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What other Utes may join Devin Lloyd in hearing names called out at NFL draft?

Ute linebacker Devin Lloyd is expected to be a first-round selection at this week’s NFL draft, and his head coach and position coach will be in Vegas with him to enjoy the moment

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Utah coach Kyle Whittingham watches a replay in the game against Ohio State in the 108th Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, Calif.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham watches a replay in the game against Ohio State in the 108th Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Whittingham will be at the NFL draft in Las Vegas later week, eager to see where Devin Lloyd and other Utes land.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

After a year “break,” Utah is back in the NFL draft business. 

Last year, the Utes had zero players selected in the 2021 draft — simply because no Utah players made themselves available for the draft.

But as the 2022 draft kicks off later this week, there are several former Utes, who helped lead the program to its first Pac-12 championship, that could hear their names called.

The list is headlined by consensus All-America linebacker Devin Lloyd, who is projected to be a first-round pick.

Coach Kyle Whittingham will be attending the draft in Las Vegas as a guest of Lloyd’s, along with linebackers coach Colton Swan

“They invite 20-21 guys to the draft to be there in person. Each of those players can bring eight to 10 (people) with them,” Whittingham said. “Devin has invited myself and Colton Swan to go down. We’ll be down with Devin in Las Vegas on Thursday night.”

Among the others that could be drafted, or could sign undrafted free agent contracts, include linebacker Nephi Sewell; defensive lineman Mika Tafua; offensive linemen Nick Ford and Bamidele Olaseni; running back T.J. Pledger; and wide receiver/kick return specialist Britain Covey.

Whittingham said he is eagerly awaiting the draft.

“I’m always looking forward to that. Devin should be a first-round guy. Best-case scenario is inside the top 10,” he said. “Most likely scenario is 11-20. Certainly, in the early 20s would be the worst-case scenario. Then we have three or four other guys that are kind of on that bubble. It’s always exciting to see where those guys end up.”

In January 2021, Whittingham had a conversation with Lloyd about his future plans. Lloyd could have declared for the draft but opted to return for one final season.

“I can still remember everything he said, everything he laid out as the reasons he was coming back, what he wanted to accomplish, what his goals were. He checked every box,” Whittingham said. “To see that come to fruition and have him being positioned right now where he is in the draft has been a real testament to him and who he is as a person and as a competitor. You talk about a guy that had a vision and had a plan — and followed it to a ‘T.’ That’s Devin Lloyd.”

Offensive line coach Jim Harding is invested in what happens to Ford and Olaseni in the draft.

“I text them from time to time. Nick was actually at practice (last week). Bam has a workout with the Packers,” he said. “Nick told me that he’s been in contact with three or four teams. Those are good signs. Where they’ll go in the draft, I have no idea. Both of them will do some great things once they get to wherever they are. They’ll both have an opportunity and it will be up to them to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Twenty-one Utah players were drafted from 2017-20. 

In 2020, the Utes had seven players drafted while five were taken in 2019. One Utah player was selected in 2018 and eight were chosen in 2017.