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Why is there a notable increase of Utah ties in the NFL this offseason?

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New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson throws a pass during an NFL football practice.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson throws a pass during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Florham Park, N.J. Wilson is one of 10 Utah high school rookies in the NFL right now.

Kathy Willens, Associated Press

Each summer over the past eight years, the Deseret News has created a master list of Utah ties in the NFL during the offseason. This year, there are 89 Utah ties on an NFL roster just a few weeks before teams head to training camps near the end of July.

How does the number of Utah ties on NFL rosters in 2021 stack up to past seasons?

The 89 Utah ties currently in the NFL is significantly higher than the past three seasons — there were 74 last season, 76 in 2019 and 79 in 2018.

The 2017 offseason set the standard in recent years, when there were 90 local players on NFL rosters around this time, paced by a strong contingent of 35 rookies. Earlier this offseason, there were 90 Utah ties on NFL rosters, before former South Sevier High’s Alani Pututau was released by Atlanta.

In 2016, there were 75 Utah ties on rosters during the summer, with 70 in 2015 and 66 in 2014.

This year’s crop of 89 local players includes 16 rookies, with eight draft picks and eight undrafted free agents.

Here’s a breakdown of those 89 players (note: they can count towards multiple categories):

  • 29 who played at the University of Utah (down from 30 last year)
  • 26 who played at BYU (up from 12 last year)
  • 14 who played at Utah State (down from 15 last year)
  • 4 who played at Weber State (equal to 4 last year)
  • 4 who played at Snow College (equal to 4 last year)
  • 1 who played at Southern Utah (down from 2 last year)
  • 42 who played football at Utah high schools (up from 30 last year)

So, why is there such an increase of Utah ties this year?

Three main reasons contribute to the sizable jump of Utah ties in the NFL:

  1. BYU went from 12 players in the NFL in the 2020 offseason to 26 this year. There are 13 Cougars who will be rookies in 2021 — if they make it to an opening day roster — headlined by quarterback Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall selection by the New York Jets in the 2021 NFL draft.
  2. The number of Utah high school players in the NFL saw an increase of 40% from last year to this year. In addition to Wilson, who went to Corner Canyon High, former Desert Hills High’s offensive tackle Penei Sewell was a first-round draft pick — he went No. 7 overall to the Detroit Lions — and there were seven total Utah high schoolers taken in this year’s draft. There are a total of 10 Utah high school rookies overall.
  3. The University of Utah, yet again, leads the way among state representatives, and the number of Utes only went down one even though longtime quarterback Alex Smith retired and no Utah rookies were drafted — thanks in large part to COVID-19 impacting the past year. Even so, the Utes have had 21 players drafted in the past five years and 18 of them are still in the league.

Here’s a look at each Utah tie in the NFL, listed by school in alphabetical order:

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San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner (54) in action against the Arizona Cardinals during an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz.

Jennifer Stewart, Associated Press

BYU players in the NFL
Name Pos. NFL Utah high school (if applicable)
Zayne Anderson S Kansas City Chiefs Stansbury
Matt Bushman TE Las Vegas Raiders N/A
Brady Christensen OT Carolina Panthers Bountiful
Michael Davis CB Los Angeles Chargers N/A
Zac Dawe DE Atlanta Falcons Pleasant Grove
Chandon Herring OL Tennessee Titans N/A
Taysom Hill QB New Orleans Saints N/A
Tristen Hoge OG New York Jets N/A
Bronson Kaufusi TE Green Bay Packers Timpview
Corbin Kaufusi OL San Francisco 49ers Timpview
Isaiah Kaufusi LB Indianapolis Colts Brighton
Dayan Lake CB Los Angeles Rams Northridge
Harvey Langi LB New England Patriots Bingham
Dax Milne WR Washington Football Team Bingham
Kai Nacua S San Francisco 49ers N/A
Micah Simon WR Carolina Panthers N/A
Daniel Sorensen S Kansas City Chiefs N/A
Sione Takitaki LB Cleveland Browns N/A
Khyiris Tonga DT Chicago Bears Granger
Kyle Van Noy LB New England Patriots N/A
Fred Warner LB San Francisco 49ers N/A
Troy Warner S Los Angeles Rams N/A
Chris Wilcox CB Tampa Bay Buccaneers N/A
Jamaal Williams RB Detroit Lions N/A
Ty'Son Williams RB Baltimore Ravens N/A
Zach Wilson QB New York Jets Corner Canyon

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Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) warms up before an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Denver.

Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

Utah players in the NFL
Name Pos. NFL Utah high school (if applicable) Utah junior college (if applicable)
Brian Allen CB Cleveland Browns N/A N/A
Bradlee Anae DE Dallas Cowboys N/A N/A
Cody Barton LB Seattle Seahawks Brighton N/A
Jackson Barton OT New York Giants Brighton N/A
Francis Bernard LB Dallas Cowboys Herriman N/A
Julian Blackmon FS Indianapolis Colts Layton N/A
Marquise Blair S Seattle Seahawks N/A N/A
Garett Bolles OT Denver Broncos Westlake Snow
Devontae Booker RB New York Giants N/A N/A
Terrell Burgess S Los Angeles Rams N/A N/A
Kylie Fitts OLB Arizona Cardinals N/A N/A
Leki Fotu DT Arizona Cardinals Herriman N/A
Matt Gay K Los Angeles Rams Orem N/A
Javelin Guidry DB New York Jets N/A N/A
Chase Hansen LB New Orleans Saints Lone Peak N/A
Tyler Huntley QB Baltimore Ravens N/A N/A
Jaylon Johnson CB Chicago Bears N/A N/A
Star Lotulelei DT Buffalo Bills Bingham Snow
Zack Moss RB Buffalo Bills N/A N/A
Jared Norris LB Washington Football Team N/A N/A
Tim Patrick WR Denver Broncos N/A N/A
Darrin Paulo OL Detroit Lions N/A N/A
John Penisini DL Detroit Lions West Jordan Snow
Eric Rowe CB/S Miami Dolphins N/A N/A
Pita Taumoepenu LB Denver Broncos Timpview N/A
Sam Tevi OT Indianapolis Colts N/A N/A
Hunter Thedford TE Detroit Lions N/A N/A
Marcus Williams FS New Orleans Saints N/A N/A
Mitch Wishnowsky P San Francisco 49ers N/A N/A

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Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner stands on the field between drills during NFL football practice Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Renton, Wash.

Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

Utah State players in the NFL
Name Pos. NFL Utah high school (if applicable)
Jalen Davis CB Cincinnati Bengals N/A
Dominik Eberle K Las Vegas Raiders N/A
Kyler Fackrell LB Los Angeles Chargers N/A
Tipa Galeai DE Green Bay Packers N/A
Tyler Larsen C Washington Football Team Jordan
Nevin Lawson CB Las Vegas Raiders N/A
Dallin Leavitt S Las Vegas Raiders N/A
Jordan Love QB Green Bay Packers N/A
JoJo Natson WR/Ret. Cleveland Browns N/A
Dax Raymond TE Pittsburgh Steelers Timpview
Patrick Scales LS Chicago Bears Weber
Darwin Thompson RB Kansas City Chiefs N/A
Nick Vigil LB Minnesota Vikings Fremont
Bobby Wagner MLB Seattle Seahawks N/A

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Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson (24) runs back an interception for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

John Munson, Associated Press

Other Utah college players in the NFL
Name Pos. NFL College Utah high school (if applicable)
Miles Killebrew S Pittsburgh Steelers Southern Utah N/A
Taron Johnson CB Buffalo Bills Weber State N/A
Sua Opeta OG Philadelphia Eagles Weber State Stansbury
Andrew Vollert TE Indianapolis Colts Weber State N/A
Jonah Williams DE Los Angeles Rams Weber State N/A

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Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell runs a drill during NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich., Thursday, June 3, 2021.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

Other Utah high school players in the NFL
Name Pos. NFL Utah high school Utah junior college (if applicable)
Branden Bowen OT Arizona Cardinals Corner Canyon N/A
Jordan Devey OL Buffalo Bills American Fork Snow
Kaden Elliss LB New Orleans Saints Judge Memorial N/A
Simi Fehoko WR Dallas Cowboys Brighton N/A
Alohi Gilman S Los Angeles Chargers Orem N/A
Porter Gustin DE Cleveland Browns Salem Hills N/A
Andre James OT Las Vegas Raiders Herriman N/A
Marcus Kemp WR Kansas City Chiefs Layton N/A
Bryan Mone DT Seattle Seahawks Highland N/A
Dalton Schultz TE Dallas Cowboys Bingham N/A
Penei Sewell OT Detroit Lions Desert Hills N/A
Xavier Su'a-Filo OT Cincinnati Bengals Timpview N/A
Noah Togiai TE Indianapolis Colts Hunter N/A
Jay Tufele DT Jacksonville Jaguars Bingham N/A
John Ursua WR Seattle Seahawks Cedar/Westlake N/A