Who will be the latest former BYU player to make a name for themselves on Sundays?
The Cougars have only churned out a small number of NFL players in recent seasons. Underscoring this trend is a reality that several BYU draft-eligible prospects are not even on the radar for many NFL teams. There are a few, however, who have positioned themselves to emerge as a late-round draft pick or even land a free-agent deal following the 2017 NFL Draft.
Here’s a closer look at five former BYU players who could pop up on an NFL roster as a draft pick this April or sign as a free agent ahead of the 2017 season:
BYU’s all-time rushing leader has many of the right tools to get a serious look from an NFL team. Williams has good lower body strength and a muscular build. He is consistent at keeping his legs moving and getting yards after contact. His biggest strength is ball security. Williams lost hardly any fumbles during his time with the Cougars.
Williams claimed school records in career rushing yards (3,901), career rushing attempts (726), 100-yard rushing games (16) and single game rushing yardage (286). He totaled 1,375 rushing yards in 10 games during his senior season at BYU and ranked fifth nationally in rushing yards per game.
Many NFL Draft projections have Williams selected anywhere from middle third round to late fourth round. The former BYU star expects to hear his name called at some point and is anxious for when he can switch his focus from preparing for the draft to playing again.
“I wish it was just football, but it’s the waiting game now,” Williams said. “I’ll be home playing video games while waiting and working out, like I’m usually doing.”
Changing positions multiple times in his college career caused Langi to fall off the NFL Draft radar. Langi moved from running back to linebacker to defensive end over four seasons. He started nine games at defensive end, two at middle linebacker and one at outside linebacker during his final season.
Langi showed some potential at linebacker as a junior. He has good size and strength and footwork at the position. While mostly playing at linebacker in 2015, Langi piled up 68 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions in 2015. As a senior rotating between the defensive line and linebacker, he totaled 57 tackles and two sacks.
Early NFL Draft projections had Langi falling outside the draft as an undrafted free agent. He has started to creep into the draft picture in recent weeks. Now Langi is showing up as a potential pick anywhere from the third round to the sixth round in recent projections.
No BYU player could claim a better Pro Day showing than Nacua. He raised the bar with his speed, length and athleticism. Nacua recorded the top vertical jump (39 inches) and the farthest long jump (10 feet, 7 inches). He also posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds. All of those numbers compared favorably to safeties who competed in the NFL combine.
Nacua has great instincts for zeroing in on the ball and creating turnovers. He finished with 14 career interceptions — the most career interceptions for any BYU player since Derwin Gray totaled 14 from 1989 to 1992. Nacua snagged six interceptions in 2015 and 2016. During his senior season, he tied for seventh nationally in total interceptions.
Some questions about his speed have caused Nacua to not show up in most NFL Draft projections. He could sneak in as a sixth or seventh round pick, but will more likely be an undrafted free agent.
Multiple season-ending injuries didn’t keep Hill from making repeated comebacks during his BYU career. They haven’t derailed his NFL ambitions either. Hill is not showing up in virtually any NFL Draft projections at this point, but he did himself some favors by putting together a strong showing at the annual BYU Pro Day.
Hill posted an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds and his 40 time would have ranked first among quarterbacks at the NFL Combine by a full tenth of a second. His vertical jump measured at 38 1/2 inches — tied for second best among players participating in Pro Day drills.
Any possible NFL future for Hill likely hinges on his willingness to switch positions. Hill posted average numbers for a quarterback running a pro-style offense, throwing for 2,323 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 59.7 percent of his passes during his senior season. His athleticism and running ability, however, makes him an intriguing possibility as a safety, slot receiver or H-back if he can stay healthy.
Hill says he doesn’t care what position he plays. He just wants a shot to prove himself.
“I love the game,” Hill said. “The time frame to play at this level is short, so I am going to take advantage of it.”
Before BYU Pro Day, Tautu wasn’t registering as anything beyond a potential undrafted free agent. Tautu is still a long-shot to be drafted, but he raised his profile significantly with a strong showing during the Pro Day drills.
Tautu showed impressive length and speed for a defensive lineman. He completed the 40-yard dash with an unofficial time of 4.55 seconds. His long jump of 10 feet and 6 inches trailed only Nacua among the pro day participants. Tautu posted a vertical jump of 38 ½ inches, tying Hill for the second best mark on the day.
Tautu actually trained with Hill ahead of BYU Pro Day and said the competition between the two of them helped push him to a higher level when it came time to be tested.
“It’s really fun to push yourself against somebody like Taysom,” Tautu said. “Our verticals have always been real close. It was fun training and going a half an inch at a time trying to beat each other. It’s funny that we tied.”
Tautu led BYU in both tackles for loss (11.0) and sacks (6.0) as a senior. He totaled a career-high 50 tackles after starting in nine games and switching from linebacker to defensive end following his junior season.