Jamaal Williams is projected to be selected in the third or fourth rounds and defensive lineman/linebacker Harvey Langi could be a mid-to-late-round pick.
The last time more than one Cougar was drafted was back in 2009, when wide receiver Austin Collie was taken in the fourth round and running back Fui Vakapuna was picked in the seventh round.
Since then, the Cougars have only had one player, at most, selected in each draft. Tight end Dennis Pitta was picked in the fourth round in 2010; defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah went in the first round, No. 5 overall in 2013; linebacker Kyle Van Noy was taken in the second round in 2014; and last year, defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi became a third-round pick.
During his time at BYU, Williams became the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,901 career yards. As a senior, he rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games. He ranked No. 5 nationally in rushing yards per game.
So how will he do at the next level? BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said Williams has a bright future in the NFL.
“He’s well-rounded. He can do everything. He catches the ball. Pass-protection is a strong suit of his,” Detmer said. “That’s what a lot of rookies struggle with. He’ll have a great foundation going in playing in a pro-style type of offense. There won’t be many surprises for him going in. He’ll come in ready to go and be able to contribute in multiple ways for a team.”
BYU hasn’t had a running back selected in the first three rounds of the draft since Todd Christensen was picked in the second round in 1978 (though he established himself as a Pro Bowl player as a tight end) and Pete VanValkenburg, who was taken in the third round in 1973.
Williams is eager to show what he can do in the NFL.
"When the opportunities come, make sure you take them and make people believe," Williams said.
Two teams that reportedly have shown considerable interest in Williams are the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., meanwhile, compared Williams to Jordan Howard, who ran for 1,313 yards for the Chicago Bears last season. "(Williams) kind of runs like Jordan Howard: real tough inside runner, downhill, breaks tackles," Kiper told Eagles Nation.
Kiper projects Williams as a third-round pick.
"I have him as the eighth-best running back (in the draft)," Kiper said. "I think Williams has a chance to be a solid No. 2 back."
Langi, like Williams, participated in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. He played multiple positions during his college career but is projected to play middle linebacker in the NFL.
The reigning Super Bowl champion, the New England Patriots, apparently has long had Langi on its radar, according to former BYU linebacker and Fox Sports analyst Brady Poppinga, who said that Patriots coach Bill Belichick “would’ve taken (Langi) in the first round” last season.
BYU has other intriguing prospects heading into the draft, including safety Kai Nacua and quarterback Taysom Hill. Both have an outside shot at being late-round picks but will most likely sign as undrafted free agents.
Both Nacua and Hill impressed at Pro Day in March and helped their draft stock.
Nacua ran a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash and had a 39-inch vertical. His results would have ranked him in the top six among all safeties at the NFL Combine in every category but the bench press.
“I think it might have helped me, showing teams that I have speed. That was a big question,” Nacua said of his Pro Day performance. “Teams wanted to see how fast I am, and I was able to answer that question at Pro Day. Hopefully teams liked it, and hopefully they’re looking to take me somewhere in the draft.”
A week after Pro Day, the Patriots sent a scout back to Provo to hold individual workouts with Nacua and Langi.
“It was an honor to get that call and have them work me and Harvey out,” said Nacua, who’s known for his skills as a ball hawk after recording 12 interceptions in his final two seasons at BYU. “It went really well. The coach was impressed. Hopefully they call.”
The Patriots already have a former Cougar on their roster — Van Noy, who was acquired from Detroit in a midseason trade. To see Van Noy win a Super Bowl ring was inspiring, Nacua said.
“When I saw Kyle win, I was so happy for him. He’s one of my brothers. He’s one of the guys who I looked up to when I was a freshman to see how things are done to make it to the next level. It’s cool that I’m here now, and I have learned lessons from guys before me at BYU.”
As for Hill, NFL teams might be wary of his age (26) and his injury history. But during Pro Day, he clocked a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash, and recorded a 38.5-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot-2 long jump and a 4.38 20-yard shuttle.
It’s been speculated that because of his natural athletic ability, Hill could play another position in the NFL.
Hill just wants a chance to keep playing football.
"I love the game," he said. "The time frame to play at this level is short, so I'm going to take advantage of it."
According to NFL Network draft expert Gil Brandt, Hill’s best shot in the NFL is at quarterback, not at another position. “He’ll be 27 years old before the start of next season — too old for a position switch,” Brandt said.
Detmer, who spent 14 years as an NFL quarterback, believes Hill can play QB at the next level.
“I think so. If somebody takes him, he’s had offseasons where he hadn’t been able to work on his individual technique (because) of injuries,” Detmer said. “If somebody takes him and works with him mentally, physically, he has all of the tools. He understands the game. He’s smart. There’s a little bit to clean up as far as accuracy. That comes with work and reps and offseason training.”
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network called Hill a quarterback sleeper in this draft. “He had an injury history, most people don’t really know him,” Rapoport said. “He’s one that several people have looked at his film and said ‘You know what? This guy has a future of the NFL if he can just stay healthy.'”
Other former Cougars who could get an opportunity to land a spot on an NFL roster are defensive linemen Sae Tautu, Logan Taele and Travis Tuiloma; running back Algernon Brown; cornerback Michael Davis; offensive linemen Andrew Eide and Parker Dawe; and wide receivers Nick Kurtz, Colby Pearson, Mitchell Juergens and Garrett Juergens.
There will be anxious moments for these former BYU players as the draft unfolds.
“I’ve heard I could get drafted, and I’ve heard I could be an undrafted free agent. I’m ready for anything,” Nacua said. “I’m going into the draft thinking the worst, that I’m not going to get picked. I’ve just got to go somewhere that needs me and somewhere I’ll fit in and prove myself like I always have.”