KHON2’s 2020 NFL Draft Hawai’i prospect primer


TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA – NOVEMBER 09: Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to pass during the second half against the LSU Tigers in the game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The most unique draft in NFL history is set to begin on Thursday and runs through Saturday. Due to COVID-19, the league is holding its first-ever virtual draft, where franchises will make their respective selections from home.  

Coronavirus has either delayed or canceled a bevy of sporting events. Despite its compromises, the 2020 NFL Draft is taking place on its original date and is the rare current sporting event where the outcome is still in question.

As for members of the 2020 draft class with Hawaii connections, there are more than a few. Five players with Hawaii ties got invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February, while a handful more are likely to receive a pro shot whether they get drafted or not.

2020 NFL Draft Schedule

  • Round 1: Thursday, 2 p.m. HST
  • Rounds 2-3: Friday, 1 p.m. HST
  • Rounds 4-7: Saturday, 6 a.m. HST

On the eve of the 2020 NFL Draft, here are the Hawaii names to keep an eye on.

NFL Combine participants with Hawaii ties (Five players)

Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Alabama (via Saint Louis)

Tagovailoa was a five-star recruit at Saint Louis when he arrived at Alabama in the spring of 2017 and managed to live up to those expectations. Although he didn’t start a single game as a freshman in Tuscaloosa, he introduced himself to the world when he entered the 2018 national championship game and led the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 win over Georgia with an iconic touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime.

From that point forward, Tagovailoa was the starter at quarterback for the Tide and had a mammoth 2018 season where he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. His 2019 season was cut short due to a hip fracture, the same injury that makes arguably him the draft’s biggest wild card.

Tagovailoa declared for the draft with one season of eligibility remaining. Shortly after, he confided to KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello that he live up to his own expectations during his collegiate career, despite throwing for 87 touchdown passes and 7,442 yards to just 11 interceptions. It is anyone’s guess as to where he ends up, as Tagovailoa has declined to name the NFL teams he’s been in contact with. But getting selected in the first round is a near certainty.

Bradlee Anae, edge rusher, Utah (via Kahuku)

Out of the five players with Hawaii ties who were invited to the 2020 combine, Anae was the only player of the crop who didn’t leave any eligibility on the table. That decision seems to have paid off, as he was named a consensus All-American during senior season in 2019.

“I wouldn’t have second-guessed that decision to stay for anything,” Anae told KHON2 in February. He exits the Utah program as the school’s all-time sack leader at 30.

Anae was not one of the 58 players invited to participate to the virtual draft, making it unlikely that he will be selected in the first round. But a round 2-3 selection is certainly possible, if not likely.

Netane Muti, guard, Fresno State (via Leilehua)

Muti turned heads at the NFL Combine when he did 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, good for the fourth-highest amount of reps in combine history and seven shy of the all-time record set by Justin Ernest in 1999.

Muti declared for the draft with one season of eligibility remaining. He missed the majority of the 2018 and 2019 seasons due to injury but remains an intriguing prospect due to his size and strength. Injuries certainly played a factor in declaring early.

“A lot of things went into it,” Muti told KHON2 in January of his decision to declare early. “Like if I had stayed, what if I get hurt again? Things like that. This is also my dream — to go play in the NFL. I just thought that this is my best chance right now so I just took it.”

A day two selection in the draft is possible, as ESPN’s Todd McShay in a recent mock draft had Muti going as high as No. 55 overall to the Ravens in the second round.

Alohi Gilman, safety, Notre Dame (via Kahuku)

Gilman started his collegiate career at Navy then transferred to Notre Dame, where he made an immediate impact in practices and games in the defensive backfield.

He emerged as an alpha for the two years he suited up for the Fighting Irish, drawing praise from coaches and teammates alike for his intensity and football IQ. Gilman started all 26 games in his Notre Dame career and was a team captain in 2019. After graduating in December with a degree in Economics, Gilman decided it was time to declare despite having one year of eligibility left.

Gilman had a strong showing at the combine, particularly in the agility drills. His 3-cone drill of 6.81 seconds put him in a tie for second among all defensive backs, while his 20-yard shuttle of 4.08 seconds put him third among all defensive backs. He also left quite the final impression off the field.

Cole McDonald, quarterback, Hawaii (via La Mirada, Calif)

Hawaii was facing an identity crisis following a 3-9 season in 2017. The following spring, then-head coach Nick Rolovich decided the program was returning to its run-and-shoot roots on offense. McDonald got the first shot at being the starter and impressed immediately, scoring five touchdowns and throwing for 418 yards in a 43-34 win at Colorado State in the 2018 season opener. Over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, UH went 18-11 as McDonald threw for 69 touchdowns and 8,020 yards in that span, although at times he yielded to backup Chevan Cordeiro.

McDonald declared for the draft following his redshirt junior season. His final game in a UH uniform was perhaps his most memorable, as he threw for 493 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-34 win as a 24-yard pass to Nick Mardner with 1:17 left proved to be the game’s final score.

McDonald’s 4.58 40-yard dash time was the fastest among quarterbacks at the combine, and his 36-inch vertical was also tops among QBs. McDonald enters the draft with a legit shot of being the highest UH draft pick among quarterbacks in school history. Colt Brennan was the last Hawaii alum drafted as a quarterback when he was selected 186th overall by the Washington Redskins in 2008. Raphel Cherry was the 122nd overall pick in 1985 by the Redskins, but he was selected as a defensive back.

A combine invite doesn’t guarantee a draft selection. At the same time, plenty of non-combine invites have gone on to get drafted. Hawaii’s John Ursua was the most recent example, getting picked by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round in 2019.

But as COVID-19 concerns canceled pro days across the nation for many schools, it denied many who didn’t have a combine invite a chance for more exposure.

Here are other names with Hawaii ties that could receive an NFL opportunity, whether it be as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent:

Rojesterman Farris, defensive back, Hawaii (via Coral Springs, Fla): Farris was selected to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl following the 2019 season, and impressed during practices.

Breiden Fehoko, defensive tackle, LSU (via Farrington): Fehoko was a full-time starter on the LSU defensive line as a junior and started four games during his senior year for the 15-0 and national champion Tigers. He also earned a Hula Bowl invite after the season.

Cedric Byrd, receiver, Hawaii (via Los Angeles): McDonald’s top target over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, hauling in 19 touchdowns and 2,067 yards during his two-year UH career. He was hand-timed at 4.37 during the 40-yard dash at his personal pro day.

JoJo Ward, receiver, Hawaii (via Waco, Tx.): Like Bryd, Ward had two highly productive seasons at Hawaii. He caught 20 touchdowns for 1,999 yards during his UH career. He was also invited to the Hula bowl.

Pono Davis, defensive tackle, SMU (via Kamehameha-Hawaii): Davis was a three-year starter at SMU who was invited to the Hula Bowl following his senior season.

Moana Vainikolo, linebacker, New Mexico (via Maui): During his senior season, Vaninikolo had a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss. Additionally, his 76 total tackles were the second-highest on the team.

Ikem Okeke, safety, Hawaii (via Las Vegas): Okeke started at both linebacker and safety during his UH career. He had three interceptions and 56 tackles in 2019 and impressed during Hula Bowl practices.

Kalen Hicks, safety, Hawaii (via Las Vegas): Hicks was a two-year starter at safety for UH before injuries cut his senior season short at seven games. He was the team’s leading tackler at 42 at the time.

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