Former BYU quarterback Jaren Hall has signed a four-year $4.1 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, including a reported $279,000 signing bonus, after the Cougars’ two-year starter was picked in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL draft last month.

For comparison’s sake, a year ago BYU running back Tyler Allgeier, who was also drafted in the fifth round — by the Atlanta Falcons — earned a $333,896 signing bonus and inked a four-year $3.99 million deal before rushing for 1,035 yards, 14th-most in the league.

“Suamataia is a huge 6-foot-6, 325 pound transfer from Oregon who started 12 games at right tackle last year and allowed just five pressures.” — ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay

Of course, Allgeier’s deal came a year after the New York Jets drafted former BYU QB Zach Wilson No. 2 overall and gave him a $22.9 million signing bonus.

Clearly, BYU products are cashing big paychecks as they move on from Provo to the next level. 

Offensive lineman Blake Freeland (fourth round, Colts) and receiver Puka Nacua (fifth round, Rams) were also drafted April 29, while five other Cougars have received NFL opportunities after the draft as undrafted free agents.

Running back Chris Brooks (Dolphins), offensive lineman Harris LaChance (Colts), cornerbacks Kaleb Hayes (Jaguars) and D’Angelo Mandell (Cowboys) and linebacker Payton Wilgar (Chiefs) are among those known to have inked agreements as free agents.

“I am excited for our guys,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, who has made producing NFL-ready players a big priority in his program. “I look forward to their careers in the NFL.”

It was the first time since 2002 that BYU has had three players picked in the first five rounds; the Cougars have had nine players taken the past three drafts, a number obviously bolstered by the five members of the 11-1 team in 2020 that were picked in the 2021 draft, headlined by Wilson’s early selection in Cleveland and All-American Brady Christensen going in the third round to the Carolina Panthers.

BYU had had 13 players drafted since Sitake replaced Bronco Mendenhall in 2016. The Cougars enter the Big 12 this fall with plenty of momentum in that regard.

Which brings us to the 2023 season and the 2024 NFL draft: Which current Cougars have the best chances of hearing their names called when the 2024 Player Selection Meeting is held April 25-27 in Detroit?

It is early, and players are still being added to the roster in this day and age of the transfer portal and unprecedented offseason shuffling, but it appears BYU should again be fairly well-represented in the 2024 NFL draft.

The Cougars could even potentially have another first-round pick, as sophomore left tackle Kingsley Suamataia is starting to show up on early 2024 mock draft boards. Although he has eligibility remaining beyond this season, Suamataia told the Deseret News in March that this year will probably be his last in Provo.

“It is a no-brainer that I want to play in the NFL,” Suamataia said, noting that his original plan when he signed with Oregon in 2021 before transferring to BYU later that year was to play two years of college football and then enter the draft.

Big 12-bound BYU continues NFL draft momentum with 3 players taken in first 5 rounds
BYU football season review: Did program regress in 2022?
Why BYU may not be done yet with the Independence Bowl

No other members of the 2023 team appear to be slam-dunk draft picks, unlike this past year.

In this space last year, the Deseret News projected in mid-May of 2022 that Hall and Freeland were strong candidates to be drafted in 2023 and that Brooks, receiver Gunner Romney and left guard Clark Barrington were possibilities. We noted that Nacua, Hayes, Wilgar and Mandell “could be in the mix,” and all four are getting their shots this month, especially Nacua, who went to the Rams as the final pick of the fifth round.

Of course, Barrington shocked everybody by not only electing to stay in college for another year, but transferring to Baylor to reunite with former BYU assistant coaches Eric Mateo and Jeff Grimes. A freakish and unforeseen fall camp injury to his kidney pretty much doomed Romney’s chances before the season even began.

Mock drafts for 2024 are just starting to appear, so projecting how next year’s draft will go for the Cougars is a bit premature, but we will try it again anyway. 

Here’s a closer look at the handful of Cougars most likely to be drafted in 2024, and others who could be in the mix with standout seasons:

Kingsley Suamataia, offensive tackle

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) catches the football behind offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia (78) and Connor Pay (70) on a trick play Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 in Provo. | Tyler Tate, Associated Press

ESPN senior writer Todd McShay didn’t wait long to build the hype for the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Suamataia, at least in the eyes of BYU fans. The former five-star recruit out of Orem High could go to the Cincinnati Bengals with the 28th pick of the first round, McShay says in his first “way, way too early” mock draft.

“Suamataia is a huge 6-foot-6, 325-pound transfer from Oregon who started 12 games at right tackle last year and allowed just five pressures,” McShay wrote.

Suamataia is expected to move over to left tackle this season, Freeland’s old spot.

“I can honestly play anywhere from left to right (tackle),” Suamataia said. “I prefer left, but I could play anywhere, so it is all good.”

Caleb Etienne, offensive tackle

Oklahoma State offensive lineman Caleb Etienne warms up prior to a game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Stillwater, Okla. | Brody Schmidt, Associated Press

Having started 13 games at left tackle for Oklahoma State in 2022, Etienne quickly signed with BYU after entering the transfer portal and is in line to be the Cougars’ starting right tackle. He certainly has NFL size, checking in at 6-7 and 325 pounds. If he cracks the lineup and produces as expected, he could join Suamataia in the draft next spring.

Because of COVID-19 allowances, Etienne could stay at BYU for two years, if he’s so inclined. He will arrive in Provo with plenty of motivation, too, after OSU coach Mike Gundy said Etienne left Stillwater because he feared he was losing his starting job.

Tyler Batty, defensive end

BYU defensive lineman Tyler Batty joins teammates in singing to fans as they leave the field after losing to UAB.
BYU’s Tyler Batty joins with teammates in singing to the fans as they leave the field after losing to UAB in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Perhaps no current BYU defender will benefit as much from Sitake adding Jay Hill as defensive coordinator than Batty, a fourth-year junior listed at 6-5 and 275 pounds. The Payson product is two years older than the typical college fourth-year player, having served a church mission to Spain from 2017-19.

Batty has made eight sacks during his three seasons to date, a number that will need to double to catch the eye of pro scouts. He certainly has the physical tools and the motor. Now it is a matter of staying healthy, and producing.

Both Hill and Sitake mentioned that Batty had a great spring camp, and stood out among all the defensive ends, along with Boise State transfer Isaiah Bagnah.

Micah Harper, safety

BYU defensive back Micah Harper walks on the field before a game against Houston, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Houston. | Eric Christian Smith, Associated Press

When he’s healthy, the 5-10, 192-pound Harper is among BYU’s best defensive players and top playmakers. After earning a starting spot in 2020 as a freshman, he suffered an ACL injury that caused him to miss the entire 2021 season. Last year, Harper made 62 tackles and forced two fumbles.

Versatility is one of the Arizona native’s calling cards. He has seamlessly moved from cornerback to nickel to safety during his time at BYU, and is one of the surest tacklers on the team.

Eddie Heckard, defensive back

BYU cornerback Eddie Heckard and BYU wide receiver Hobbs Nyberg chat at the end of opening day of spring football camp.
BYU cornerback Eddie Heckard (5) and wide receiver Hobbs Nyberg chat at the end of opening day of BYU spring football camp at the BYU Indoor Practice Facility in Provo, on Monday, March 6, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Heckard was seemingly headed to the NFL draft last winter after an All-America career at FCS Weber State under former coach Hill, but decided to sign with the Cougars and is now a projected starting cornerback on this year’s crew. He should benefit from more coaching by Hill and retained BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford.

A Las Vegas native, Heckard drew rave reviews at spring camp, teaming with Jakob Robinson (another potential pro prospect if he decides to leave BYU early) at cornerback to give the Cougars a solid one-two tandem at that spot.

At 5-10 and 190 pounds, Heckard might be the fastest player on the team.

Others who could be in the mix

As Romney’s situation showed, predicting draft prospects this far away from the season is a tricky task, and obviously there could be others who develop and turn themselves into pro prospects. 

Here’s a quick look at the others: 

• Safety Malik Moore — Moore was on this same list last year, but a fractured finger suffered against Wyoming curtailed what was going to be his final season in Provo, and he decided to return to improve his draft stock in 2024, he told the Deseret News on the final day of spring camp.

• Punter Ryan Rehkow — Three punters were taken in the recent NFL draft, as teams pay more and more attention to special teams. At 6-6 and 235 pounds, Rehkow more closely resembles a linebacker than a punter. He enters his fourth season as BYU’s starting punter with a 46.8-yard career punting average. He’s also adept at pinning opponents inside their 10-yard line, but needs to get a bit more consistent.

• Offensive lineman Connor Pay — Quickly emerging as a team leader, the 6-5, 312-pound junior’s versatility should serve him well at the next level. He could be BYU’s starting center, or starting left guard, this season, his fourth in the program.

• Offensive lineman Paul Maile — The Utah transfer didn’t see action in spring ball due to an undisclosed injury, but certainly has the résumé to play at the next level if he puts together another strong season with the Utes’ top rival.

View Comments

• Tight end Isaac Rex — Rex has recovered nicely from a devastating ankle injury suffered late in the 2021 season and enters his fourth season at BYU with a chance to become one of the top pass-catching tight ends in school history, which is saying something.

• Quarterback Kedon Slovis — The transfer who began his career at USC and played last year at Pitt was as good as advertised in spring camp. Will BYU OC Aaron Roderick produce his third-straight NFL quarterback? Time will tell.

• Linebacker Max Tooley — A playmaker who has had trouble staying on the field and finishing off seasons, Tooley could rise up draft boards if he stays healthy. That’s a big if for the former Bountiful High star.

• Linebacker Ben Bywater — Former Olympus High star has turned himself into an NFL draft candidate with relentless work and attention to detail. Bywater has produced more than 200 tackles the past two years, but could see his playing time cut with the arrival of Utah State transfer AJ Vongphachanh, another possible NFL prospect BYU added via the transfer portal.

BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis runs the ball during the annual BYU Blue and White scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis runs the ball during the annual BYU Blue vs. White scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Friday, March 31, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.