Utes in the NFL: Performance Grades for the 2020 Rookie Class

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University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) celebrates after a touchdown from making an interception vs. Brigham Young University during an NCAA Football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Cole Bagley, Assistant Sports Editor

 

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently crowned Super Bowl champions, the NFL has now reached the long and dreadful offseason. A nearly seven-month period with absolutely zero football and many question how society continues to operate, but alas, the time has unfortunately arrived.

While the offseason is unwelcome by many, it does present an opportunity to look back and reflect upon the performances of players who stood out and made a difference for their teams. For the 2020-21 season, it was the first time that a handful of former Utes were able to grace the NFL gridiron and contribute on football’s biggest stage. The following is a list of performance grades by rookies out of the University of Utah who saw action during the 2020-21 NFL season.

Javelin Guidry

Cornerback 

Signed Priority FA Deal

New York Jets

Grade: B-

Guidry originally went undrafted and ended up signing a free-agent deal with the New York Jets. He saw action in 11 total games and recorded 19 tackles, 12 of which were solo. The most impressive stat from his initial campaign was the four forced-fumbles Guidry caused, with two coming in one game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Francis Bernard

Linebacker

Signed Priority FA Deal

Dallas Cowboys

Grade: C-

While it came as a surprise to many, Bernard was not selected in the draft but signed a free-agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys. Despite seeing action in 13 games, Bernard had a bit of an underwhelming set of performances than what we became accustomed to at the U. In those 13 appearances, Bernard recorded just six tackles, two of which were solo. He will need to turn things up a notch in his sophomore season if he wants to keep playing at the highest level.

Tyler Huntley

Quarterback

Signed Priority FA Deal

Baltimore Ravens

Grade: C+

While Huntley’s path to the NFL didn’t exactly go as expected, he was able to find the perfect fit in Baltimore. While the Ravens are set for now at the quarterback position with former MVP Lamar Jackson, Huntley possesses a similar play style to Jackson and should be able to learn a lot. Because of some massive leads and an injury, Huntley did see a little bit of action late in two of the Ravens regular-season games and one playoff game. For the regular season he went 3-5 and 15 yards, but where he impressed the most was against the Bills in the playoffs as Jackson was sidelined with an injury. Huntley played the entire fourth quarter where he went 6-13 for 60 yards, including a 29-yard completion on a third-and-16 and an impressive 19-yard run earlier in the game. While Huntley won’t be starting anytime soon, he will be battling for the second-string position and trying to learn as much as he can.

John Penisini 

Defensive Tackle

Drafted Sixth Round, 197th Overall

Detroit Lions

Grade: A-

Despite being the final Ute drafted, Penisini put together an impressive rookie campaign as he played in 16 games for Lions and recorded 32 tackles, 16 of which were solo. Penisini also recorded a single sack in his first year and showed a lot of promise for the future.

Leki Fotu

Defensive Tackle

Drafted Fourth Round, 114th Overall

Arizona Cardinals

Grade: C

Fotu saw action in 11 games for the Cardinals where he recorded 11 tackles, six of which were solo. Fotu also had one sack on the season. Overall, nothing overly impressive but a solid defensive presence and possesses a lot of potential.

Terrell Burgess 

Safety

Drafted Third Round, 104th Overall

LA Rams

Grade: B

Before sustaining a broken ankle against the Bears in week seven, which prematurely ended his rookie year, Burgess was beginning to make a name for himself. In seven games, he recorded eight tackles, seven of which were solo. Burgess also recorded one pass defended. No doubt he will be looking to come back stronger in his sophomore season, as he has thoroughly impressed his coaches and teammates.

Zack Moss

Running Back

Drafted Third Round, 86th Overall

Buffalo Bills

Grade: A

Zack Moss hit the ground running, literally, as he recorded an incredible rookie performance. In 13 games, Moss had 112 attempts where he recorded 481 yards and four touchdowns. Moss also had 14 receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown. Unfortunately, in their first playoff game against Indianapolis, Moss suffered an ankle injury that ended his season. But rest assured, Moss will be back next season and the sky’s the limit for the talented young running back.

Julian Blackmon

Free Safety

Drafted Third Round, 85th Overall

Indianapolis Colts

Grade: A+

Blackmon was thrown into the deep end right off the bat as he saw action earlier than expected because of teammate injuries. But Blackmon looked like a veteran right from the start and continued that level of performance as he played in 15 games for Colts recording 38 tackles, 31 of which were solo. He also had six passes defended and two interceptions, one of which sealed the game in week six against the Bengals. The Colts struck gold when they drafted Blackmon, and we will see him wreaking havoc for NFL quarterbacks for years to come.

Jaylon Johnson

Cornerback

Drafted Second Round, 50th Overall

Chicago Bears

Grade:  A

Johnson is an absolute lockdown pass-defender as the rookie was defending the pass game like a veteran. In his initial campaign, Johnson had 13 appearances where he recorded 42 tackles, 32 of which were solo. He also had 15 passes defended, which begs the question, why did quarterbacks keep throwing in his direction?

Alex Smith

Quarterback

Drafted First Round, 1st Overall (2005)

Washington Redskins

Grade: A++

Yes, we know, Alex Smith is not a rookie, but as AP Comeback Player of the Year, there was no leaving him out. In 2018, Smith suffered a gruesome spiral and compound fracture to his right tibia and fibula. Following the injury, Smith was battling for not only his leg, but his life as bad infections came as a result of the injury and surgeries. But fast forward two years, and Smith had not only learned to walk again, but he was leading the Washington Football Team’s offense. In 2020 Smith went 168-252, threw for 1582 yards, six touchdowns, and helped Washington make the wild card game. Although Smith didn’t make an appearance in the wild card game, he was a true testament of the human spirit and overcoming incredible odds. As previously mentioned, Smith won AP Comeback Player of the Year receiving 49 of the 50 votes. But seriously, shame on the one person who didn’t vote for Smith, probably was a BYU fan.

 

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