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4 Utah Utes That Could Get Picked in the 2016 NFL Draft

Author:
Jason Fanaika

Jason Fanaika

Utah has developed a reputation for churning out NFL talent — especially on defense — under head coach Kyle Whittingham. A total of 25 former Utes are currently on NFL team rosters. Several Utah standouts from last season will join that group when the 2016 NFL Draft gets underway on April 28.

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Which former Utah players will hear their names called as draft selections in 2016? Here's a breakdown of the Utes most likely to go in one of the seven rounds:

Devontae Booker, RB

Few players can rival what Booker did in his two-year stint at Utah. He was one of only three players in school history to compile a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons during his career. Booker set a school record with a career rushing average of 120.6 yards per game. He was an All-Pac-12 first-team honoree in 2014 and an All-Pac-12 second-team selection in ‘15.

Booker packs a punch (5-11, 219) as a runner. He stays low and uses his strength to plow through tackles and create extra yards after contact. Booker's top strength as a runner is his vision. He has enough patience to let holes develop and can burst through the line of scrimmage once a seam opens. With his ability to run smart and get tough yards, Booker should quickly become a fixture in an NFL team's backfield.

NFL Draft projection: 2nd round

Jason Fanaika, DE

Fanaika emerged as a strong-side playmaker for Utah over the past two seasons. He totaled 20 tackles for a loss and nine sacks over his junior and senior years with the Utes. Fanaika also forced a pair of fumbles as a senior — finishing as a team co-leader in that category.

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Fanaika (6-2, 271) is the complete package as a pass rusher. His closing speed in the open field is top notch. He is also smart in how he defends plays, with enough awareness to get in the right position to make a consistent impact. Fanaika's athleticism and foot speed is average compared to some prospects, but he makes up for it with great anticipation and strength.

NFL Draft projection: Late 3rd or early 4th round

Tom Hackett, P

It's rare to see a punter get selected in the NFL Draft, but Hackett will likely be an exception to that rule. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner made his mark as a powerful punter — especially during his final two seasons with the Utes. Hackett averaged 46.7 yards per punt as a junior and 47.95 as a senior. He tallied 65 punts of 50-plus yards and four punts of 70-plus yards during his time in Salt Lake City.

Hackett's accuracy sets him apart from the typical college punter. He never had a punt blocked while at Utah and showed an ability to execute punts consistently both in traditional formations and rugby style. He seems like a safe bet to be picked up in one of the middle rounds.

NFL Draft projection: Late 4th or early 5th round

Jared Norris, LB

There's no question that Norris left a major mark on Utah's defense over his final two seasons. Norris enjoyed a breakout junior season, totaling 116 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and four sacks. He followed up with 87 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack as a senior. During his Utah career, Norris had 11 games with 10 or more tackles.

Norris put his stamp on Utah's defense with his superior instincts. He has a knack for identifying plays quickly and putting himself in the right spots. Norris takes aggressive angles to the ball and has plenty of lateral quickness to disrupt plays. He is an efficient and reliable tackler who hits hard and can bring down a ball carrier without yielding significant yards after contact. There are some concerns about his, size (6-1, 241), playing strength and agility, but not enough to keep him off an NFL roster.

NFL Draft projection: Late 5th or early 6th round

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.