Versatility and ability to drop into pass coverage have boosted BYU linebacker Fred Warner’s NFL Draft stock

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper says Cougars’ star is underrated, could go between second and fifth round

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young linebacker Fred Warner (4) high-fives Cougar fans after BYU was defeated by the Utes 19-13, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017.

Provo • BYU senior Fred Warner flew under the national radar last year partly because of BYU’s dismal football season and partly because he played a rare position — “flash linebacker,” sort of a cross between a safety and an outside linebacker.

But NFL scouts noticed, and many believe the Cougars’ best player will be the first local player taken in the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday in Arlington, Texas, and runs through Saturday.

“I’ve been told it could be anywhere from the second round to the fifth round,” the 6-foot-3, 234-pound Warner said at BYU’s Pro Day on March 30. “It’s kind of all over the place. It’s really up in the air.”

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a teleconference with reporters last week that Warner is “underrated” and predicted he could be picked sooner than expected because of his versatility and ability to cover receivers downfield, and because the draft is light on quality linebackers.

“I circled his name a lot [while watching film],” Kiper said. “He tested pretty well at the combine. He is an every-down linebacker. I like the fact that you can get him and he’s plug-and-play. He’s smart and he’s versatile.”

Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com calls Warner “a new-age, hybrid linebacker” and ranks him as the fifth-best overall linebacker prospect in the draft.

“Overall, Warner is a dependable tackler with the athleticism, toughness and intuition to stay on the field for all three downs as a matchup weapon — the type of linebacker all 32 teams could use,” Brugler wrote.

Warner remains cautious, however, after watching fellow BYU defensive star Harvey Langi go undrafted despite plenty of predraft hype last year. He’s been so focused that at BYU’s Pro Day he said he hadn’t even thought about what his first major purchase will be if he does sign a pro contract.

“I need to sit down and think about that [later],” he said. “I just worry about football stuff.”

BYU fans are familiar with the numbers Warner produced during a brilliant four-year college career after he picked the Cougars over Pac-12 powerhouses such as USC and Oregon: 262 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, seven interceptions, two defensive touchdowns. It was somewhat surprising that Warner was moved to inside LB at Senior Bowl practices, but the transition has gone smoothly and probably has boosted his draft stock, according to his agent, Justin Schulman of Athletes First.

“In the NFL, the ability to cover for a linebacker is becoming more and more important as it becomes more of a passing league, and Fred has that ability,” Schulman said. “Teams are now realizing that Fred is a really unique player.”

Schulman, who also has represented former Cougars John Beck and Dennis Pitta and currently represents Kyle Van Noy, said BYU’s 4-9 season didn’t hurt Warner’s draft status.

“His character is top-notch, and that shined through,” Schulman said. “I mean, phenomenal character and integrity. In talking to teams, they are very impressed with how mature he is for how young he is. A four-year starter who graduated in 3½ years. Just a top-notch guy.”

Warner said he has talked to representatives from all 32 NFL teams between the Senior Bowl practices, NFL Combine and other events, but he isn’t sure which teams have the most interest.

“It has been crazy,” he said. “It has been a whirlwind with how hard we have trained these last few months. I am happy with what I’ve done so far. I just hope to keep doing my best for whichever team wants me.”

Warner grew up in San Marcos, Calif., close to the San Diego Chargers, but “adopted” the Dallas Cowboys as his favorite team because that’s always been the favorite team of his father, Frederico.

A few of Warner’s teammates could be taken in the later rounds, including receiver Jonah Trinnaman, defensive lineman Tomasi Laulile and offensive lineman Tejan Koroma. Prospects for possible free-agent invites include safety Micah Hannemann, offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch and defensive linemen Handsome Tanielu, Logan Taele and Travis Tuiloma. The latter two graduated in 2017 but were injured during last year’s draft.

FRED WARNER’S BYU CAREER <br>• Played in 49 games, started 42 at outside linebacker <br>• Made 264 career tackles, No. 24 in school history <br>• Seven interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns <br>• Led BYU in tackles as a junior and senior