The NFL Draft is finally here.
The draft begins on May 8, and BYU could have its most prolific draft in years as five former Cougars have a good shot at hearing their names called.
It is the fulfillment of a dreams that began in pee-wee years, and now these former Cougars are one week away from having those dreams realized. While the draft is just the first step of a process that includes training camp, three rounds of player cuts and roster finalization, being drafted gives the players a fast track to making the final cut.
Here are the five former BYU players who have a good shot at making their NFL dreams come true.
Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy is the highest-ranked BYU player in this draft, ranking as the fourth best linebacker available and 44th best overall player. In this new era of trying to stop the read option from an ever-increasing number of dual threat quarterbacks, Van Noy’s combination of speed and athleticism will serve him well in the draft, especially after his former teammate, Ziggy Ansah, was taken fifth overall by the Detroit Lions in last year’s draft.
The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Reno, Nev., native has a knack for blowing up plays in the backfield before they get started. His football intelligence and lateral speed from sideline to sideline make him a great outside linebacker in a 3-4 system that will also allow him to drop back in coverage, where he is also an above-average defender.
Van Noy will likely be a late first-round or early second-round pick. In fact, don’t be shocked if the AFC Champions Denver Broncos select him with their first pick of the draft at 31st overall. His youth and athleticism will work well with the likes of Danny Trevathan and Von Miller in a rotation-based linebacker unit.
The big wide receiver who literally holds almost every record in the BYU receiving books could get drafted this year sheerly because of his size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds). But he also knows how to use his size to make catches both in the open field and in the end zone and has good leaping ability.
He will have a considerable size advantage over the cornerbacks in the league, which will make any quarterback salivate, especially in the red zone. Teams will hold back on him during the first rounds because he doesn’t have the elite speed or athleticism they’re looking for in a receiver, but he could make a living as a red zone target, similar to how Plaxico Burress played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not an elite receiver, but a reliable one.
Look for him to be taken somewhere in the fourth or fifth round.
The big, solid nose tackle seems like he has played for the Cougars for the last 10 years. He blocked the potential game-winning field goal in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl against UCLA. Now, seven years later, he has finally graduated and has polished his game for a potential late-round selection.
Manumaleuna is experienced in the nose guard position on the 3-4 defense, having played it for almost a decade under Bronco Mendenhall. But he is undersized for the NFL nose tackle position (6-foot-2, 296 pounds), and teams will most likely look at him on a defensive end role, which he played throughout the 2012 season until he had a season-ending injury.
He is likely to be drafted on the final day of the draft by a team looking for some defensive line depth.
Sorensen wasn’t expected to make much draft noise after his productive career as a hard-nosed safety and elite special teamer for the Cougars. But then he dominated in the NFL Combine, grabbing the top spot of all safeties in the 3 Cone Drill and the 20- and 60-yard shuffles. His performance put him on the draft radar of many teams throughout the league.
Sorensen was known at BYU for his hustle and effectiveness, especially on special teams, but also as the captain of the secondary. While his defensive talent and abilities won’t gain him any extra points with teams, his special teams skills will. Several teams are looking for that player who can make an impact on special teams, similar to Kassim Osgood for the San Francisco 49ers, who has made three Pro Bowls for his special teams skills alone.
Look for Sorensen to hear his name called during the final rounds of the draft on May 10.
Uani ‘ Unga
The linebacker who transferred from Oregon State in 2011, walked on and became a team captain last season, has the football pedigree to make an impact in the NFL. He has relatives, including former BYU running back Harvey Unga, who have excelled in Division I college football, and some in the NFL.
Unga has the speed and football intelligence to make it in the draft and set the single season record for tackles at BYU, totaling an incredible 143 tackles — an average of 11 tackles per game. Aside from that impressive number, nothing he has done really stands out as NFL-ready, but his football pedigree and tenacity on defense could land him in the final rounds of the draft.
Whether all five get drafted or not, they all will likely see time at training camp for NFL teams, attempting to take that final leap as an NFL player during the regular season.