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How did rookies with Utah ties stack up in their first NFL seasons?

Indianapolis Colts safety Julian Blackmon (32) lines up on defense during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Indianapolis.
Zach Bolinger, Associated Press

Before hype for the 2021 NFL draft gets too out of hand (maybe it already is), Pro Football Focus and ESPN recently took a look back at how the 2020 draft class fared in its first pro season.

Each of the league’s 32 teams was ranked based upon “the value of their rookie class over expectation given where each player was selected in the 2020 NFL draft” using the wins above replacement (WAR) metric.

Numerous players who played collegiately in Utah were drafted last year, and a number of them were mentioned in the analysis of the teams, for better or worse.

Here’s a rundown of the highlights and lowlights.

The good

Julian Blackmon: The former Layton High and Utah standout received the most praise, as he was named the “best value pick” for an Indianapolis Colts team that finished second in the team rankings (the Cincinnati Bengals finished first).

“Through the first 11 weeks of his pro career, Blackmon was the highest-graded rookie in the league by over nine grading points (73.0),” Pro Football Focus wrote of the 85th overall pick. “Things went downhill for him the rest of the year, though, as he posted a 46.0 PFF grade from Week 12 through the end of the regular season.”

Zack Moss: The Buffalo Bills didn’t have a first-round pick, but they were ranked No. 9 “due in large part to running back Zack Moss (No. 86 overall),” Utah’s all-time leading rusher, along with wide receiver Gabriel Davis (No. 128 overall) and cornerback Dane Jackson (No. 239 overall).”

Jaylon Johnson: The Chicago Bears came in at No. 12 in large part due to the former Utah star, who was the 50th overall pick.

Wrote PFF: “Second-round pick Jaylon Johnson was a bit of a roller coaster in 2020, but he showed signs of life while other first-year cornerbacks struggled. Johnson gave up five touchdowns and 41 catches in 13 games for an average of 14.3 yards per reception, but he also ranked sixth among all outside corners in forced incompletion rate (21%).”

New York Jets cornerback Javelin Guidry (40) during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif.
Kyusung Gong, Associated Press

Javelin Guidry: Not a whole lot was written about undrafted free agents who made an impact, but a big exception to that was the former Utah speedster, who caught on with the New York Jets and was designated as their best value pick.

“Guidry appeared in only a handful of games down the stretch for the Jets (172 total snaps), but he looked like he might be a diamond in the rough from the undrafted pool in the 2020 class,” PFF wrote. “He ended up generating more WAR than any rookie from New York’s class and recorded a 76.5 coverage grade with just three first downs allowed to four passing stops. Take this with a grain of salt since it is an extremely small sample, but the former track star showed he might just be able to handle a slot role at the NFL level.”

The not-so-good

Jordan Love: The former Utah State quarterback was a big topic of conversation from the moment he was taken by the Green Bay Packers with the 26th overall pick through their exit in the playoffs, thanks to the presence of league MVP Aaron Rodgers.

In a section detailing “How their top pick fared (Love was the first player with local ties taken),” PFF observed, “Perhaps no 2020 NFL draft selection was more scrutinized than Jordan Love at No. 26 overall. And with Aaron Rodgers performing at an MVP level this season, Love failed to see the field. As a matter of fact, Love didn’t dress for a single game this year; he served as the third-string quarterback, behind Rodgers and Tim Boyle.”

The Packers were ranked No. 17 overall.

Leki Fotu: The Arizona Cardinals were ranked No. 20, with PFF observing that only first-round pick Isaiah Simmons did much. Of Fotu, the former Herriman High and Utah standout, PFF wrote, “Only two of the team’s rookies played more than 50 snaps outside of Simmons, and neither impressed. Fourth-rounders defensive end Leki Fotu and nose tackle Rashard Lawrence were those two rookies, and both produced sub-50.0 PFF grades.”

John Penisini: The Detroit Lions were ranked No. 30, in large part because third overall pick Jeff Okudah wasn’t good. Penisini, who prepped at West Jordan High and then played at Snow College and Utah, got some good playing time after being drafted No. 197 overall, but PFF noted that he generated negative WAR.

Two other former Utes, Terrell Burgess (Los Angeles Rams, No. 104 overall) and Bradlee Anae (Dallas Cowboys, No. 179 overall), were also drafted. Burgess was hurt in Week 7, while Anae wasn’t on the active roster much.