Nine Utah Utes headed to NFL Combine for ‘biggest interview’ of their lives

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive tackle John Penisini (52) greets the fans after the Utes defeated the Wildcats, 35-7, in PAC-12 action between the Utah Utes and the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.

Reigning College Football Playoff winner LSU is sending a whopping 16 players to the NFL Scouting Combine, which officially began Sunday, but will get going in earnest on Thursday with on-field workouts.

Michigan and Ohio State sent 11, Georgia and Alabama claim 10 each, and then there’s Utah. The Utes have nine players in Indianapolis this week, tied for sixth-most in the country with Notre Dame and Auburn. Utah does not generally get the national respect those other programs do.

However, in terms of development all over the field, Kyle Whittingham’s program can hang with almost anyone these days. The ability to develop is a major reason why the Utes will have a strong presence this week at the most-important pre-NFL Draft event on the calendar this week.

“It’s not easy, but if you’re able to buy in, you see the chance that the older guys are getting now, and the younger guys in the program will have the same chance,” two-time All-Pac-12 second-team defensive lineman John Penisini told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week. “It’s not easy, but once you buy in, it’s a breeze and it becomes a routine. I think that’s part of why we had a lot of success the last couple of years. We all just continued to grow.”

Penisini, Leki Fotu, Bradlee Anae, Zack Moss, Francis Bernard, Terrell Burgess, Julian Blackmon, Javelin K. Guidry and Jaylon Johnson will all be at the Combine. Some will do all of the six primary workout events (40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone drill, shuttle run), some might do less than the full slate or, in the case of Blackmon, who was injured during the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon, none.

It was reported on Monday morning that Johnson, the most highly-touted NFL prospect of the nine Utes, will go through the Combine, but then undergo right labrum surgery. The surgery is slated for March 4, and he is expected to be ready for his rookie season.

In Blackmon’s case, he is likely to at least go through the less-heralded parts of the Combine, things like measurements, medical exams, a position coach interview, and psychological testing.

When Moss withdrew from the Senior Bowl, which featured Anae, Utah’s career leader in sacks, having a big day, his agent summed up the opportunity the Combine represents.

“It was really about sitting down and evaluating what is the right move now so he can get himself prepared for the Combine,” Jamal Tooson told the Tribune on Jan. 20. “The Combine is going to be the biggest interview of his life.”

“It’s a good opportunity to go out and show my ability to run around and stuff,” Penisini said. “You have to show what they want you to be. These last two months (since Utah’s season ended in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 31) have been wild. Thinking about it, the time flew by. I look up and it’s the Sunday before the Combine and I can’t believe it. It’s a blessing to be honest.”

NFL.com’s latest three-round mock draft has Anae (No. 40), Fotu (No. 41), Burgess (No. 46) and Johnson (No. 69) listed. Moss should also be in play inside the first three rounds. Pro Football Focus currently ranks Moss as its No. 1 available running back.



Zack Moss, RB


Bradlee Anae, DL

Francis Bernard, LB

Leki Fotu, DL

John Penisini, DL


Terrell Burgess, S

Julian Blackmon, S

Javelin K. Guidry, CB

Jaylon Johnson, CB