LOS ANGELES — Just 32 players each spring go in the NFL draft's first round. Devin Lloyd is a consensus pick to do just that in 2022.
To be one of the 32 most coveted prospects in college football signals the Utah linebacker's dramatic ascent from when he was a high school recruit ranked No. 160 — in California.
Utah's first-ever Pac-12 championship and run to the Rose Bowl Game are fueled in part thanks to the program's improved recruiting. Its trajectory to that end continues with a 2022 class ranked No. 34 in the country through the early signing period.
But in Lloyd — a 247Sports low 3-star recruit, ranked No. 160 of 2017 California recruits and No. 122 among the nation's safeties when he was coming out of Chula Vista Otay Ranch High School — the Rose Bowl-bound Utes have someone who continues a long tradition of developing overlooked recruits into overachieving stars.
Part of Lloyd's development was moving from safety to linebacker.
At 6-foot-4, he had the frame for the position. But at 215 pounds, he needed to fill it out. Lloyd redshirted his first year and played all 14 games his second primarily on special teams.
His ascent really took off in 2019, Lloyd's third season in the program.
"Going into that fall camp is when I felt the most comfortable, like I was ready to play," he said. "That's when they announced that [linebacker] Manny Bowen was actually leaving the program. But even [prior] to that, I was ready to compete at a high level."
And Lloyd's been performing at a high level ever since.
Related: Utah Football Team Awards for 2021
He made 90 tackles in 2019 with 11.5 for a loss, beginning a run of three straight double-digit TFL campaigns (including the COVID-shortened 2020 season). Lloyd's accrued a ridiculous 22 tackles for a loss in 2021 with the Rose Bowl Game still to go.
In the Granddaddy of 'Em All, Lloyd will look for more against an Ohio State offensive line doing some reshuffling. Left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, a potential fellow first-rounder, opted out, so Thayer Munford shifts over from left guard.
"He has run to the ball very well. He knows his plays. He knows what to do," Munford said of Lloyd. "I give all respect to him."
Lloyd knows what to do defending the run, and he still shows off some of his background playing in the secondary when defending the pass.
The most recent of his four interceptions in 2021 and in his time at Utah started the Utes' deluge of Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Lloyd's first collegiate interception also went to the house. The 64-yard pick-six against Oregon State in 2019 marked the linebacker's arrival from Utes defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley's perspective.
The play is also one of many that validate all the times he's spent beating down coaches' office doors.
"He's always been a guy [who] wears you out by coming into your office. 'Coach, what can I work on? What can I work on? How can I get better?'" Scalley said. "It's like, 'Devin, OK, enough.' ... But that's who he is, and that's why he's gotten to this point."
"Our coaches are some of the best in the nation," Lloyd said. "Results prove that year in and year out, getting guys to the draft."
Utah has sent 47 players to the NFL draft since Kyle Whittingham took over as head coach 15 years ago.
Lloyd is in line to join Star Lotulelei and Garett Bolles as the program's third first-rounder in the Whittingham era.
"And they do it the right way," Lloyd added of the staff's methods of development. "They genuinely love you, they care for you, and they make sure you feel that. The standard that they set ... is held day in and day out."
What are the ways in which Lloyd upholds that standard? Teammates Nephi Sewell and Junior Tafuna paint the picture.
"Selfless," Sewell said. "His plays speaks a lot, but I feel like when he's out there making plays, it boosts everyone else's confidence."
"Best leader in America, right there," Tafuna said plainly.
Lloyd's mutual affection for the program might be most reflected by his mere presence at the Rose Bowl.
He may or may not have been a first-rounder in the 2021 draft, but he wouldn't have lasted long regardless. The decision to turn pro isn't indicative of character, nor is opting out of a bowl game; every player's situation is different, and it's a personal decision.
For Lloyd, the situation was ideal for both continuing his NFL dreams and for helping Utah football make history.
"When I decided to come back after last season, this is all that I envisioned. I envisioned nothing but the best and I put in the work," Lloyd said. "This [a Pac-12 championship, Rose Bowl appearance, and rising NFL draft stock] is all kind of in the range of what I was hoping for to happen.
"Things don't always go as planned," he continued — and his becoming a blue-chip talent despite not having come in as a blue-chip recruit is a testament to exactly that. "But I'm just really grateful and blessed to see it all come to fruition."
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break.