BYU Football players with the most to gain from a 2020 season
The return of college football this fall has become increasingly uncertain over the past couple of weeks, and a number of programs across the country have paused their voluntary workouts due to COVID-19 outbreaks on campus.
The Ivy League canceled all of its fall sporting events. The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences plan on holding conference-only schedules, leaving BYU in a particularly bleak position as an independent.
A number of Cougar football players, however, likely need at least some sort of abbreviated season to showcase their talents if they want to make it to the professional level by next year. The Daily Universe is taking a look at five such players who have the most to gain from a 2020 season.
Seniors Matt Bushman and Khyiris Tonga, who both considered entering the NFL Draft after last season, shouldn’t have any problem making it to the pros whether or not college football happens this year. The following five players, however, would take the biggest hit to their future football careers if the season is ultimately canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cougar fans have expected big things of Warner since the day the former four-star prospect flipped his commitment from Oregon to BYU. Warner’s combination of speed and athleticism have allowed him to prove that he can be an exciting playmaker in the secondary when healthy. Warner tallied seven pass breakups and 21 tackles as a freshman in 2016 and five breakups with 36 tackles in just eight games as a sophomore. Unfortunately, Warner has dealt with a number of foot injuries throughout his college career that have kept him from unlocking his full potential.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior returned from his latest injury for the last four games of the 2019 season and notched a six-tackle performance against Hawaii in December. At the Cougars’ spring practices earlier this year, Warner looked as healthy as he’s ever been. He appears hungry to put together his strongest and most consistent campaign yet, something he will need to do if he has any shot of joining his older brother, Fred Warner, in the NFL.
Zayne Anderson is another BYU defensive player likely on the outside of the 2021 NFL Draft looking in. However, if any college football is to be played this fall, Anderson is ready to prove why he does belong at the next level. “I’m ready to get after it,” Anderson recently told the Universe. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I’ve learned a lot and I’m excited to see everything come together this season.”
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound linebacker has also struggled to avoid the injury bug over the last couple of seasons. Anderson, named a team captain before his junior campaign in 2018, played in just four games that year before a shoulder injury kept him out the remainder of the season. He then reinjured the same shoulder two games into the 2019 campaign.
When healthy, however, Anderson has shown he has what it takes to make the jump to the professional level. In his last full season in 2017, he tallied 61 tackles to go along with two interceptions and two pass breakups. Anderson, who spent some time working out at cornerback during spring ball, appears ready to have his versatile style of play turn some NFL scouts’ heads his way this season.
Many people have considered Tristen Hoge an NFL prospect since his Highland High School days in Pocatello, Idaho. The former four-star recruit received several offers from a variety of top-tier programs, eventually signing with Notre Dame. After playing in just six games during his two years with the Fighting Irish, however, Hoge decided to transfer to BYU. Hoge has been a force within the Cougars’ offensive line over the past two seasons, continuing his NFL hype.
Unfortunately, he suffered a leg injury during BYU’s 2019 season opener against Utah that eventually forced him to shut down his season a few games later. Hoge, whose injury likely caused him to drop on a number of NFL Draft boards, is looking to use the 2020 season to revive the hype and his chances of making it to the next level. Hoge is arguably the player with the most to gain from any sort of abbreviated season within the Cougars’ offense.
Chris Wilcox, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, has the length and speed that NFL scouts are often drawn to when looking for a potential cornerback. The Fontana, California, native has a similar build and style of play as former BYU defensive back Michael Davis, who has excelled with the Los Angeles Chargers throughout his three-year professional career. Wilcox’s exceptional athleticism has allowed him to shine in the Cougars’ backfield when healthy. He recorded five pass breakups and 32 tackles, including 23 solo stops, during his last full season in 2017.
Although Wilcox was forced to shut down each of the last two seasons early because of injury, BYU will likely rely heavily on Wilcox this season to replace former standout defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku, who signed with the Los Angeles Rams in April. If there is a season to be had this fall, Wilcox should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his athleticism and prove why he deserves to play at the professional level.
Isaiah Kaufusi has anchored the Cougars’ linebacker core in each of the last two seasons. He tallied 50 tackles as a sophomore in 2018, including six tackles for loss, and added 60 total stops in 2019. He also recorded a pair of interceptions both years. Kaufusi has the versatility and football IQ necessary to succeed on a professional level.
Some questions remain, however, concerning Kaufusi’s lateral quickness. He doesn’t have quite as much speed as former BYU linebackers and current NFL standouts Kyle Van Noy or Fred Warner. With the NFL moving farther away from bigger, hard-hitting linebackers to smaller and quicker ones, Kaufusi would likely need to improve his overall speed to the next level. The 2020 season, should it take place, would be Kaufusi’s last chance to show NFL scouts he can further develop his game by recognizing and improving his weaknesses.