Former Cougars Begin Quest for NFL Glory
Five former BYU football players begin their quest this week to become professional football players at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
From Wednesday through Friday, draft prospects, including former Cougars Kyle Van Noy, Cody Hoffman, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Uani Unga and Daniel Sorensen, will participate in an orientation, take exams, and be subjected to interviews by teams and the media.
The actual workouts won’t get underway until Saturday, and none of the BYU guys will be in action that day. Hoffman will take the field on Sunday along with the other wide receivers, the quarterbacks and running backs.
Van Noy, Manumaleuna and Unga will be in action on Monday, while Daniel Sorenson will have to wait until next Tuesday to show his on-the-field abilities.
Here’s my evaluation of each players’ strengths and weaknesses, how they project in the draft and what to expect from them on the field in the NFL.
Kyle Van Noy (OLB 6-3, 248)
Kyle made the decision to come back for his senior season and it may have cost him some money. He would have been a first round pick last year, but could slip to the middle or bottom portion of the second round this year.
He didn’t make as many explosive plays as a senior and had some issues with missed tackles as well. Teams went out of their way to try to take him out of the game, and without a player like Ziggy Ansah on the field, they were more successful last year than in 2012 or 2011.
Still, there is little doubt that Van Noy will be a productive player as a pro and he has a chance to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber performer. Defenders who can disrupt offenses and change the course of a game with big plays are highly valued in the NFL, and that’s exactly what he brings to the table.
Kyle’s greatest strength is his ability to pressure the quarterback off the edge. He has an amazing ability to dip his hips and get around the corner. His natural position will be as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but he’ll also be successful in the 4-3. Some teams may also consider using him as an stand up defensive end in certain situations.
His productivity as a special teams player also adds to his value at the next level. His penchant for blocking kicks means that he’ll likely get on the field immediately regardless of how the defensive depth chart shapes up during his rookie year.
If there is a concern about his game in the NFL it’s his ability to hold up against the run. How he performs when teams try to run right at him will determine if he can be an every down player. If he can prove himself as a run stopper, the sky is the limit and he may be poised to become a star in the league.
Cody Hoffman (WR 6-4, 215)
Hoffman leaves BYU as arguably the greatest receiver in school history. He’s the all-time leader in receiving yards (3,216), pass receptions (260) and touchdown catches (33).
The amazing thing about Cody’s accomplishments is that they came during a four-year stretch in which the Cougar quarterbacks struggled in the passing game. He also consistently produced when opposing defenses knew exactly where the ball was going.
During his career there was no wide receiver in the country better at putting his big body between himself and defenders and coming up with the catch. He’s a big, physical target who can take hits and still make the grab.
The only way a player can be as productive as Hoffman was is to stay on the field and, despite taking some punishment, his durability was a big factor in his re-writing of the BYU record book.
He’s considered by many to be a possession-type receiver at the next level, but Cody is actually faster than many think, and faster than he appears. Which is why he averaged over 25 yards per kickoff return during his first three years in the BYU program.
He’s a long strider who can run away from people, but he rarely had the chance to show off his ability to get vertical because the BYU quarterbacks couldn’t throw the ball deep. It will interesting to see how he stacks up athletically against other receivers during drills at the combine. If he performs well he may turn out to be a solid third round selection.
Eathyn Manumaleuna (DT 6-2, 305)
Manumaleuna is one of the most versatile defensive linemen to ever come out of BYU. When healthy, he was as valuable of a player as Bronco Mendenhall has had on the defensive side of the ball. The casual BYU fan probably doesn’t fully appreciate just how valuable he has been in Bronco’s defense over the past several years.
He was invited to the combine because of his high level of play over a long career and his ability to play multiple positions on the defensive line. Eathyn could be successful in the NFL playing either nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4 defensive scheme. His athleticism would also allow him to play as a defensive tackle for teams that run a 4-3.
That ability to play multiple positions, and in various defenses, gives him a much better chance of catching on in the NFL than a guy like Romney Fuga, who was really a two-gap nose tackle trying to earn a job as a one-gap defensive tackle in Denver’s 4-3 defense.
He may not be a starter during his first year, but there are a lot of teams at the next level who will be interested in bringing him as a late round pick that can fill in at a number of spots as a back up along the defensive front.
The biggest knock on Eathyn may be his age. Because he served a mission and received a medical redshirt in 2012, he’ll be as much as four years older than some of the defensive tackles he’ll be lining up with at the combine. On the flip side, his maturity may be considered a strength and help him get drafted.
Uani Unga (LB 6-1, 233)
Unga played just one season as a starter at inside linebacker at BYU, but what a great performance he turned in. He finished the year with 143 total tackles, which checks in No. 12 all-time in school history. He also had 7.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles as a senior.
Uani has outstanding speed and has a great nose for the football, which are two qualities that will serve him well as he looks to carve out a place for himself in the NFL. He should test out well once he returns from his knee injury suffered against Washington, but because of the injury he won’t be able to participate in the on-field portion of the combine.
The biggest drawback for Uani is his size. He’s probably not big enough to play middle linebacker in a 4-3 alignment in the pros and his ability to cover in space as an outside linebacker is an unknown since he was never asked to do it in college. For that reason he may be limited to playing for one of the teams that run a 3-4 defense.
However, his skills will be of interest to several 3-4 teams and he may end up being drafted in one of the late rounds in May.
Daniel Sorensen (SS 6-2, 208)
One of the things that NFL personnel people will like about Sorensen is that he is always around the ball making plays. He started three consecutive years at the key KAT spot in Mendenhall’s defense and never recorded fewer than 61 tackles during that time.
As a senior, Daniel made 65 tackles, including four for loss. He also intercepted two passes and broke up 12 more. In addition to his play on the defense, he was also one of the best special teams players in the country and developed a great knack for getting down the field on punts and downing the ball near the goal line.
His ability on special teams, combined with his penchant to come up, make tackles and lay the wood, may be the primary reasons he finds a place on an NFL roster. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him captain the special teams for a franchise in the future.
The biggest question about Sorensen is his ability to cover NFL receivers. He’s a heck of a football player, but he may lack the kind of speed needed at the next level. If he’s not selected on draft day, expect him to quickly sign a free agent deal with a team that relies heavily on the strong safety in run support.
How to Watch
Starting Saturday morning, the combine will be broadcast live by the NFL Network and streamed online at NFL.com.
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