In terms of NFL draft stock, no Utah Ute harboring legitimate pro aspirations helped himself more during the COVID-impacted, five-game 2020 season than Devin Lloyd.
Lloyd could have left Salt Lake City for the draft, and he would have been drafted. He may have found his way into the third third round on April 30, but worse-case scenario, the redshirt junior would have been picked between rounds 4-7 on May 1.
As Lloyd sought to make this life-altering decision in the days and weeks after the season concluded on Dec. 19, he reached out to former teammates-turned-pros Francis Bernard and Cody Barton.
Barton, a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2019 after spending four seasons as a Ute, offered his former teammate some advice.
“I can remember vividly what Cody said,” Lloyd said Wednesday morning on a Zoom call. “The way he put it was, ‘Would you rather have somebody give you $1 million right now or $5 million a year from now?’
Money was not the only deciding factor, but it was indeed a factor, so Barton’s point struck Lloyd, who at that point was already leaning toward returning to Utah for one more season. In hindsight, Lloyd believes Barton and Bernard helped him make his decision from all perspectives, as did his family and the people in his life that he trusts the most.
On Jan. 9, Lloyd posted a 21-second highlight video to Twitter with the caption, ‘One Last Ride,’ a clear indication of his intention to return.
“More than anything, I want to win,” Lloyd said. “I want to leave with a championship, with a nice little ring on my finger, hopefully a couple of rings. I want to bring guys along with me, too. I love helping others, I’ve said that before. I know this team wants to be great, I know I’m not the only one on the team that wants to be great.”
Lloyd may have been a third or fourth-round pick had he left school after last season. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has said he believes Lloyd could morph into a first-round selection, but that’s going to take more strong play from the 2020 Butkus Award finalist and second-team All-America selection.
Utah’s defense, which ranked second in the Pac-12 in total defense last season, is slated to return 10 starters this fall. Lloyd is joined at linebacker by All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection Nephi Sewell, while four-star freshman Ethan Calvert could play a role on the depth chart.
The one missing returning starter is promising freshman Nate Ritchie, who will go on his LDS mission, not returning to the mix until 2023.
“More than anything, I just want to cement a legacy here and do a lot of great things here,” Lloyd said. “I know I had an opportunity to leave, but it wouldn’t have been up to my expectations as far as the draft. I felt like it was the best decision to come back and invest another year. That’s the way I look at it.”
“Devin, he was a leader last year, he’s a leader this year, and leaders lead. There’s no drop off there. Not only in the backer room, but you can see him holding other guys accountable in other position groups. He’s just a guy that gets it, not just calling guys out, but promoting our culture and when they do things right, giving them a pat on the back.”