Loyal Cougars

BYU Recruiting NFL Draft Analysis

This post is an update of an article written by Troy Adams in 2015 for this site. We take a look at how successful BYU’s draft development has been over the course of Bronco Mendenhall’s eleven seasons as BYU Head Coach and beyond.

Imagine a talent spectrum ranging from the lowest-rated high-school player to the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. For this discussion, assume that “talent” is more than just athleticism, but includes football/scheme/assignment knowledge, being a good teammate, and all of the other intangibles that make a player a solid NFL prospect. From a recruiting standpoint, the goal of any college coaching staff is to recruit and sign the most talented athletes possible. In other words, coaches want to bring players onto the team with the highest possible starting point on the talent spectrum. Then, once the players are in school, the goal is to keep them on the team and eligible and to develop whatever talent they have as much as possible. Coaches want to move every player on the team up the talent spectrum, which will eventually maximize the number that will have a chance to make an NFL team. Obviously, the walk-ons have much more room for growth than the 5-star signees, but the coaches are just trying to maximize each player’s talent to put the best possible team on the field at any given time and develop depth to weather potential injuries to the current starters and to prepare starters for future seasons. Improving each individual player’s talent level as much as possible will lead to more wins, more prestige for the program, and also more players moving on to the NFL.

With this talent spectrum in mind, there are certain things that we’ll be able to learn from a breakdown of BYU’s recruiting classes and some others that we won’t. For example, since this analysis starts with each class’s signing, this will not be an evaluation of BYU’s recruiting class rankings. Several other sites have put a lot of time and effort into comparing the recruits of one school against another and so, this article will not attempt to gauge the starting point of BYU’s athletes on the talent spectrum. And since we don’t take into account the starting point, there’s no way to measure exactly how much talent development occurs at BYU (the talent “delta,” if you will). What we will be able to see is how successful BYU, and to a certain extent individual BYU head coaches, have been at keeping players in the program and how many players have developed to the point of having a chance to play professionally.

We looked at all the players signed by BYU since 2005. Recruits who signed in 2005 are attributed to Gary Crowton, since Mendenhall was not hired as BYU’s Head Coach until December 2004. Nonetheless, the recruiting class of 2005 has been included for comparison. Similarly, many of the recruits signed in 2016 are attributed to Coach Mendenhall, though there were certainly several late additions to the class as a result of Coach Sitake’s hiring.

Each recruiting class from 2005 to 2017 is individually summarized, followed by an aggregate summary. Note that for the purposes of this analysis, “shot at the NFL” is anything from a minicamp invite on up to getting drafted. The phrase “in the NFL” means more than just a tryout or undrafted free agent signing. The player must have been a member of a 53-man roster, injured reserve, or practice squad during the NFL season. Also note that for simplicity, all six undrafted free agents from 2017 (but not the three mini-camp invitees) have been shown as “in the NFL,” until such time when cuts are made and the statistics can be updated to reflect what actually happens in preparation for the upcoming 2017 NFL season. As of right now, those six players have contracts with NFL teams and are technically in the NFL. The mini-camp invites have been included in the “shot at the NFL” group.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the recruiting numbers:

2005 (Crowton recruits)

Still in program: 0/20

Completed eligibility: 15/20 (Luke Ashworth, Sete Aulai, Chris Bolden, Shawn Doman, Spencer Hafoka, Jan Jorgensen, Justin Robinson, Terrance Hooks, Derek McLaughlin, Matt Reynolds, Vic So’oto, Harvey Unga, Russell Tialavea, Manase Tonga, Kelly Poppinga)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 2/20 (Kyle Luekenga, Stephen Covey)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 3/20 (Peter Vailahi, Cade Hulbert, Brandon Howard)

Shot at the NFL: 5/15 (Reynolds, So’oto, Poppinga, Tonga, Unga)

Ever in the NFL: 5/15 (Reynolds, So’oto, Poppinga, Tonga, Unga)

NFL draft picks: 1/15 (Unga)

2006

Still in program: 0/25

Completed eligibility: 14/25 (Brandon Bradley, Max Hall, McKay Jacobson, Mosese Foketi, Andre Saulsberry, Robbie Buckner, Ian Dulan, Ryan Freeman, Romney Fuga, Braden Hansen, James Lark, Brandon Ogletree, Riley Stephenson, Mike Hague)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 5/25 (Tom Sorensen, Rick Wolfley, Rhen Brown, Jordan Richardson, Walter Kahaialii)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 6/25 (Sam Doman, Nate Moncur, Michael Moore, Tico Pringle, Matangi Tonga, Mike Muehlmann)

Shot at the NFL: 5/14 (Hall, JacobsonFugaHansenOgletree)

Ever in the NFL: 1/14 (Hall)

NFL draft picks: 0/14

2007

Still in program: 0/24

Completed eligibility: 13/24 (J.J. Di Luigi, Jordan Pendleton, Aveni Leung-Wai, Famika Anae, Braden Brown, Austen Jorgensen, Marcus Mathews, Jason Munns, Tyler Beck, Kaneakua Friel, Devin Mahina, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Manaaki Vaitai)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 3/24 (Steven Thomas, Houston Reynolds, Jordan Smith)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 8/24 (David Angilau, Brannon Brooks, Scotty Ebert, Star Lotulelei, Levi Mack, Gary Nagy, G Pittman, Ryan Kessman)

Shot at the NFL: 4/13 (B.Brown, Friel, Mahina, Manumaleuna)

Ever in the NFL: 1/13 (B.Brown)

NFL draft picks: 0/13

2008

Still in program: 0/22

Completed eligibility: 8/22 (Michael Alisa, Daniel Sorensen, Spencer Hadley, Solomone Kafu, Austin Holt, Justin Sorensen, Michael Yeck, Andrew Rich)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 3/22 (Kevan Bills, Cameron Comer, Brock Stringham)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 11/22 (Bernard Afutiti, Jake Murphy, Atem Bol, Jerry Bruner, Tolu Moala, Garett Nicholson, Seta Pohahau, Jesse Taufi, Shiloah Te’o, O’Neill Chambers, Iona Pritchard)

Shot at the NFL: 4/8 (Sorensen, Hadley, Kafu, Rich)

Ever in the NFL: 2/8 (Sorensen, Hadley)

NFL draft picks: 0/8

2009

Still in program: 0/22

Completed eligibility: 9/22 (Brian Logan, Cody Hoffman, Kyle Van Noy, Richard Wilson, Craig BillsRemington PeckAdam Hine, Mitch Mathews, Logan Taele)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 8/22 (Jordan Atkinson, Jray Galea’i, Fono Vakalahi, Terry Alletto, Brett Thompson, Trevor Bateman, Tui CrichtonBrad Wilcox)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 5/22 (Lee Aguirre, Anthony Heimuli, Peni Maka’afi, Ryan Mulitalo, Thomas Bryson)

Shot at the NFL: 4/9 (KVN, M.Mathews, Logan, Hoffman)

Ever in the NFL: 2/9 (KVN, M.Mathews)

NFL draft picks: 1/9 (KVN)

2010

Still in program: 1/30 (Tuni Kanuch)

Completed eligibility: 13/30 (Zac Stout, Ross Apo, Alani Fua, Ziggy Ansah, Uona Kaveinga, Algernon BrownBronson KaufusiSae TautuTravis TuilomaTeu Kautai, Graham Rowley, Mitch Juergens, Garrett Juergens)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 7/30 (Jordan Johnson, Joey Owens, Jordan Black, Toloa’i Ho-Ching, AJ MooreManu MulitaloBryan Sampson)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 9/30 (Jordan Afo, Kori Gaines, Jake Heaps, Tayo Fabuluje, Drew Phillips, Collin Keoshian, Joshua Quezada, Jacob Hannemann, Blair Tushaus)

Shot at the NFL: 8/13 (Fua, Ansah, B.Kaufusi, Algie, Tautu, Apo, KaveingaRowley)

Ever in the NFL: 5/13 (Fua, Ansah, B.Kaufusi, Algie, Tautu)

NFL draft picks: 2/13 (Ansah, B.Kaufusi)

2011

Still in program: 7/22 (Corey Edwards, Corbin Kaufusi, Moses Kaumatule, Ului Lapuaho, Lene Lesatele, Adam Pulsipher, Kesni Tausinga)

Completed eligibility: 7/22 (Preston Hadley, Hebron Fangupo, Austin HederRyker MathewsManoa Pikula, Uani Unga, Terenn Houk)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 3/22 (Matt Sumsion, Colby Jorgensen, Brian Rawlinson)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 5/22 (Joe Sampson, Alex Kuresa, Aulelio Olomua, Baker Pritchard, Stehly Reden)

Shot at the NFL: 6/7 (Fangupo, R.Mathews, U.Unga, P.Hadley, Pikula, Houk)

Ever in the NFL: 3/7 (Fangupo, R.Mathews, U.Unga)

NFL draft picks: 0/7

2012

Still in program: 7/18 (Philip Amone, Matt Hadley, Micah Hannemann, Austin Hoyt, Tanner Mangum, Butch Pau’u, Rhett Sandlin)

Completed eligibility:  5/18 (Marques Johnson, Paul Lasike, Taysom HillJherremya Leuta-Douyere, Jamaal Williams)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 4/18 (Ammon Olsen, Troy HindsTheodore KingSteven Richards)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 2/18 (Dylan Collie, Josh Weeks)

Shot at the NFL: 3/5 (Lasike, Taysom, Jamaal)

Ever in the NFL: 3/5 (Lasike, Taysom, Jamaal)

NFL draft picks: 1/5 (Jamaal)

2013

Still in program: 12/32 (Francis Bernard, Garrett England, Rylee Gautavai, Tomasi Laulile, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Inoke Lotulelei, Trajan Pili, Addison Pulsipher, Thomas Shoaf, Talon Shumway, Merrill Taliauli, Johnny Tapusoa)

Completed eligibility: 8/32 (Josh Carter, Rob Daniel, Edward Fusi, De’Ondre Wesley, Michael Davis, Kai Nacua, Colby Pearson, Parker Dawe)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 5/32 (Tim Duran, Nathan DeBeikes, Keegan Hicks, Sam Lee, Kalolo Utu)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 7/32 (Chasen Anderson, Billy Green, Brayden Kearsley, Dallin Leavitt, JonRyheem Peoples, Jordan Preator, Trent Trammell)

Shot at the NFL: 4/8 (Daniel, Wesley, NacuaDavis)

Ever in the NFL: 4/8 (Daniel, Wesley, NacuaDavis)

NFL draft picks: 0/8

2014

Still in program:  15/22 (Trey Dye, Matt Bushman, Austin Chambers, Chandon Herring, Tejan Koroma, Fred Warner, Sione Takitaki, Isaiah Nacua, Zac Dawe, Kavika Fonua, Isaiah Kaufusi, Michael Shelton, Teancum Fuga, Earl Mariner, Uriah Leiataua)

Completed eligibility: 5/22 (Harvey Jackson, Jordan Leslie, Nick Kurtz, Devon Blackmon, Harvey Langi)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 1/22 (Tyler Cook)

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 1/22 (Jaterrius Gulley)

Shot at the NFL: 4/5 (Leslie, Langi, Jackson, Kurtz)

Ever in the NFL: 2/5 (Leslie, Langi)

NFL draft picks: 0/5

2015

Still in program: 21/24 (Kieffer Longson, Akile Davis, Micah Simon, Beau Hoge, Kody Wilstead, J.J. Nwigwe, David Lui, Tevita Mounga, Mika Tafua, Devin Kaufusi, Will Sedgwick, Jeremiah Ieremia, Riley Burt, Zayne Anderson, Dayan Lake, Trevor Brent, Jacob Jimenez, Motekiai Langi, Squally Canada, Brady Christensen, Jonny Linehan)

Completed eligibility: 1/24 (Eric Takenaka)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 0/24

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 2/24 (Charles West, Demetrius Davis)

Shot at the NFL: 0/1

Ever in the NFL: 0/1

NFL draft picks: 0/1

2016 (Mendenhall & Sitake recruits)

Still in program: 29/30 (Troy Warner, Handsome Tanielu, Skyler Southam, Hirkley Latu, Jaren Hall, Aleva Hifo, Solofa Funa, Atunaisa Mahe, Freddy Livai, Darius McFarland, Jonah Trinnaman, Hank Tuipulotu, Drew Jensen, Keenan Pili, Max Tooley, Mack Richards, Lisala Tai, Caden Haws, Clark Barrington, Chris Wilcox, JT Gentry, Jackson Kaufusi, Alema Pilimai, Sione Finau, Keanu Saleapaga, Kainoa Fuiava, Keyan Norman, Beau Tanner, Isaiah Armstrong)

Completed eligibility: 1/30 (Andrew Eide)

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 0/30

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 0/30

Shot at the NFL: 1/1 (Eide)

Ever in the NFL: 0/1

NFL draft picks: 0/1

2017

Still in program: 30/30 (Jackson McChesney, Isaac Rex, Tanner Baker, Preston Lewis, Donovan Hanna, Ammon Hannemann, Ben Bywater, Tariq Buchanan, Seth Willis, Bentley Hanshaw, Ryan Rehkow, Tongi Langi, Keenan Ellis, Seleti Fevaleaki, John Vaka, Tyler Batty, Paula Finau, Langi Tuifua, D’angelo Gunter, Mason Fakahua, Lorenzo Fauatea, Alden Tofa, Chaz Ah You, Khyiris Tonga, AJ Lolohea, Ula Tolutau, Wayne Tei-Kirby, Joe Tukuafu, Austin Lee, Trevion Greene)

Completed eligibility: 0/30

Left Due to Injury or to Focus on Academics: 0/30

Left Program/Never Enrolled: 0/30

Shot at the NFL: 0/0

Ever in the NFL: 0/0

NFL draft picks: 0/0

2006-2017 Totals

Number of players from 2006-2017 still in the program: 122 of 301 (40.5%)

Number of players who left program or never enrolled: 56 of 301 (18.6%)

Number of players who quit football because of injury or to focus on academics: 39 of 301 (13.0%)

Number of players who completed eligibility: 84 of 301 (27.9%)

Number of 2006-2017 players who had a shot to make it to the NFL: 43 of 84 (51.2%)

Number of 2006-2017 players who were ever in the NFL: 23 of 84 (27.4%)

Number of 2006-2017 players taken in NFL draft: 4 of 84 (4.8%)

Initial Conclusions

  1. Nearly half of BYU’s recruits since 2006 are still in the program (40.5%). There are still players on the 2017 roster from recruiting classes as far back as 2010. This is what makes analyzing the contributions of BYU’s recruiting classes so difficult: you have to wait eight years for all of the recruits to cycle through in order to see how a given class stacks up.
  2. BYU is a tough place to be a student-athlete: 31.6% of BYU’s recruits since 2006 left the program for one of several reasons or never enrolled. Importantly, not all of those who left were transfers or academic/honor code casualties – some simply “retired from football” due to injuries or to focus on academics or starting a family.
  3. The equivalent of about three full recruiting classes (84 student-athletes) have completed their eligibility and therefore been eligible for the NFL draft since 2006. Of those 84, about 43 have had opportunities to play in the NFL (drafted, signed free agent contracts, or were invited to mini-camp tryouts) and 23 of those have parlayed those opportunities into an in-season roster or practice squad position. What this means is that of all the players that come to BYU on scholarship and play out their eligibility in the program, half will have an NFL opportunity and half of those will make an NFL roster. Others may see things differently, but these numbers don’t seem unreasonably low to me.
  4. The number of players taken in the NFL draft does seem to be low. Of the 84 draft-eligible players, only 4 entered the league via the draft. The numbers don’t tell us whether this is due to difficulties in recruiting high-end talent, deficiencies in player development, perceived biases against returned missionary athletes, or some combination of these or other factors. Two years ago, it seemed the Cougars might turn this trend around with a promising list of upperclassman prospects including Taysom Hill, Bronson Kaufusi, Mitch Mathews, Ryker Mathews, Jamaal Williams, Algie Brown, Nick Kurtz, Harvey Langi, Kai Nacua, and Travis Tuiloma. But of that list, only Kaufusi and Williams heard their names called in the draft.

Coaching Trends

This chart looks at the percentage of a given recruiting class that played out their full eligibility at BYU. While the recent upswing can partially be attributed to the fact that large percentages of these classes are still in the program, the first six years (2005-2010) are basically final numbers. It seems interesting that there was such a downswing from the 2005 class to the 2008 class, a class that Rivals rated 83rd in the country, BYU’s worst ranking of the Bronco era. So, aside from signing a lackluster class in 2008, only 8 of those 22 players actually made it through a full college career in a BYU uniform. That’s brutal. And though recruiting class rankings improved in 2009 and 2010, retention remained below 50%. A dip like that can be extremely damaging to a program and may partially explain the on-field dropoff after 2009, when Crowton’s recruits started moving on and the majority of the team began to be comprised of players from these recruiting classes. On the bright side, even taking into account the inconclusive data for more recent classes, things seem to be trending in a positive direction: since Kalani Sitake became the coach, only one signee has left the program voluntarily (Jordan Preator).

The chart above shows the percentage of players who have finished their eligibility at BYU that have had a shot at making an NFL team (minicamp tryout or better). Since only finished players are included, the percentages are somewhat accurate over all seasons (though the sample sizes get relatively smaller in the later years- I’ve removed 2015-2017 due to extremely small sample sizes). These numbers also seem to be trending up after some lackluster numbers from early in Mendenhall’s tenure. Keep in mind that most BYU players from the 2005-2007 recruiting classes didn’t become draft eligible until around 2012-2013. For example, this most recent 2017 draft class included players from the 2009-2016 recruiting classes. It does seem that this area was already trending upward near the end of the Bronco era: only one draft class from 2005-2012 saw more than 5 players receive an NFL opportunity but a total of 22 players got a shot with the NFL during Bronco’s final 3 seasons (7.3 per season from 2013-2015). And I expect continued improvement under Coach Sitake. The first two years seem to bear that out with a total of 15 players getting an NFL opportunity in Kalani’s first two draft classes (7.5 per season).

This graph shows the percentage of BYU’s completed eligibility athletes that made an NFL team in-season. A similar trend emerges: struggles with Bronco’s early recruiting classes, improvement over the Mendenhall era, and signs of continued improvement into the Kalani era. I would expect the 2012 number to normalize back down as more of those recruits finish their eligibility at BYU. As of now, only five 2012 recruits have completed their eligibility and three of those have made it to the NFL, but there are still 7 more 2012 recruits in the program. The 2014 number will change as well, likely in a positive direction: only five 2014 recruits have passed completely through the program and just two of those made it to the NFL, but there are still 15 more to finish their eligibility. Once the sample sizes increase, I believe we’ll see a continual upward trend surpassing 50%, similar to what can be seen in the other charts.

Final Thoughts

The numbers seem to indicate a general trend similar to BYU’s on-field performance: the player retention and talent endpoints were high at the end of the Crowton era (2005 recruiting class and 2006-2009 seasons), dipped slightly at the beginning of the Mendenhall era (2006-2009 recruiting classes and 2010-2015 seasons) and began an upward trend at the end of Bronco’s tenure that has seemingly continued into the Sitake era.

Now, a word on player retention: it seems that a high percentage of the player defections under Bronco Mendenhall were player-initiated. Signees never joined the program, players wanted to search for more playing time by transferring to a different program, or they lost the drive to continue their football careers altogether. In contrast, these types of player defections seem to have decreased drastically under Kalani Sitake. So far, the family atmosphere seems to be keeping more players in it for the duration of their careers. I do believe that we’ll see more player attrition under Coach Sitake, but I believe the reasons will be more program-initiated and talent-based (think scholarship cuts). The coaches have already shown a willingness to make the hard decisions and weight the opportunity costs: if Player X is not as talented as we thought or if we haven’t been able to move him up the spectrum in developing his talent, is there a Player Y we can bring in to take his spot who is either more talented now, or who has a higher talent ceiling? I can’t imagine how difficult those decisions and conversations can be in a program that is simultaneously juggling the competing objectives of maximizing talent while also building the strongest, most united, family atmosphere in modern college football.

For now, the program appears to be in better shape than at any time in recent history; under the new staff, it certainly feels like recruiting has improved (the starting point on the talent spectrum), player retention has improved (allowing talent development to continue for four years and not starting over with likely less-talented newcomers), and player development has improved (the talent increase from signing until graduation). All of these factors, if my assessment of the current state of the program is correct, should contribute to improved on-field performance in the upcoming seasons and also improved representation from BYU in the NFL. While the overall average from the past 12 recruiting classes shows that only about one-quarter of BYU’s athletes make an NFL team, that number has lately been closer to half, and seems to be trending over 50%.

As for the NFL draft itself, it remains to be seen exactly why BYU players have had such a time finding there way onto the biggest stage. It will be interesting to see what happens during the next few years with Kalani Sitake at the helm and with his staff seemingly recruiting more talent and developing it at a higher level. One would expect the draft numbers to similarly increase as the talent improves and NFL organizations notice a rise in BYU’s talent ceiling. But, it may be a few years before that bears itself out. Regardless, if this analysis proves correct and the upward trends continue in the coming years, I’d expect that in the next 5-10 years, we’re in for some exciting seasons at BYU, more prestige for the football program, and, hopefully, an increase of BYU players in the NFL (and in the draft).

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