With the NFL draft upon us, Ute Insiders Dirk Facer and Trent Wood are joined by Deseret News NFL guru Brandon Judd to discuss this year's draft — and how things could play out for Ute hopefuls. They also look at the Utah basketball program, which received a commit from a Texas sharpshooter this week, and visit with Ute receiver Britain Covey, who was recently recognized for his outstanding contributions on and off the field. That and more on this week’s episode.
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Dirk Facer: On this edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast we talk about the NFL draft, talk a little hoops, gymnastics, baseball, softball and Britain Covey joins us. That and more on the Ute Insiders podcast.
This is Brian Holman, head coach, University of Utah men's lacrosse program, and you're listening to the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast.
Welcome to the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast. I'm Dirk Facer here in our swank Salt Lake studio with Trent Wood and special guest Brandon Judd, guys, welcome to the show.
Trent Wood: Good to be here. I didn't know that this was swank so much as rustic.
DF: It's pretty nice, isn't it? Brandon is our draft expert from the deseretnews.com. So we brought him along. He's a BYU guy, but I hope you Ute fans will forgive him for that. Guys, let's jump right into the NFL draft. The Utes, I think one way to measure obviously, they sent six guys to the combine. But they have seven guys listed on the prospect list on nfl.com. And that's usually a pretty good sign of guys that could be drafted. Brandon, just right out of the chute, do you see six or seven Utah guys getting drafted?
Brandon Judd: No. I think ideally, you're probably looking at about three to four guys that get drafted. And I mean, it was a super small senior class this last year. About 10 seniors. So it's not a big surprise that — I mean, in the past few years we've seen Utah, what two years ago they had the eight guys drafted, last year they had Kylie Fitts. I think this year is going to fit in a little bit more with like 2018, 2016, but you might see a couple extra guys go. Marquise Blair is obviously the big name for Utah this year, the safety. He'll probably be the first one off the board. Beyond him it's kind of a bit more of a question mark. You got the two specialists in Mitch Wishnowsky and Matt Gay. Utah has never had a specialist ever taken in the draft but they're both listed as the top guy at kicker and punter this year. I think both by CBS Sports and The Athletic.
DF: They were the first program ever to have a Ray Guy Award and Lou Groza Award winner on the roster at the same time. So it's kind of a unique situation. But do you think the specialists will get drafted? Not a lot of specialists get drafted anymore.
TW: That's so hard to predict because there's some years where teams make inexplicable, draft picks like the Bucs picking Florida State's kicker super early and then sometimes no specialist gets taken at all. I mean, Mitch Wishnowsky, just seeing him in person, the man is a terrifying human for a punter. Like he's huge and should probably be a linebacker rather than a punter. So I feel like there's an NFL team out there that will just fall in love with Mitch as opposed to the punter Mitch and they'll pick him. I don't know about Matt Gay. He's also not an unimpressive human either, but I assume one of them will get picked. That's my guess.
DF: Well, you know, it's interesting, a few years ago, Louie Sakoda obviously was an All-American kicker and didn't get drafted and he did punting duties as well. So it's hard to tell and he didn't really get much of a shot at the NFL either. You know, as an undrafted, free agent. But I was looking at the NFL website and some projections that they had and they have Marquise Blair going in the third or fourth round, like you said Brandon, and they said Cody Barton — interesting, they think he could go in the fourth or fifth round. And then Mitch Wishnowsky fifth round. Chase Hansen sixth round, Matt Gay seventh or free agent. And then they have Jackson Barton and Corrion Ballard as undrafted free agents who would likely get signed. You know, it's really going to come down to whether the specialists get picked, isn't it?
BJ: Yeah, really going to come down to that. It wouldn't surprise me to see Wishnowsky go. I'm trying to remember who it was. I was looking at several different national seven-round mock drafts and one of them had Wishnowsky going as high as the fifth round. I looked at seven different ones and Wishnowsky was in I think four those, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if Wishnowsky goes. Gay, that's a little bit different situation. I think it was Dane Brugler from the Athletic had mentioned one thing that Matt's gonna have to learn a little bit different and something he'll have to tweak in the NFL is his three-step approach into it, is something he'll have to change a little bit. But that was the one knock on him that I saw. So I kind of think he's headed towards the free agent route at the end of it. But it wouldn't surprise me to see Wishnowsky come off the board this year.
DF: Like Trent said, physically, he's just a good specimen to have. If a guy got loose on a punt return and you got Mitch Wishnowsky coming after you, he's gonna get you. Any other thoughts on the NFL draft guys?
BJ: Other players to kind of look at is, there's Cody Barton and Chase Hansen. That, to me, is going to be really interesting to see which one of those two goes first. And if one of them gets drafted. It was Gil Brandt from NFL.com that put Cody at number 72, I think, on his list of the top 150.
TW: Yeah, didn't he have him ranked the highest of every Ute?
BJ: Yeah, he had him about 20 spots ahead of Blair. A little bit of a surprise, I think, because pretty much everybody else had Blair as the top guy from Utah. I think conversely, who was it? Dane Brugler from the Athletic had put Cody Barton around 290. So there's just kind of this big gap between where he is in one versus where he is in another.
DF: And the NFL draft is a lot different the NBA draft. It's not necessarily drafting the best athlete that's available the time. It's specific needs, specific positions. And I think that's what probably might move Blair up just because there's teams in dire need of safeties, rather than linebackers. But Cody Barton's a self-made guy, the fact that he's even in the draft conversation is a huge achievement for that kid. Because he came from Brighton High and kinda had to make his name. Jackson, his older brother, a bigger kid and physically more suited for the NFL, but Cody really came on lead the Utes in tackles last year. Chase Hansen's situation is kind of a bummer because he hasn't been able to work out for teams and that and he's trying to get healthy. Last time I talked to him he thinks he'll be healthy by NFL camp time. But I think he's a really good pick for a mid-round guy cuz if he's healthy, that guy can play.
BJ: Yeah, it was Tony Pauline, he runs Draft Analysis. And I've used a lot of his information over the past several years. His overall analysis of Chase Hansen said he believes he could be a starter in the NFL, and we've always known Chase to really have this smart football mind. He said, once he learns kind of the way the NFL runs, he really thinks of him as a starter. And I think, yeah, like you were saying, Dirk, if there wasn't all these injuries that Chase has been dealing with, if he would have been able to work out, I think we'd probably have him more as a lock to be able to be drafted. But at this point, you take that and you take the fact he's 25 years old, which I mean, that's ancient in NFL draft years. I think that's really what costs him too. He's either gonna probably be a sixth-or seventh-round pick or he's gonna go to somebody in free agency. But he, to me, might actually be the diamond that kind of comes out of this entire class for Utah.
DF: Trent, you saw him play a lot this year. What do you think of Chase Hansen?
TW: I think like Brandon talks about, the only reason that he's not being talked about more is because he's hurt and he can't work out. I think his production on the field every year that he was healthy at Utah suggests that he can play in the NFL. It's just a question of can he get healthy and can he stay healthy? I think that's the only question with him.
DF: Right? And the fact that he was the safety and a linebacker, he's a very versatile guy, very good athlete. He knows football and wishing the best for him on that. The other guys — so we talked about the specialists. Jackson Barton. He's got the size. Brandon, what are you hearing on Jackson Barton, because physically he looks like an NFL offensive lineman.
BJ: Physically he's got the capabilities. I think mostly what I've seen is it's just the technique with Jackson. And I think that's going to cost him. He'll probably be a priority free agent. But pretty much everything I've seen on him is he'll go the priority free agent route. Maybe some team falls in love with him and they take him late sixth, early seventh. But I think that's kind of the route he heads.
DF: And the other guy Corrion Ballard, obviously played back at safety with Blair. Do you see him? Looks like he's gonna be an undrafted, free agent and get an invitation to go to an NFL camp. Do you see him getting drafted? Or do you think that's the route he's going to take?
BJ: Probably the probably the free agent route for him. There's not really been a whole lot of buzz on Corrion. But I just remember him being a solid player for Utah. And you know what, it wouldn't surprise me if he is able to make something out of it too, through the free agency route.
DF: All right, before we move on, are there any other players in the state? Maybe from some of those other schools we don't like to talk about too much that are going to get their names called?
BJ: Probably the biggest name of anybody else out there is Dax Raymond. I think you're going to see — Dax Raymond obviously is the tight end up at Utah State. Prepped at Timpview High. It's probably going to be between Dax and Marquise for who's going to be the first local taken in the draft this year. It wouldn't surprise me if it's Blair, it wouldn't surprise me if it's Raymond. Raymond is kind of being predicted as anywhere from a fourth- to a seventh-round pick. So it's a pretty wide gap there. But there's been some early fourth round for Dax. Sione Takitaki out of BYU might be a fourth-rounder, might be a seventh-rounder. He's almost the enigma of this draft because nobody can really seem to figure out where to put him in this draft. And there's a handful of other local high school kids. One that's kind of interesting is Luther Elliss' son Kayden Elliss was up at Idaho. And he's coming out, he's had several NFL teams looked at him. And the report, I think it was from the Spokesman-Review, was at Idaho's pro day. He took the individual blocking sled and just like flipped it over twice. So that's gotten him some attention, some looks. And he's popped up in a few of the seven-round mock drafts, too. So you might see another Utah connection that way.
DF: Doug Robinson has a story on deseretnews.com on Dax Raymond. It's an interesting story. And like you said, I wouldn't be surprised if he is the first local guy taken because he brings a lot to the table. And that's a position, like we said if the team needs a tight end, he's a good one to go to.
BJ: Yeah, I think two different mock drafts that had him going to the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round, which would be interesting, just because last year Dalton Schultz, the Bingham High kid, ended up going to Dallas. So if that happens, you've got a couple local kids playing in the NFL together.
DF: As a Seahawks fan I'm not too happy with the Cowboys right now.
Let's jump over to basketball now, guys, the Utes got a late commit this past week. Brendan Wenzel, a shooting guard from San Antonio, becomes the sixth newcomer for the team next year. Trent, you had the chance see the Utes play this year. Little bit of a turnover there, six new guys, but they had that solid three freshmen last year that they're building upon. So they've got a nice foundation.
TW: Yeah. And to add — I mean, he's been described as a sharpshooter — to add him to the team I think is really helpful because they do lose Parker Van Dyke and Sedrick Barefield, who were their best outside shooters this year, whereas Timmy Allen and Both Gach weren't great outside shooters. So to get another outside shooter I think is important for Utah. So it's a big, big addition for them.
DF: You know, there's a lot of news coming out of Utah. We're still waiting to get a lot of things verified. But it looks like Donny Daniels is coming down from Gonzaga to be the director of basketball operations for the Utes after they lost assistant coach DeMarlo Slocum to UNLV. That brings a nice touch, a little veteran touch, to advise the coaches. Not that they need it. But to get a guy with a resume like Donny Daniels and Gonzaga and the Final Fours he's been to and that. That's got to be a good thing, doesn't it?
TW: For sure. Do we know what his position is yet?
DF: Probably director of basketball ops, but nothing's been announced. It'll be official soon as we send the podcast out. But as of right now he's coming and it doesn't look like he's going to be on the bench. He'll be more of an advisor-type role, but they haven't defined anything yet. I think they're still waiting to dot the i's and cross the t's and get it all official.
TW: Still, that has to be exciting for Ute fans, because he comes from that golden era of Utah basketball.
DF: Yeah, Larry Krystkowiak talks about the Rick Majerus era and to have a connection to that, other than Tommy Connor, is going to be great. And I know that they all appreciate Donny Daniels. And it'll be interesting to see what that does for recruiting and a bunch of things, because he's well connected, obviously.
Donnie Tillman and Jace Johnson, two guys who were on the team last year, have become early entry candidates, which is so confusing these days. But basically, people are just dipping their toes in the water. Brandon, have you had a chance to follow that a little bit? I know there's some other guys in the state that are doing it. Some have hired agents that are leaving for sure. But I talked to people at the U. today and Donny Tillman, I think he's just getting evaluated to see where he stands. Because there's what, 223, something like that, guys that applied for this early entry. There's 60 draft picks. So one of four will get picked. And that doesn't even include this year's seniors. So you add that and it's like a pool of 400 people. Do you like this setup where they can test the waters? Because I don't really like it, to be honest. I think the NCAA needs to draw a line and not let the NBA in until they have to.
BJ: You know, when they originally started it, I was a bigger fan of it. But it is kind of strange, because it's like, hey, if you want to do it after your freshman year, you can do it. You want to go after your sophomore year. Sure. You know, and at some point, if you just finally decide, oh, I'm gonna hire an agent. I mean, like BYU's Yoeli Childs did it last year. And now he's gonna do it again this year, and we're expecting him to hire an agent and be gone. You know, fine, whatever, he got the chance to do it. But it's kind of odd that you can do that and then come back to school. I originally liked the idea that you can get this feedback and figure out, you know, what NBA scouts, NBA personnel want you to work on, and then you can go back to school and do it. I think that's beneficial. But not having some sort of cap on how many times you could do it is kind of interesting. I don't know it kind of, like you said, there's going to be this pool of say close to 400 guys. I mean, at the same time, you might get lost in the shuffle of those 400 guys, too.
DF: Yeah. And I think it opens the door for corruption, because you're kind of letting the snake in the door a couple times.
TW: Yeah, but I'm gonna disagree with you guys. Because I don't think it's any different than players getting draft evaluations for the NFL, I don't think it's any different than any other sport getting any type of evaluation for professional sports. I think we make too big of a deal out of players declaring for the draft when it's not actually a real declaration until they hire an agent. And so I think it's just guys trying to figure out where they need to get better on. And I think we're it does have an impact is with the transfer portal and transferring. Because if you get feedback back from the NBA telling you that you need to improve in a certain area and you don't feel like you can on your team, then that would lead people to leave. So maybe that could be a negative byproduct. But I don't think it's really a detriment to let these kids talk to the NBA and see what they need to work on or not. I mean, they're going to come back if they're going to come back or they're not.
DF: You know, one of the main differences, obviously in the NFL, you file paperwork and get feedback from a committee. The NBA you fly to San Antonio, you fly to Cleveland and you work out for them. And you know, it's a little different. But I see what you're saying.
You kind of brought us into our next thing about Jace Johnson because he obviously entered the NCAA transfer portal, reportedly wants to be more involved in an offense. The Omaha World-Herald reported today he's going to make an official visit to Nebraska this weekend. That's kind of the byproduct, you know, because I'm sure — he's a 7-footer and he needs to improve his offensive skills, but I think he's making a mistake leaving Utah. But it almost sounds like they're gonna cut bait and move on without him.
TW: Yeah, I mean, and it's every kid's dream to make it to the NBA right? That's why they're playing basketball, it's why they're playing in college. And so obviously if he leaves he thinks that leaving gives him a better shot at that.
DF: It's interesting, it's I want to play now or I'm leaving, taking my ball and going home. It'll be interesting to see what the long-term impact on college sports is because, you know, there was a time when free agency was really big in sports, it still is, obviously, but at times when players were signing all over the place. Now you're gonna have college kids transferring all over the place and better buy a program. Maybe we should get in the business and start selling programs.
Let's jump to gymnastics now. Trent, big change. Megan Marsden retirement. Tell us what's going on up on the hill.
TW: Yeah, I mean, it's been a long time coming, she said. She admitted to me that originally her goal, and her wish was to retire with Greg, she thought that would have been nice. But they decided as a couple that it was better to keep the Marsden name with the program for a couple more years. Plus, she's 12 years younger than him so she wasn't ready to retire yet. But heading into this year, she just kind of felt that it was time and she didn't tell the team. She only told Tom Farden and a couple staffers and AD Mark Harlan, shouldn't tell anybody else. She said that was super hard too, not telling people, because Megan likes to talk. And she's very honest with people, so having to keep that from people was hard for her. But it was just time and I mean, they have all the confidence in the world in Tom Farden as a gymnastics coach and being in charge of that program. So she just felt it was time to go home.
DF: And with MyKayla Skinner and that, what's the future of the gymnastics program? Are they going to be rebuilding?
TW: MyKayla Skinner is not 100 percent guaranteed not to come back. But if I had to guess I put a 99 percent chance that she's going to try for the Tokyo Olympics. As far as the future I mean, Tom Farden said after their loss in Fort Worth that it's going to be a rebuilding year next year. They lose five players, if MyKayla leaves, from this year's team. They only have 13 on the team, and four of them were significant contributing gymnasts who performed a lot. And so they bring in a new recruiting class of four girls who are supposed to be really good. One of them has been a national champion in the Junior Olympic ranks, which Utah has never had before. They've never had a girl be a national champ, which is a big deal. And they've all talked about how the recruits coming in this year and next year are really good. But they did all kind of admit that this next year is going to be a little bit different. Maybe not what people are used to with Utah gymnastics, just because they'll only have two seniors if MyKayla goes and it'll be kind of a rebuilding year.
DF: What happened to Nationals this year? Why the disappointing finish?
TW: That's a good question. Um, it's the same thing that's happened a lot. And I talked to Tom Farden about it after the meet. And it's all about being able to perform under pressure in those big-time situations. They have proven year in, year out that they can do as good as the rest of the programs in the country, but they can't do it on the national stage. And they don't know why. And they try lots of different training techniques. And they try different things with these gymnasts and they bring in new coaches and send coaches away and they're still trying to figure it out. But for some reason, the gymnasts at Utah have not been able to be at their best at the most important time of the year.
DF: And that's what matters, it's a bottom line business, sports. But let's talk baseball and softball real quick. Not a real banner year for the Utes on the diamond this year. Baseball team currently 12-21 overall, 4-14, 10th place in the Pac-12, could be worse. You know, if you look at the standings it's easy to say they're in 10th and they're horrible and all this. But you look at the standings, Stanford's 13-2, Oregon State 14-4, UCLA 11-4, ASU 12-6, those are four legitimate national title contenders. Pac-12 baseball's tough and I think we got spoiled around here thinking that they could win when they did, because that may be one of the greatest achievements of Utah sports history in the Pac-12.
TW: Well, they're still the only men's program to win a Pac-12 championship, right?
DF: Well, if you count skiing and football, obviously. Skiing you just gotta beat Colorado. So it's a little different. Softball is 15-29. 4-11, they're in seventh place. Same thing, Trent, they're kind of a top-heavy league. Arizona's 15-0, UCLA is 14-1, Washington's 14-4. So there's some really good teams in Pac-12 softball too.
TW: I mean, yeah, it just it feels like this is not Utah's year in either sport
DF: And then lacrosse, the inaugural season winding down. I guess it's you can put it in the books. It's an official sport.
TW: Much to your chagrin?
DF: Well you know, as long as I don't have to play. I'm not athletic enough to play so we wish them well in their finale this weekend.
It's time for our Utah by 5 segment. I had a chance to catch up with the Utah wide receiver Britain Covey. He recently received the Ute Proud Award from the student-athlete association. He was honored for representing both the team and school and maintaining high moral values. He's a great young man. I had a chance to talk to him about that. 4.0 student and we'll play that for you now.
We're joined on our Utah by 5 podcast this week by Utah wide receiver Britain Covey. Britain, thanks for joining us. You just recently won the Ute Proud Award. Tell me what that means to be recognized for your commitment to the University of Utah.
Britain Covey 23:53 It's awesome to receive a Ute Proud Award. I feel grateful. I think comes down similar to a saying that we have at the football program here where it's, we will never become you, you will become us. You know, when people come out of high school or wherever you come from, you tend to want to mold your environment to you, and the standard here at Utah is you need to become us. You need to mold yourself to fit the environment because this is a great program and organization. And so that's what I think it comes down to, is I've just learned to embrace everything here and love it. Not just football but academics, the social life, everything, the fans. And that's a big part of it, I think.
DF: How did a Timpview High School guy end up being so red?
BC: Hmm, good question. I mean, I get asked that by everyone on the street, every day. So there's no real short answer for this. I mean, it's a long conversation. But in the end, I just loved everything that the school offered. I mean, I got offered a scholarship by both BYU and Utah and Utah State and other schools. But the combination of different things that were important to me was highest at Utah. And I kind of had a bias against Utah growing up, but as you get older the cloud of bias starts to leave. And I loved coach (Kyle) Whittingham. But more than anything, I loved the program. Because I knew it was susceptible to change in terms of coaching at any point, but the program was going to stay the same, or at least very similar.
DF: You take a lot of pride in things other than football. I noticed on the wall here that you had a 4.0 GPA last semester. You take your academics seriously. Why are so many other things other than football so important to you?
BC: I think I've been taught very well by parents to keep the main things the main thing. And coach (Morgan) Scalley always says that the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. And so it's the classic coaching cliche lines, where it's you don't cut corners, if you stop five inches behind the line, then it's not good. And basically, it's that principle. The way you do one thing is the way you're going to do everything in your life. And so you can't just compartmentalize your life and try and be good in certain areas. And then just slack off in other areas. You need to really try your best in all areas. And I would just say the other thing I've learned is, if I'm in a classroom, then I'm in a classroom mentally. If I'm in the football facility physically, then I'm at the football facility mentally. So wherever I am physically, I just try to be there mentally 100 percent.
DF: Is it hard — you came in as a freshman, but you've kind of been a leader of this team ever since you got here. Was that hard when you were younger, and it was a hard when you came back from your mission? Is hard because you're still an underclassman? Leadership seems to follow you. Are you aware of that, because your teammates speak highly of you and your coaches speak very highly of you.
BC: Yeah, I think leadership is something that I have been around my whole life. I really appreciate the example of my family. Obviously, people know about my grandpa. Leadership is not a position, it's a choice. And I don't go out just trying to be a leader, in terms of for recognition or anything like that. I just want to contribute and help people. And I say the biggest principle of leadership that I learned is from my grandpa in one of his books called "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations." And it's a triangle, the triangle of leadership and the the foundation of it is relationship, the middle of it is example, and the top of it is verbal teaching. And basically the principle behind it is verbal teaching is such a small part of leadership. Of the triangle, it's the smallest portion. And before you can verbally teach someone or influence someone, you have to have the example, you have to set the example, they have to know that your words reflect your actions too, and your actions reflect your words. And before you can have an influence because of your example you have to have a relationship with somebody. And that's what I do with my teammates.
DF: Thanks, Britain. Appreciate you joining us.
We're back. Thanks, Britain for joining us. Guys, anything else to add today?
BJ: Nope. Other than, hey, NFL draft, it's NFL Christmas for the next couple days. So enjoy that.
DF: Are you going to be parked in front of the TV watching?
BJ: Yeah, pretty much. I'm going to do that and do "Avengers: Endgame" when I'm not in front of the TV.
DF: Well, there you go. Trent, what's your weekend look like?
TW: Not like that at all. I don't even know. I don't want to stare at a TV that long.
DF: Well, you know when you get older, it's kind of fun. That's what I do for fun. So just a reminder, folks, you can get the podcast on Apple podcast, Google Play, go to DeseretNews.com. We're going to shut her down maybe for a couple weeks here and rejoin you in the summer, so we appreciate this first season of the Ute Insiders podcast. We want to thank Kent Condon and Richie Steadman for all their work putting it out together, and we'll see you later this summer.