Linebacker Devin Lloyd could be etching his name in Utah football history during the upcoming NFL draft.

The two-time Butkus Award finalist, Pac-12’s Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-America selection could be one of the highest defensive Ute players ever taken in the draft.

Star Lotulelei currently owns that honor — he was selected No. 14 in the first round of the 2013 draft by the Carolina Panthers. Before him, Luther Elliss was taken No. 20 overall by the Detroit Lions in 1995. 

“Devin is a special football player. He’s the best defender that’s ever come through the University of Utah, at least in the modern era,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s going to be, most likely, the highest drafted defensive player that we’ve had.”

Adam Rank of NFL.com wrote that the Baltimore Ravens should take Lloyd with the 14th overall selection.

Related
Is Devin Lloyd best defender in modern era of Utah football? His coach sure thinks so
Where is Devin Lloyd being projected one month before the NFL draft?
Is Utah LB Devin Lloyd flying up draft boards?

“There is no player in this draft I look at more and think, ‘This guy should be a Raven,’ than my guy Devin Lloyd,” Rank wrote. “He’s the kind of player who can get to the passer and also excels in coverage. I’m telling you, there’s no such thing as the perfect pick. But this might be the perfect pick.”

Bruce Feldman of The Athletic has Lloyd going to the New York Giants with the No. 5 overall pick.

“With neither of the standout tackles falling to the Giants, they go for the surest player at a position of need in the vastly underrated Utes star, picking him over a glitzy Pac-12 option, (Kayvon) Thibodeaux,” Feldman wrote. “The Giants need help at both positions, but I expect the buzz about Lloyd to really build. The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder with 33-inch arms made a ton of plays for Utah, posting 32 TFLs in the past 19 games.”

Cam Mellor of Pro Football Network and ESPN’s Todd McShay project Lloyd to be taken No. 18 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound ’backer is expected to be the first Utah player chosen in the first round since Garett Bolles was taken No. 20 overall by the Denver Broncos in 2017. The Utes have had nine first-round picks since 1959. 

Lloyd will attend NFL draft festivities in Las Vegas. The first round takes place April 28. 

“It will be a fun experience. A lot of my family who’s coming have never been to Vegas,” Lloyd said. “That’s going to be good to see them out there. I’m hearing more and more things about the draft and I’m really excited.”

Of course, Lloyd wants to make more history than just on draft day. He is confident about the impact that he can make on an NFL franchise, both on and off the field. 

“I have intentions of doing great things in the community. Really, it’s being the same person I was here wherever I go. Character counts for sure. I definitely think that’s a positive.” — Devin Lloyd

“I think I can be the face of an organization. I can do great things and I have intentions of doing great things in the community,” Lloyd said. “Really, it’s being the same person I was here wherever I go. Character counts for sure. I definitely think that’s a positive.”

Last season, Lloyd helped lead Utah to its first Pac-12 championship and its first Rose Bowl appearance.

Since his collegiate career ended, Lloyd has been working hard to improve. 

“I’m always looking to get better. Specifically, it’s everything. All around, I played really well last year,” he said. “But it’s the NFL. You’ve got to step it up even more. That’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I plan on continuing to do.”

Whittingham has no doubt about what Lloyd can accomplish in the NFL. 

Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd returns an interception for a TD during Pac-12 championship game vs. Oregon at Allegiant Stadium.
Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd scores on a pick-six, giving the Utes an early 14-0 lead against Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“I see exactly what the NFL looks for in linebackers. He’s got the size, the speed, the explosion, the athleticism, the intelligence — everything you see in those elite linebackers in the NFL, Devin possesses them.”

After three seasons at Utah, Lloyd could have been a high draft pick a year ago. But he decided to return for one more year. 

Looking back, Lloyd knows he made the right decision. 

“I left with a degree and I left with a championship,” he said. “I put myself in a better position to have more success in the draft this year. I’m glad I made that decision. I think it worked out.”

A year ago, Lloyd explained why he was returning for a final season.

“More than anything, I want to leave with a championship, with a nice little ring on my finger. Hopefully a couple of rings. 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.

Related
Can Devin Lloyd be a top 5 NFL draft pick? This expert believes so
How Utah ties performed at the NFL combine

“My passion for the game as well — the NFL isn’t going anywhere,” he added. “I just want to cement a legacy here at the university and do a lot of great things here. I knew I had an opportunity to leave but it wouldn’t have been up to my expectations as far as the draft. I just felt like it was all around the best decision to come back and invest another year.”

That decision is paying off.

‘He’s a big-play guy’

In his four seasons at Utah, Lloyd played in 47 games and recorded 255 tackles, including 43 tackles for loss; 16.5 sacks; five interceptions, including three pick sixes; nine pass breakups; one forced fumble; and one fumble recovery. 

“I see exactly what the NFL looks for in linebackers. He’s got the size, the speed, the explosion, the athleticism, the intelligence — everything you see in those elite linebackers in the NFL, Devin possesses them.” — Kyle Whittingham on Devin Lloyd

During his career at Utah, Lloyd consistently made huge plays. 

For example, last season, early in the fourth quarter of the Utes’ 52-7 victory at Stanford, Lloyd snatched quarterback Jack West’s pass out of the air at the two-yard line, gathered it and glided into the end zone for a touchdown. 

It may have been the shortest pick-six in Utah football history, but it also may have been one of the most impressive. 

“That interception that he made was incredible,” Whittingham said. “I saw it happen in real time and watched the replay and still couldn’t believe that he could have the reflexes and the athleticism to make that catch, and then find his way into the end zone. It was only a couple yards, but that’s who he is. He’s a big-play guy.”

Even Lloyd was surprised by that pick six.

“I was kind of in shock obviously, honestly. I was like, I can’t believe it. Yeah, it felt really good to get back in the end zone,” he said. 

Utah’s Devin Lloyd scores on a pick-six during game against the Cardinal in Stanford, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd dives into the end zone to score after intercepting a pass from Stanford quarterback Jack West in Stanford, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. It was only a 2-yard pick-six, but one that left his coach simply amazed. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“It’s crazy to see someone play like that. But when he had the pick, it was like, ‘What else can he not do?’” said Utah wide receiver Solomon Enis. “You’re witnessing greatness. At the same time, it’s like, he really had a pick on the two-yard line and scored it. It’s amazing to watch it.”

In the Pac-12 championship game win against Oregon, Lloyd returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Utes a 14-0 advantage in the first quarter in an eventual 38-10 victory. 

In addition to that, he has provided much-needed leadership. That was especially crucial last year, when the program was dealing with the tragic deaths of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe.

“We lean on him a ton. It’s the whole team. He’s a great leader. He pulls people along. He’s compelling. He’s extremely committed,” Utah linebackers coach Colton Swan said. “But it’s not just all about him and him being great. He’s trying to make this team great. He’s trying to make the linebackers great.”

“I have a lot of respect for Devin. He’s a hard worker,” added Enis. “Nobody can question how hard he works. His leadership is great.” 

Sure-handed

It’s not a surprise that Lloyd has had so many interceptions during his career. 

When he was at Otay Ranch High in Chula Vista, California, Lloyd played wide receiver and safety. 

“He always talks smack that he played receiver in high school. We always give him crap that he’s a linebacker now,” Enis said. “Once you’ve been in that position, those skills and attributes carry on. It’s going to stick with you. He can do a little bit of everything and it’s shown. I’m happy for him.”

Whittingham said Lloyd has benefited from having played on the offensive side of the ball. 

“Without a doubt that helps him out. Ball skills come more into play as a DB than a linebacker. But he’s maximized pretty much every opportunity he’s had to make an interception because he does have outstanding hands. That stems from his experience as a receiver way back when.”

Lloyd knows how to score a touchdown when the opportunity presents itself.

“Being a former receiver,” he said, “I love getting in the end zone, and on the defensive side, so it always feels good to get back in there.”

Drawing comparisons to Warner

Because of Lloyd’s college performance, and NFL scouting combine results, some have compared him to All-Pro San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner, who played at BYU.

“Lloyd is a complete player at inside linebacker, much like Warner has been for the San Francisco 49ers. And their college production and measurables are nearly identical,” McShay wrote. “Lloyd can stop the run, make plays on the ball in coverage and get after the quarterback. And the ability to impact the pass defense as an inside linebacker makes Lloyd an easy comp to Warner for me.”

Said Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner, “Someone may have cloned Fred Warner to create Devin Lloyd.”

The combine

Lloyd participated in the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in March.

He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds (16th among linebackers), had 25 reps on the bench press (second), recorded 35 inches in the vertical leap (16th), and 126 inches in the broad jump (10th). 

Of his combine performance, Lloyd said he enjoyed “the whole experience” of the combine. 

“I’m grateful to be at that position. Having the opportunity to train with elite athletes from all around the nation and participate at the combine with elite athletes, that was really special.”

On Pro Day at Utah on March 24, Lloyd did not participate. At the time, he was dealing with “some lower extremity tightness,” which wasn’t worth aggravating.

“I didn’t want to go out and risk anything. So I just made the smart decision and decided not to do anything,” he said. “For what I did in-season and at the combine too, that was enough to do what I want to do in the draft.”

Lloyd said he’s met with every team leading up to the draft. 

‘I’ll end up at the right location’

McShay explained why he projects Devin Lloyd to be taken 18th by the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Yes, the Eagles typically pass on off-ball linebackers in Round 1, but they need one, and Lloyd — a potential immediate high-impact starter — is sitting there on the board,” he wrote. “A former safety, Lloyd flies all over the field and does a little bit of everything. He had 99 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and four interceptions last season.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projects Lloyd to be selected 21st overall by the New England Patriots. 

“I thought about a wide receiver and cornerback here, but Lloyd just feels like a Bill Belichick-type player. He’s always around the ball, is a great blitzer from the middle of the defense and makes plays. — ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. on Devin Lloyd

“I thought about a wide receiver and cornerback here, but Lloyd just feels like a Bill Belichick-type player,” Kiper Jr. wrote. “He’s always around the ball, is a great blitzer from the middle of the defense and makes plays. The Patriots allowed 4.5 yards per carry last season, which ranked 25th in the league. This fills a void with an impact player.”

Dalton Miller of ProFootballNetwork.com projects Lloyd to go to the Tennessee Titans with pick No. 26.

“Aside from being an older prospect, there are really no issues with Devin Lloyd. He’s the cleanest of the linebacker prospects in the class and the most natural coverage player among the group,” Miller wrote. “He doesn’t necessarily play with much power, but his length helps him ward off blockers, as does his lateral agility. Tennessee has a massive need for linebackers, and they get the best one in the draft late in Round 1.”

Lloyd said he doesn’t follow the various mock drafts out there, but added that his mom sends them to him on a regular basis.

“I have no choice but to hear about it,” he said. “Ultimately, I know that God is going to send me where I’m meant to go and I’ll end up at the right location. I know I’ll go to the right place.”