by Zach Reger | With the terrible news that the PAC-12 canceled all their sporting events through 2020, many Utah fans are disappointed to not be able to cheer on the Utes this fall. And rightfully so. However, there still is a way for fans to watch their Utes this season: the NFL. The NFL is currently on track to start on time and to have a full season. With Eric Weddle retiring and Star Lotulelei opting out of the season, the current Utes in the NFL look a little different and, for the most part, are very young. With Utah’s program becoming more successful over the years, there are a lot more Utes in the NFL, and that number should continue to rise. Here are some of the top Utes that will playing this fall. We’ll start with the defense.
Defensive End: Bradlee Anae (Utah: 2016-2019)
The 2019 All-American was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys this year (179th overall). Many thought that he would be drafted much earlier, but poor measurables caused his draft stock to drop. Anae will have to compete for playing time, but with Robert Quinn heading for Chicago, there is a spot on the defensive line that needs to be filled. Anae certainly has the talent to be an NFL starter, but just how soon it will be is still unknown.
Defensive Tackle: Leki Fotu (Utah: 2016-2019)
The Utes defensive line was incredible last year, which is why another rookie defensive lineman is on this list. Fotu was selected in the fourth round in the 2020 NFL Draft (114th overall) and is currently the projected second-string defensive tackle behind Jordan Phillips. The Cardinals run a 3-4 scheme, so Fotu seems to be the next man up in the interior of their defensive line. Arizona’s defense struggled last year, so it is not out of the realm of possibility for Fotu to start multiple games in 2020.
Defensive Tackle: John Penisini (Utah: 2017-2019)
Sticking with the 2019 Utah defensive line, Penisini was drafted in the sixth round this year (197th overall) by the Detroit Lions. Penisini opens camp third on the depth chart at defensive tackle, so he will have his work cut out for him to make the active roster in 2020. It will be even more difficult without a preseason this year, but Penisini was a two-time all PAC-12 second team who specializes in filling gaps and stuffing the run.
Linebacker: Cody Barton (Utah: 2015-2018)
Entering his sophomore season, Barton gets the luxury of learning from one of the best middle linebackers in the game in Bobby Wagner. Being Wagner’s backup last season, he was still able to play in all 16 games. Barton finished the year with 23 combined tackles, 9 of them solo, and one fumble recovery. Those numbers should all increase in Barton’s second season as he is playing for one of the top defenses in the league.
Defensive Back Eric Rowe (Utah: 2011-2014)
The former second-round pick has bounced around teams more than most people drafted in 2015 have. He is now on his third team but set a personal best in tackles and turnovers forced last season. Rowe also won two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots before arriving in Miami. It is no surprise that he had 81 tackles as a defensive back. The Miami defense last year was among the worst in every defensive category, but that has changed for this season. The Dolphins brought in a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, so it should be exciting to see what Rowe can accomplish in 2020.
Cornerback: Jaylon Johnson (Utah: 2017-2019)
Another talented defensive back that fell into the second round, Johnson easily could have been a first-round pick. This is why the Bears were ecstatic to grab him with the 50th overall pick. The Bears already have a good defense and a talented secondary, so Johnson might have to wait for his opportunity to be a starter. However, Johnson is talented enough and has the draft capital to see the field plenty in 2020 and could fit in nicely next to Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson.
Free Safety: Marcus Williams (Utah: 2014-2016)
Yet another former second-round defensive back from the Utes is Marcus Williams. Williams has been an immediate contributor for the Saints, and that will not change in 2020. Marcus Williams might benefit the most from the Saints signing 3x Pro Bowler, Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins will help turn Williams into an even better player. The Saints starting secondary will include Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins, and Marcus Williams. Williams will have plenty of opportunities to excel with this loaded group in 2020.
Strong Safety: Marquise Blair (Utah: 2017-2018)
Marquise Blair had a successful rookie year as he played in 14 games, starting 3 of them. He racked up 32 combined tackles and forced 2 fumbles during those 14 games. Entering his second season, he will continue to back-up Quandre Diggs but will still receive regular playing time. Blair now has the opportunity to play next to 2x pro-bowler and former top 10 pick, Jamal Adams, which is exciting for everyone within the Seahawks organization.
Free Safety: Julian Blackmon (Utah: 2016-2019)
The 3x All-Pac-12 and 2019 All-American was selected in the third-round (85th overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Colts. He was absolutely killing it in 2019 with 4 interceptions, until he tore his ACL, which hurt his draft stock. He is projected to be backup Malik Hooker, but Blackmon is talented enough to see the field in certain packages in Indianapolis.
Strong Safety: Terrell Burgess (Utah: 2016-2019)
Burgess was also drafted in the third-round of last year’s draft (104th overall). He should receive plenty of opportunities to see the field, despite being a rookie. The Rams needed more depth at secondary with former Ute, Eric Weddle, retiring, and a versatile player like Burgess will give them exactly that.
Check back later this week for a preview of Utes playing offense in the NFL.
Featured image via KSL Sports.