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What makes Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd a top-10 talent in college football?

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Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd pushes Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave out of bounds. Lloyd is a second-team preseason All-American.

Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (0) pushes Oregon State Beavers tight end Luke Musgrave (88) out of bounds after a catch at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard lists Lloyd as one of the nation’s top upper class college football players heading into the 2021 season.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Devin Lloyd could have been the next great University of Utah product to have his name called during next week’s 2021 NFL draft.

Instead, the linebacker is returning to Kyle Whittingham’s program in 2021, and he’s getting recognized as one of the best upper class talents in the college game.

Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard rated Lloyd No. 10 on his list of college football’s top seniors for the 2021 season. He is one of five defenders on the list, and one of two linebackers, along with Iowa State’s Mike Rose at No. 2.

Note that because of the NCAA’s decision to allow student-athletes a free year eligibility-wise in the 2020-21 academic year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lloyd is actually listed as a junior again heading into the 2021 season.

Shepard’s reasoning of having Utah’s star linebacker on the list is simple: Lloyd will be the best player on a Utah defense that could be among the nation’s elite, after showing plenty of promise in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

“Coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is ready to make some noise, and it has a lot of key pieces back, including all 11 defensive starters. That group is led by potential All-American linebacker Devin Lloyd,” Shepard wrote.

“A year ago, the 6-foot-3 232-pound junior had 10 tackles for a loss in five games and made plays all over the field. He is a captain who was a Butkus Award finalist, an honor that goes to the nation’s top linebacker.”

Last season, Lloyd led Utah in total tackles (48) and tackles for loss (10), while adding two sacks, a forced fumble and one quarterback hurry. He explained why he chose to return to Utah this season instead of jumping at the chance to go pro after earning All-Pac-12 first-team honors last year.

“More than anything, I want to leave with a championship, with a nice little ring on my finger. Hopefully a couple of rings,” he told the Deseret News last month. “I want to bring everyone along with me, too. I know this team wants to be great. I’m not the only one on this team that wants to be great.

“My passion for the game as well — the NFL isn’t going anywhere,” he continued. “I just want to cement a legacy here at the university and do a lot of great things here.”

Shepard also makes a declaration for how he sees Lloyd’s 2021 season playing out: “He will terrorize offenses throughout the conference this year and stands to make himself a lot of money with a big final season.”