The secret's out: NFL scouts know Utah is a can't-miss destination
Once upon a time, the University of Utah was considered a necessary-but-rarely-exciting stop for scouts touring the country in search of future NFL players.
Before the Utes' recent string of fairy tale-like seasons, scouts drifted through Salt Lake City regularly, but often because professional courtesy demanded it, not because Utah was considered a gold mine rich with prospects.
But times change.
Today, Utah is a can't-miss stop for scouts, whose job ultimately depends on finding players capable of successfully making the giant leap from college to the pros.
In the 2010 draft, a school-record six Utes were selected by NFL teams matching Utah's total from the three previous three years.
Significantly, Koa Misi, Zane Beadles, Robert Johnson, David Reed, Stevenson Sylvester and R.J. Stanford all remain dues-paying members of the NFL Players Association.
"Utah has a city, a school, a stadium, a marketing side, a fan base and a system on the field that those coaches can recruit to," says San Francisco-based agent Ken Vierra, a former Ute quarterback. "â¦ That's why you get six guys taken in the draft."
Misi and Beadles went early in the second round, making them two of the top 45 players who were picked.
• Other schools with two picks (or more) in the top 45 include Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee and Cal.
• Notable schools with only one pick in the top 45 include Nebraska, Oregon, Michigan, TCU and Boise State.
• Notable schools without one player picked in the top 45 include USC, Notre Dame and Auburn.
According to Jacksonville national scout Andy Dengler, the Jaguars will send two or three different scouts to Utah this year.
They want a consensus opinion on prospects and want to be sure the franchise doesn't overlook anyone.
"You look for height, weight and speed," Dengler said. "Then you go from there."
At Utah, the most basic reason behind the increased number of draftable players is speed.
"The one thing I've noticed is their guys are faster, generally, than they used to be," Dengler said. "They've had guys like [Steve] Smith and [Kevin] Dyson in the past. But as a whole, they've recruited faster guys. Better players."
Beyond physical attributes, the Jaguars look for intangibles in possible draft picks, such as character, ability to perform at critical moments and confidence.
"It's fun to see kids who play with a swagger," Dengler said.Scouts also scrutinize a young player's approach to the game and his work ethic before recommending them to their team's decision-makers.
None of the Utah players drafted in 2010 were five-star recruits coming out of high school.
Senior center Zane Taylor was their teammate, however, and he suggests why all six became NFL players.
"It probably wasn't talent or technique or any of that," Taylor said. "It was hard work. In this program, we take hard work in all aspects of our life very seriously. â¦
"It starts when we wake up. We work hard to take care of ourselves. We work hard in the classroom. We work hard in meetings. We work hard very hard in the weight room."
Whatever the Utes are doing, it's working. They are 7-0 this season, heading into Saturday's game at Air Force. Since the start of 2008, Utah is 31-3, including a victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
"Winning attracts the scouts," said coach Kyle Whittingham. "â¦ They took note, I think, when we beat Alabama.
"That was great competition as good as it gets and our guys fared very well. So that's the first thing that attracts scouts to your program. They figure if you're winning, you must have some good players."
Whittingham also credits his assistants, who teach players the skills they need to earn NFL paychecks.
"â¦ Maybe they pick up good fundamentals and techniques they can take into the league," Whittingham said. "At least that's the feedback I get from scouts. We have a pretty good reputation as far as NFL-ready players. Our guys are fairly schooled-up for the NFL."
As a rookie, Beadles has started five of Denver's first seven games, partly because of his football I.Q. and ability to play multiple positions along the offensive line. His years at Utah prepared him for the rigors of the NFL. "I haven't been in other programs, but I think Utah's one of the top programs in the country as far as that goes," Beadles said.
"â¦ The way we work at Utah, the way the whole program is run offseason workouts, practice, meetings, everything it does a great job of preparing you for that next level.
Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe contributed to this story.
A school-record six Utah players were selected in the 2010 NFL draft. All are still in the league:
Koa Misi • No. 40 overall, LB, 6-3 251, Miami. Has recovered Favre, Roethlisberger fumbles.
Zane Beadles • No. 45 overall, OL, 6-4 310, Denver. Started five of the Broncos' first seven games.
Robert Johnson • No. 148 overall, DB, 6-2 200. Tennessee. Listed as third-team safety on the depth chart.
David Reed • No. 156 overall, WR, 6-0 191, Baltimore. Established himself as special teams standout.
Stevenson Sylvester • No. 231 overall, LB, 6-2 231, Pittsburgh. Four tackles (three solo) in the first six games.
R.J. Stanford • No. 233 overall, DB, 5-11 180, Carolina. On practice squad, but with multi-year contract.
A list of schools with the most players picked in the 2010 NFL draft:
9 • Florida
7 • Alabama, Oklahoma, Southern Cal
6 • Iowa, LSU, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas, Utah
5 • Clemson, Georgia
4 • Arizona State, Miami, Mississippi, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Ohio State
Among the schools with less than two players taken in the draft • Boise State, Colorado, Michigan State, Oregon State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, West Virginia