SALT LAKE CITY — There’s no first-round caliber prospects, no guarantees a local name will come off the board before the third and final day of this year’s NFL draft.
The mystery of when and where Utah ties could be drafted this weekend, though, is more than enough reason to tune in during the draft, which runs Thursday to Saturday in Nashville.
The biggest day for locals is expected to be Saturday, when Rounds 4-7 start at 10 a.m. MDT, with television coverage on ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network. The first round begins Thursday at 6 p.m. on ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network, while Friday’s second and third rounds kick off at 5 p.m. on the same channels.
This year's local prospects can be split into three different categories, depending on their likelihood of being drafted.
Tier 1: Most surefire local draft prospects
- Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State (Timpview High): Raymond, who projects anywhere from the fourth to the seventh round, declared for the draft following his junior season at USU and earned an invite to the Senior Bowl. Two national experts — NFL.com’s Chad Reuter and CBS Sports’ R.J. White — have him going to Dallas in the fourth round and joining former Bingham tight end Dalton Schultz, a fourth-round pick of the Cowboys last year. Raymond is rated the No. 158 prospect overall in this year’s draft class by Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling. Draft Analyst'sTony Pauline said of the former Aggie, "Raymond comes off a terrific season and should only get better as he physically matures and learns the NFL system. He's a solid pass catcher with the size to turn into an effective blocker, and Raymond should be a solid second tight end at the next level."
- Marquise Blair, S, Utah: Blair, like Raymond, is a consensus pick in a pool of seven national seven-round mock drafts this year. Easterling rates Blair as the draft’s No. 103 overall prospect and has him going to the Los Angeles Rams in the third round in Easterling’s latest mock draft from two weeks ago. That’s the highest projection for any locals, and Blair is consistently seen as a possible fourth-round pick. He ran a 4.48-second 40 at the NFL combine and added a 35-inch vertical jump and a 125-inch broad jump. NFL.com gave Blair a prospect grade of 5.71 with a chance of becoming an NFL starter, and draft expert Lance Zeirlein called him an “athletic, full-throttle prospect with the mindset of a linebacker in a free safety body. Blair plays the game with an aggressive field demeanor that fuels his passion to race into the action, ready to strike on sight.”
Tier 2: Strong draftable candidates
- Sione Takitaki, LB, BYU: Takitaki is the enigma of this year’s local draft crop. In one case, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. sees Takitaki as a possible candidate of sneaking into the third round, sending the BYU ‘backer to Baltimore with the final pick of the third round in a recent mock draft: “I reached a little for a need position, but I really like Takitaki," Kiper wrote. Most experts have Takitaki as a late-round prospect. Easterling rates Takitaki the No. 191 draft prospect in this year’s class, while The Athletic’s Dane Brugler gave him a sixth-round grade.
- Cody Barton, LB, Utah (Brighton High): It’s difficult to get a read on where and if Barton will be drafted. Reuter has him headed to Minnesota as a fourth-round pick and the highest of all Utah ties selected, and fellow NFL.com draft expert Gil Brandt rates Barton as the No. 77 overall prospect in this year’s class. By comparison, Easterling has him listed at the No. 290 overall prospect. Zierlein wrote, “He's an instinctive, tough player with backup and special teams ability who should hear his name called in the middle rounds."
- Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State: Brugler rates Thompson the No. 15 back in this year’s class with a fifth-round grade, one spot below Boise State’s Alexander Mattison and one spot above Washington’s Myles Gaskin. He’s also rated the No. 160 prospect overall, just two spots below Raymond, by Easterling. Thompson, like Raymond, left Utah State following his junior season and projects as a likely late-round draft pick, with teams like Arizona, Seattle and Minnesota as possible destinations.
- Porter Gustin, Edge, USC (Salem Hills High): Without his injury history — Gustin was limited to 10 games in college the past two years with a variety of ailments — he would likely move up the draft boards. Gustin's ankle injury last year kept him from playing the back half of the year, though he had seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss before his college career was cut short. "Gustin looks the part and occasionally plays to it but is more of a situational prospect for the next level," Pauline wrote. On Wednesday, NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported Gustin failed a performance enhancing drug test at the NFL combine, which could impact his draft stock.
- Kaden Elliss, LB, Idaho (Judge Memorial High): The son of former Ute pass rusher Luther Elliss, who was a first-round pick by Detroit in 1995, has caught the attention of NFL scouts. The Spokesman Review's Peter Harriman reported Elliss flipped the individual blocking sled "as though it was a lawn chair" twice during Idaho's Pro Day. "Looking for an intriguing day 3 LB? Meet Idaho LB Kaden Elliss. Good mix of instincts, versatility & strength," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote on Instagram.
- Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah: The Utes have never had a punter taken in the NFL draft, but Wishnowsky could be the first. Wishnowsky shows up on several national seven-round mock drafts and Reuter has him going to the San Francisco 49ers in the fifth round. Brugler rates Wishnowsky as the best punter prospect in the draft and gave him a fifth/sixth-round grade.
Tier 3: Possible draftees but likely free agent signings
- Corbin Kaufusi, DE, BYU (Timpview High): Kaufusi will try to join his brother and father in getting drafted. Brother Bronson was selected in the third round by Baltimore in 2016, while father Steve went to Philadelphia in the 12th round in 1988. Corbin Kaufusi had a standout senior season, but three postseason surgeries, the one on his high ankle the most pressing, kept him from participating in BYU's Pro Day workouts.
- Chase Hansen, LB, Utah (Lone Peak High): Injuries and his age (25) are what’s keeping Hansen from being more of a bona fide draftable prospect — he played much of last season with a herniated disk. Still, he has a strong football IQ and is rated the No. 272 overall prospect by Easterling. Pauline gives him a sixth-round grade, saying, "Hansen could eventually develop into a starter on Sundays if he shows durability and continues to improve his game."
- Matt Gay, K, Utah (Orem High): Like his Ute special teams counterpart, Gay is rated the top prospect at his respective position by Brugler. In his two-year Utah career, the 2017 Lou Groza Award winner made 86 percent of his field goal attempts, with eight 50-plus yard makes. Drafttek, which uses a computer system to formulate its seven-round mock draft, has Gay going to the Chicago Bears in the seventh round with the 238th overall selection.
- Jackson Barton, OT, Utah (Brighton High): Like his brother Cody, Jackson Barton participated in the NFL combine. He is seen by most national draft experts as a prime candidate to be a priority free agent. "Barton has next-level size and has flashed ability throughout his college career. He comes off a terrific performance during practices for the Shrine Game and is a late-round prospect who, at the very worst, should be stashed on a practice squad this fall," Pauline wrote.
- John Ursua, WR, Hawaii (Cedar High): Ursua declared for the draft following his junior season at Hawaii. The former Utah prep star who also played quarterback was among the nation's leaders in receiving last year: the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder had 89 receptions for 1,343 yards and 16 touchdowns. He'll most likely start his pro career as a free-agent signee.
- Marquez Tucker, OG, Southern Utah: Brugler believes that the former Southern Utah guard could find himself getting picked late in the draft. The Athletic writer gave Tucker a sixth-round grade and has him headed to Arizona in his mock draft. Tucker is trying to become the fourth SUU player drafted and the first since 2016.
- Iosua Opeta, OG, Weber State (Stansbury High): Opeta was an All-American the past two seasons with the Wildcats, including being named a consensus All-American at the FCS level last year. If Opeta is selected, it will be the second straight season a Weber State player was taken in the NFL draft, after cornerback Taron Johnson was a fourth-round selection by Buffalo last year.
Other free agent possibilities
- QB: Tanner Mangum, BYU
- RB: Squally Canada, BYU
- FB: Brady May, Weber State
- WR: Ron’quavion Tarver, Utah State
- TE: Logan Parker, Southern Utah (Bingham High)
- OT: Roman Andrus, Utah State; Sean Taylor, Utah State
- OG: Brandon Fanaika, Stanford (Pleasant Grove High); Jordan Agasiva, Utah
- C: Quin Ficklin, Utah State
- DE: Adewale Adeoye, Utah State
- S: Corrion Ballard, Utah; Gaje Ferguson, Utah State (Mountain Crest High); Jontrell Rocquemore, Utah State