Utes fans may throw around the word “if” in a longing manner when talking about edge rusher Kylie Fitts. As in: If he’d been able to stay on the field more, he’d have been even more of a menace to opponents.
Meanwhile, some NFL evaluators look at Fitts’ package of physical attributes and salivate as they contemplate what he can do if he reaches his potential. One of the those teams figures to roll the dice on Fitts this weekend in the NFL Draft.
“It’s always been a dream of mine, of course, ever since I was probably 6,” Fitts said about playing in the NFL. “It probably didn’t really hit me that it was a realistic goal until probably after my 2015 season. I thought I had a pretty good season and NFL agents started contacting me and all that, and I started saying, ‘Oh, wow. Maybe I do have a good shot at the NFL.‘”
Fitts started his collegiate career at UCLA in 2013 and played in six games, primarily on special teams. He transferred to Utah, sat out one season per NCAA rules and immediately showed he had the potential to be one of the most disruptive defensive ends in the country.
He led the Utes with seven sacks in 13 games during the 2015 season. He racked up 41 tackles and the second-most pass breakups on the team (10). He started the first two games of 2016 before an injury ended his season, and this past season recorded 23 tackles and three sacks in 10 games, though he was limited in five of them due to injuries.
UTAH DRAFT PROSPECTS
Darren Carrington II, 6-2, 199 lbs., WR: A second-team All-Pac-12 selection with good length, strong hands and good catch radius. Carrington had his best year as a senior with the Utes after transferring. He avoided off-the-field issues that led to his dismissal from Oregon.
Kyle Fitts, 6-4, 263 lbs., DE/OLB: An athletic edge rusher who battled injuries in his final two college seasons, his Senior Bowl and combine performances helped put him on teams’ radars. Teams view his as a potential defensive end or a pass rushing outside linebacker.
Lowell Lotulelei, 6-2, 315 lbs., DT: The South Jordan resident and four-year starter for the Utes earned honorable mention All-Pac-12, but his most dominant performance came at the end of the season in the bowl game. He’ll have to prove he has the motor and work ethic to last at the next level where his brother Star, a former All-American, has thrived.
Filipo Mokofisi, 6-4, 295 lbs., DT/DE: An honorable mention All-Pac-12 defensive lineman from Woods Cross, Mokofisi is a good athlete for his size. He played both end and tackle for the Utes, but he may be a bit in between positions for NFL defenses.
Salesi Uhatafe, 6-5, 310 lbs., OL: Uhatafe started for parts of four seasons on the line for the Utes, including as a full-time starter his final two seasons at guard. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2017. He has the type of size and length NFL teams look for, but will have to prove he can compete physically at the next level.
Fitts’ agent, Jeremy Newberry, a former NFL offensive lineman, expects a team will draft Fitts between the third and fifth rounds. ESPN ranks him the 17th-best player at his position, while DraftAnalyst.com projects him as a sixth-round pick.
Strong performances in the Senior Bowl practices and at the NFL Combine helped build a “buzz” around Fitts.
“Without a doubt, that did nothing but help him,” Newberry said. “His senior year film was decent, but he played injured the whole year.”
Fitts didn’t have as productive a collegiate career as Hunter Dimick, who graduated as an all-America selection and the program’s all-time sack leader last year. However, Fitts’ physical attributes likely elevate him in the eyes of pro scouts. Dimick was undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I can tell you one thing for certain — the NFL puts a lot of stock in the measurables,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Kylie has very good numbers. He’s 260 pounds. He’s fast. He’s agile. He’s explosive. I mean, he’s got a lot going for him, whereas Hunter didn’t quite have the physical profile tools that Kylie has. But you look at how productive Hunter was during his college career. He was incredible for us. Oftentimes, though, the NFL is more interested in the measurable rather than the production on the field.”
Fitts estimates between meetings at the Senior Bowl, NFL combine, visits and workouts — he, Lowell Lotulelei and Filipo Mokofisi worked out for the Indianapolis Colts this past weekend in Salt Lake City — he’s had contact with all 32 NFL teams. Some see him as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, while others project him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
“It’s a dream come true, this whole experience,” Fitts said. “Going to the Senior Bowl, going to the NFL Combine, meeting with all these coaches, working with all these coaches, it’s a crazy experience. You grow up watching all these coaches and just kind of idolizing them as a player, and here you are talking to John Gruden and coach [Bill] Belichick from the Patriots and they’re asking you questions.”
Despite the early buzz about his NFL potential and the way injuries kept him from duplicating his early success, Fitts said he wouldn’t do anything differently.
“I for sure would do it the same way,” he said. “Those were all freak injuries. You never could have guessed something like that would’ve happened, but there was two more years spent with my team and developing relationships, hanging out with all my friends who I’ve build lifelong relationships with. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Those have been the best years of my life, the last couple years. I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Hometown • San Bernardino, Calif.
Position • DE/OLB
Height • 6 foot 4
Weight • 263 pounds
40-yard dash • 4.69 seconds
Bench press (225) • 31 reps
Vertical jump • 32.5 inches
Broad jump • 117 inches
3-cone drill • 6.88 seconds
20-yard shuttle • 4.19 seconds
60-yard shuttle • 11.82 seconds
* — Source: NFL.com