While at Utah, Sione Vaki showed that he could do it all on the football field, from starting at safety to being a game-changing running back and wide receiver.

Now, he may get the chance to show the offensive side of his game in the NFL.

The Detroit Lions traded up to snag Vaki with pick No. 132 (near the bottom of the fourth round), and the former Ute, who primarily played safety during his two-year stint at Utah, was officially announced as a running back on stage in Detroit, as well as on official social media channels and the team’s website.

Pre-draft, Vaki met with Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, running backs coach Scottie Montgomery and other members of Detroit’s offensive staff, so his assumption is that the Lions want him on the offensive side of the ball.

Whether he plays on offense, defense or both, he’s ready to do anything to help the team — just like at Utah.

“When I had visited with the Lions, my initial thought was to just come in and … just be wherever the coaches, wherever the organization needed me to be,” Vaki told reporters on a Zoom call shortly after he was drafted.

If the Lions do play Vaki primarily at running back, he has some stiff competition to get significant snaps at the position in David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs, who combined for over 2,000 yards rushing last season.

However, Johnson and head coach Dan Campbell are likely already scheming up ways to use Vaki creatively in the offense as a gadget player, either at running back or wide receiver.

Before he played both ways at Utah, Vaki did it at Liberty High in California, where he led the Lions to their first CIF state championship in school history.

“But I mean everything rode on Sione and getting him the ball. We had a really good running back, too, (Tyerell Sturges-Cofer) that played some Division II ball. But I mean it was obvious. Sione was our guy who accounted for 1,400 yards of offense and 20-something touchdowns. Every game, how are we going to get Sione the ball?” Liberty coach Ryan Partridge said.

Vaki finished his senior season with 1,394 receiving yards (averaging nearly 100 yards per game) and 20 receiving touchdowns.

On defense, he had 97 tackles, four interceptions (one pick-six), two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vaki played only defense — primarily nickelback — during his freshman season, but heading into the Cal game last October, that changed.

Running backs Micah Bernard and Chris Curry were out for the season, Charlie Vincent was out and Ja’Quinden Jackson wasn’t 100%, and Utah’s coaches turned to Vaki and his offensive experience in high school.

The topic of playing Vaki on offense was first broached in 2022, when Tavion Thomas was suspended and Curry was injured, but Ja’Quinden Jackson ended up taking the role.

This time, with the Utes in need of a running back, it was Vaki who made the switch.

“This past season when we lacked depth and we had the same injury bug, it was kind of a necessity. And he went over there and everyone saw what he could do. It’s all about winning games and it’s all about the team. Teams win games and so he’s a team player and we were excited for him to get that opportunity,” Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said.

While still starting at safety, Vaki made an impact on offense, rushing for 317 yards and two touchdowns and catching 11 passes for 203 yards and three scores.

As a running back and receiver, Vaki was decisive and explosive, and he showed great football speed.

When he accelerated in open space, there were few that could catch him last season.

“I think to become elite, you got to focus on one and he’s a very good safety. Again, if he wanted to focus at running back, he’d be a very good running back. There’s teams that like him better at running back, there’s teams that like and better at safety,” Scalley said in a pre-draft interview with the Deseret News.

As a safety, Vaki had 51 tackles (8.5 for loss), two sacks, an interception and two pass breakups this season and was named to the All-Pac-12 first team as a defensive player. With just one year at the position full-time in college, Vaki is inexperienced compared to other safeties in the draft, but safety is a position of need for the Lions and Vaki played well last season. Could Detroit also try him out at safety?

“He’s so versatile and his best football’s ahead of him. He’s young and he’s young in this game, he’s still going to learn and still going to grow and still going to pick up things and he’s not an ego guy,” Scalley said.

As of right now, the plan appears to be for the Lions to utilize Vaki on offense.

“We have some options there, but we know he can play safety. We know he can do that. But the vision is we are so intrigued by the running back stuff and especially he hadn’t been majoring in it,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said.

One area where Vaki could push for immediate playing time is on special teams.

He’s attractive as a punt or kick returner — especially with the NFL’s new kickoff rules.

Under the new rules, which were tested out in the XFL, 10 members of the kicking team will be lined up at the opposing team’s 40-yard line, with nine members of the receiving team lined up at the 30-yard line and the kick receiver behind them. With no fair catches anymore (the ball is only allowed to be downed by the receiving team if they catch it in the end zone), the NFL believes this setup will create more kick returns.

“That’s what first stood out is we thought he was one of the better special teams players in this entire draft,” Holmes said.

“All four phases of special teams. And especially with some of the changes that are coming about, he’s really, he started even come to life even more and then even later on in the process, just sticking to the special teams component, it kind of came to life even more with some possible return value.”

Vaki was a gunner on kickoffs at Utah, as well as an “edge” on punts.

“I’m all about special teams, so when it comes to that, that’s where I earn my stripes and that’s where I plan to earn my stripes as well there in Detroit,” Vaki said.

The former Ute joins a Lions team that experienced their first playoff win since 1991 last year, advancing to the NFC championship before ultimately losing to the San Francisco 49ers.

Coming from Kyle Whittingham’s program, Vaki will probably feel right at home with Campbell.

“Coach Whittingham runs a tight ship. I think he goes perfectly with the standard that Coach Campbell brings as far as just putting our head down and working,” Vaki said.

In his post-draft interview with Lions reporters, Vaki expressed how Utah helped shape him as a player and person.

“It helped me to just be able to be mentally tough to understand that everything’s important, that we should worry about all the details, all small details in our craft, and so that’s what I plan on coming and doing is just perfecting my craft,” Vaki said.

How did analysts react?

Pro Football Focus rated the selection as “good,” writing, “Lions fans, get ready to love Sione Vaki, one of the most athletic players in the 2024 NFL Draft. He played safety and running back at Utah, but he is a solid safety in coverage. Don’t expect him to make exceptional plays on the football very often, but Vaki packs a mean punch. He’s a plus tackler in run defense and perfectly fits Aaron Glenn’s mentality in the Motor City.”

Nick Baumgardner and Colton Pouncy of the Athletic didn’t give a grade, but broke down the selection.

“Vaki was a two-way player who was primarily a safety with the Utes. The Lions, however, sent the card in for Vaki as a running back. They met with him multiple times during the pre-draft process and he feels like a Holmes guy. Vaki played only two years of college ball after spending three years on a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; his 158 yards against Cal featured a 72-yard run (the longest Utah had all year).”

CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso graded the pick a C+.

“Fire-hydrant safety. Goes 100 mph every play. Quickness and instincts stand out. Wasn’t a big ball hawk in college but not totally inept in that regard. Tiny frame and shorter arms than what’s normally desired. Can play anywhere. Also has some running back ability too. Strong tackler. Expensive trade up dips this grade a bit.”