Why Utah’s Devin Lloyd, at pick No. 27, landed in ‘a very good spot’ and can have an immediate impact with Jacksonville Jaguars
Lloyd remained on the board longer than many anticipated, but he ended up with a franchise that finished with a 3-14 record in 2021, a place where he can help right away
LAS VEGAS — It turned out to be a topsy-turvy first round of the NFL draft — with more twists and turns than the Big Apple Coaster at the New York-New York Hotel — featuring multiple teams maneuvering, trading up and down in an effort to add value — and game-changers — to their respective rosters.
Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd felt every bit of that crazy, emotional ride Thursday night at Caesar’s Forum.
And his reaction on the stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after he was picked No. 27 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars provided one of the most memorable moments of the first round of the 2022 draft.
What else would you expect in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed Entertainment Capital of the World?
Lloyd, the two-time Butkus Award finalist, Pac-12’s Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-America selection, remained on the board longer than many anticipated, but he ended up with a franchise that finished with a 3-14 record in 2021, a place where he can help right away.
At various times throughout the night, it appeared that Lloyd might be selected, only for him to hear someone else’s name called.
“It was a little bit agonizing at times because he did last a little longer than we thought he would,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who joined Lloyd, Lloyd’s family and linebackers coach Colton Swan in the green room. “But, as I told him, everything happens for a reason. He ended up in a very good spot. … He’s the whole package. Jacksonville got themselves a real gem. I thought he’d be inside that top 20. But it doesn’t matter. … We’re excited to watch him do his thing.”
Lloyd admitted he started to feel nervous as the picks unfolded.
“As it progressed, I was a little anxious,” Lloyd said. “You keep waiting, you keep waiting and then, boom, you get the call and all your emotions come out. Well worth the wait, for sure. I’m just blessed.”
When he was on the stage for his live television interview, Lloyd called it “a dream come true.”
But again, there were uneasy moments before he was drafted.
“His demeanor was anxious. As was mine. It’s 10 minutes every pick. The time does not seem like it’s flying by,” Swan said. “You’re paying attention to everything that’s going on. It’s nerve-wracking at times, especially when you see other guys in the same room that are getting picked and you know the guys in the conference. It’s quite the experience.”
When he finally heard his name called, Lloyd felt “joy, excitement, relief, a whole lot of everything,” he said. “Just ready to be a Jag and ready to get going to the pros and have a special career.”
Maybe the type of career that teams that passed up on him Thursday might regret in the future.
Just when it looked like Lloyd could be on the verge of being selected, something unexpected would happen.
“You kind of think you have a bead on it,” Swan said about trying to figure out how the first round would play out. “Even right from the beginning you think you know who likes him and who will take him if he’s available type of deal. From pick No. 1, it changes. Then it kind of is a trickle effect after that.”
For example, Philadelphia, a possible landing spot for Lloyd at No. 18, traded its pick to Tennessee.
New England, a possible landing spot for Lloyd at No. 21, traded its pick to Kansas City and moved back to No. 29.
Then at No. 22, Green Bay selected Georgia linebacker Quay Walker, the first inside linebacker to come off the board.
Lloyd being taken with the No. 22 pick would have been fitting, considering the way Utah’s program has honored No. 22 as a tribute to fallen Utes Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe.
But that didn’t happen.
Finally, Jacksonville traded up to No. 27, in a swap with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to grab the Utah linebacker.
If Lloyd was disappointed, he didn’t let it show. When he strode to the stage, Lloyd bear-hugged Goodell and lifted him up in the air and off his feet.
“Like a sack of potatoes,” Whittingham said, laughing. “Devin is passionate about football. That was just a display of that.”
Lloyd said his mom planted the idea of picking up the commissioner in his mind.
“My mom actually told me right after I got the call and we were all cheering, ‘You’re going to pick up the commissioner, right?’” he said. “I was like, ‘OK.’ It wasn’t planned or premeditated. It just kind of happened on the fly. It was a whole lot of emotions. I was really excited. So I went out there and I did it.”
Multiple times before, during and after media interviews Thursday night, Lloyd — sporting sunglasses and a black, teal and gold Jacksonville cap — yelled “Duuuval!” in honor of his new team, a rallying cry for the Jaguars since the early 2000s. That yell became synonymous with former Jacksonville players like Mike Peterson and Paul Spicer, symbolizing a dominant defense the Jags played during that period.
Jacksonville, which has had the No. 1 overall pick the past two seasons, has been anything but dominant recently.
That’s why Lloyd is expected to be on the field a lot as a rookie for the Jaguars.
His first goal is to “be a starter Day 1. Earn the respect of my team and the organization and handle myself like a pro … I have high aspirations on doing special things right away. That’s going to be a matter of staying humble, working hard, handling myself like a pro. Those are my intentions and those are my aspirations.”
“I think he can have an immediate impact,” Whittingham said of Lloyd. “To be honest, I don’t know what the linebacker situation is exactly in Jacksonville, but I know what kind of player Devin is and how driven he is. He’s going to come in and Jacksonville is going to be very pleased with Devin and what he brings to the table. I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”
Swan had the same prediction in terms of Lloyd’s impact.
“Immediate. He’s a long, rangy, athletic linebacker that can do multiple things. He’s very versatile in his play,” he said. “He can rush the passer, he can fill the A gap, he can drop back in coverage. A guy that can do that many things is going to have an immediate impact and that’s what they’re drafting him for.”
According to ESPN’s Matt Miller, Lloyd will be a Day 1 starter.
“Despite signing Foye Oluokun in free agency, linebacker was a huge need in Jacksonville — especially middle linebacker, where Lloyd has the height, length, and speed to step in right away,” Miller wrote. “He’s a true three down player who the Jaguars can now continue to build a defense around.”
Lloyd became one of Utah’s highest picks, among defensive players, ever taken in the draft.
Defensive lineman Star Lotulelei was selected No. 14 in the first round of the 2013 draft by the Carolina Panthers. Before him, defensive lineman Luther Ellis was taken No. 20 overall by the Detroit Lions in 1995. Defensive back Norm Thompson was picked No. 17 in 1971.
Lloyd, a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder, was the first Utah player chosen in the first round since Garett Bolles was drafted No. 20 overall by the Denver Broncos in 2017. The Utes have now produced nine first-round picks since 1959.
This marks the first time that Las Vegas has hosted the NFL draft. The city originally was scheduled to stage the event in 2020 but the league held it virtually due to the pandemic.
In true Las Vegas fashion, the 21 prospects — including Lloyd — invited to attend the draft marched across a red carpet on a stage floating in the fountain of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino before the first pick.
And, in true NFL draft fashion, Lloyd was looking sharp and dapper. Sewn inside the liner of Lloyd’s maroon-colored suit jacket were “pictures of everything it took to get to this point,” as he explained. Those included photos of him and his teammates during his football career.
"These are pretty much all the pictures it took to get to this point."@Utah_Football's Devin Lloyd commemorates his journey to the @NFL in his suit jacket.#NFLDraft | #GoUtes pic.twitter.com/rDPocDF3Ga— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) April 28, 2022
The next chapter, in the NFL, began for Lloyd on Thursday.
It all happened in the same city that the Utes won their first Pac-12 championship and Lloyd recorded a 34-yard pick-six in the first quarter — at the Las Vegas Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium — last December.
And Thursday in Las Vegas, Jacksonville did what it needed to do to add Lloyd to its roster in an intriguing draft that saw defensive players taken with the first five picks for the first time since 1991 and saw six wide receivers go off the board in the first round.
Why did the Jags draft Lloyd?
“Because I’m a special player and a special person,” Lloyd said. “I feel like they believe in me and have confidence in me. I’m not going to let them down.”
While at Utah, Lloyd earned a reputation for lifting his team, and teammates, up. Thursday, he only let Goodell down after he picked the commissioner up.
Jacksonville is hoping Lloyd can help carry the defense and become a key piece in its massive rebuilding project.