Utes’ Francis Bernard has had to fight to be seen ahead of the NFL draft

The run-up to the NFL draft for Francis Bernard has taken the University of Utah standout linebacker from Salt Lake City to Carlsbad, Calif., and then back again. It also included an important trip to Las Vegas, a bunch of online interviews and some laser-measured athletic drills.

Around all of that, Bernard has spent much of his football-related time at the Salt Lake City home of Cody Barton’s parents. Barton, another standout Utes linebacker who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft, is holed up there as everyone tries to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve learned a lot from him here,” Bernard told The Salt Lake Tribune last week. “He is very dedicated to his craft and I’m learning how to be a professional from him. It’s about more time in the film room and more time taking care of your body.

“The weight room, working on your body, running, and giving your body a rest. Taking care of your body is everything.”

Reconnecting with an old teammate to prepare for the biggest moment of his football life is a reassuring feeling for Bernard after what has been an unsettling month.

Bernard spoke with The Tribune on March 12. At that time, the first-team All-Pac-12 linebacker had already run a disappointing 4.81 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine after pulling a hamstring and trying to push through anyway. And as Bernard expected, the Utah Pro Day, slated for March 26, and visits to NFL facilities were canceled.

Bernard is not considered a slam-dunk NFL prospect. He needed every opportunity to show teams what he could do, so having those opportunities taken away was the last thing he needed.

“COVID-19 impacted him and hundreds of other players like him looking to prove themselves to NFL teams,” Bernard’s agent at Wasserman, CJ LaBoy, said.

For a time, Bernard trained out of an EXOS facility in Carlsbad, which is part of the North County region of San Diego. A stay-at-home order came down from California Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 19. With a wife and infant son to worry about, Bernard packed everyone and everything up and headed back to Salt Lake City.

The immediate concern for LaBoy and Bernard was finding a way to get in an other 40-yard dash, as well as the rest of his measurables.

Despite the unprecedented circumstances, Bernard was able to conduct a modified version of a pro day, over two sessions separated by almost two weeks.

On March 27, Bernard and a handful of other prospects, including Utes teammate and projected second-day selection Bradlee Anae, were at All-American Park in Las Vegas to run the 40, 20-yard shuttle and the L drill. The event was timed by Zybek Timing and CEO Mike Weinstein, which is important for two reasons.

One, Zybek has the clout of doing the timing for the NFL Scouting Combine. Two, Zybek does laser timing, so even without the Combine spotlight, a time produced by Zybek will be taken seriously by NFL personnel, who were not allowed to attend.

Bernard made up for his 4.81 at the Combine by running 4.65 in Vegas.

“I definitely feel relieved about it,” Bernard said. “I wanted to reassure people I am not a 4.8 guy, and you could already see that on film.”

On April 8, in a workout run by Jordan Pendleton of Lehi-based Pendleton Performance, Bernard did positional drills at Summit Academy’s Bluffdale campus.

Five days later, LaBoy emailed a Vimeo link with 28 videos of Bernard working out to roughly 150 NFL personnel, general managers, college scouting directors and area scouts.

Things haven’t been easy, but the end result appears to have been fruitful. After meeting with 17 teams at the Combine, Bernard has met with 14 via video conferencing.

Most reputable projections have Bernard as a third-day selection, potentially as high as the middle of the fourth round.

“I feel good about the feedback from teams and my agent, so I’m feeling pretty confident about the draft,” Bernard said. “Some of the feedback has said late third round, so I’m just hoping more teams see me. The projections vary all over the place.

“I left everything out there and I think I check off a lot of boxes. It’s up to the teams to like me or not.”