Devin Lloyd put off the NFL Draft one more year to lead University of Utah linebackers

Lloyd was a Butkus Award finalist in 2020 after garnering All-Pac-12 honors for the second time

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (0) pulls Washington State Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) to the ground for a quarterback sack, in PAC-12 football acton between Utah Utes and Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

Devin Lloyd wants to leave the University of Utah having done something significant.

That isn’t to say Lloyd, a two-time All-Pac-12 linebacker and a Butkus Award finalist in 2020 thanks to 48 tackles in just five games, has been insignificant within the Utes’ defense. No, Lloyd has been quite the player for head coach Kyle Whittingham and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. But his point is, in his mind, he hasn’t done enough winning.

As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Lloyd played in all 14 games on special teams, with three appearances on defense, as the Utes won the Pac-12 South, but fell in the Pac-12 championship game to Washington. The next season, Lloyd stepped into a starting role at linebacker as part of a loaded defense. The Utes won the South Division again, went to the Pac-12 title game again, and fell again, this time to Oregon.

Those two seasons ending short of Utah getting over the hump and to at least a Rose Bowl now acted as one motivating factor for Lloyd’s NFL Draft decision. So, on Jan. 9, the Chula Vista, Calif. native 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 during spring practice. “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 started all five games last season, as did junior Nephi Sewell, who showed well in his first season at the position, earning an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod.

Sewell spent 23 games at Nevada between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, plus an unexpected three-game cameo as a Utes walk-on in 2019, playing free safety. Sewell made the move down to linebacker during spring practice in 2020 before the pandemic wiped away the final 75% of it.

With a ton of game experience, Lloyd and Sewell are mortal locks to start the Sept. 2 opener vs. Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium. How Whittingham, Scalley, and third-year linebackers Colton Swan fill in the depth around those two will be an interesting fall camp storyline.

For starters, West Jordan native and former Bingham High School Sione Fotu is out of the mix until the 2023 season while serving a two-year LDS mission in Portland, Ore. Fotu was productive in 2020 as a true freshman, playing in all five games, including starts in the first three, finishing with 13 tackles.

In those first three games, Utah started with three linebackers, but in the last two, it started Lloyd and Sewell, with Malone Mataele acting as a third cornerback at the nickel. That game-by-game decision should continue based on matchups.

Four-star freshman Ethan Calvert, among the crown jewels of Utah’s 2021 recruiting haul, did not enroll early for spring practice but is on campus now as Utah goes through its summer program. The No. 8-rated linebacker in the class of 2021 and the third-highest rated recruit in program history, Calvert will be in the mix as a day-one contributor.

Two other freshmen, four-star Mason Tufaga and three-star Trey Reynolds, will also have a say, while sophomore Andrew Mata’afa has played in 12 games across two seasons, including all five last season on special teams.