When it comes to the Arizona Wildcats’ recent draft performance, there’s no debate: it stinks.
The UA failed to have a player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft that ended Saturday, the fourth time that’s happened since 2013. Since 2010 only 15 Wildcats have been picked, second-fewest in the Pac-12, and 2016 was the last time they had multiple players selected.
That all could change in 2021 if Arizona’s next batch of draft-eligible players continues to develop. And there’s a lot of them.
Of the 80 scholarship athletes on the current roster, 46 would be eligible (at least three years removed from high school) for the 2021 draft including 19 seniors. The majority of those guys are a long ways away from even being considered a pro prospect, but there are more than a dozen that should already be on NFL scouts’ radars.
The most Arizona players taken in one draft was seven, in 1987, but that’s when there were 12 rounds of selections. Since going down to seven rounds in 1994 the best UA haul came in the 2000 draft when five Wildcats were picked.
1. OT Donovan Laie
The first true freshman to start at left tackle for Arizona in more than 20 years, Laie has been an anchor on the left side of the offensive line for two seasons. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds he has NFL size and great durability to this point, also showing off some flexibility by moving to guard for a pair of games in 2020. If Grant Gunnell has a big season this fall it will be at least partly due to Laie’s blind-side protection, and that could put him in line to leave early and become the UA’s first offensive lineman draftee since Eben Britton in 2009.
2. LB Colin Schooler
A three-year starter at middle linebacker, Schooler’s 46 tackles for loss are fourth-most in school history. He’ll end up second behind only Tedy Bruschi while also finishing in the top 10 in tackles, but at only 6-foot-1 and 229 pounds he’s destined for more of a hybrid linebacker/safety role in the NFL which means he’ll need to show more pass coverage chops.
3. WR Jamarye Joiner
Year: Redshirt sophomore
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Joiner is Arizona’s most intriguing 2021 draft prospect, as well as the one on the list that’s probably least likely to be in that draft. This fall will mark his third season of college football for the converted quarterback, making him draft-eligible, but he’s only played his current position for one. That initial foray into being a wideout was very successful, and 2020 figures to be a big year for him, but there’s also an offseason foot injury to come back from.
4. LB Tony Fields II
The jelly to Schooler’s peanut butter in the middle of Arizona’s defense, Fields has started all 37 games in his career. He’s undersized at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, so like Schooler it will come down to how he performs in space—which he’ll have more of to work with in new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads’ 3-4 alignment—and in the passing game.
5. LB Anthony Pandy
The move to get Pandy on the field as much as fellow linebackers Fields and Schooler was one of the few solid defensive changes made during Kevin Sumlin’s first two years on the job, particularly in 2019 when he spent as much time as an edge rusher as he did on the second level. At 6-foot and 225 pounds he moves great and has tremendous power, he just has to find his best spot on the field to excel.
6. RB Gary Brightwell
The most underused weapon on Arizona’s roster may finally end up with a featured role in 2020, or he could once again be limited to a few touches here and there as has been the case throughout his career. There’s no denying the 6-foot-1, 210-pound back can produce, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and showing a great blend of speed and power that remains an untapped resource at the college level but could produce big dividends with the right pro system.
7. CB Lorenzo Burns
Year: Redshirt senior
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Burns participated in Arizona’s Senior Night festivities in November but opted to come back for a fifth season, which could pay off well for his future with a big 2020. He has nine interceptions and 25 pass breakups for his career and should finish in the top 10 in school history in both, and this fall he’ll get plenty of reps against some of the Pac-12’s top pass catchers.
8. DE/LB Jalen Harris
Year: Redshirt junior
Could 2020 finally be the year Harris finally lives up to the massive potential he’s shown in spring ball and in a handful of real games? At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds he’s a beast off the edge and will spend a lot of time back at linebacker in the 3-4. If this is the season that he starts producing pass rusher stats—he has just seven sacks, one forced fumble and one pass breakup in 30 career games—then he could be in line to leave school early.
9. C Josh McCauley
Year: Redshirt senior
A former walk-on, the 6-foot-3, 292-pound McCauley started 21 straight games before getting hurt late last season but managing to come back for the finale. While not that flashy, McCauley doesn’t make many mistakes and that’s what you’re looking for from your center.
10. OL Paiton Fears
A junior college transfer, the 6-foot-5, 328-pound Fears started seven games in 2020 with five at right tackle and two at left guard. Plenty of size to go with that versatility, so another year of solid play will make him a potential early entry candidate.
11. DL JB Brown
While quite small for an interior defensive lineman at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Brown makes up for it with the kind of quickness you don’t find much inside. He made six starts in 2019 at DL after spending most of his time the year before on the outside, and that came after entering college as a linebacker.
12. DT Trevon Mason
Mason became Arizona’s most consistent defensive lineman in his first season after coming in as a junior college transfer, logging 44 tackles with six for loss in 11 starts. At 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds he is enormous and usually garners double teams, and if he can bust some of those he’ll get a sniff at the NFL.
13. WR Tayvian Cunningham
Had the coronavirus pandemic not shut down college sports, the 5-foot-10, 173-pound Cunningham was set to show off his speed with UA’s track team after spring practice ended. He was no doubt the Wildcats’ fastest receiver in 2019, though most of his 35 catches were in the slot and close to the line.
14. TE Bryce Wolma
Arizona hasn’t had a tight end drafted since Rob Gronkowski in 2010, and it seems like it’s been that long since that position played any sort of significant role in the Wildcat offense. It was actually 2017, when as a freshman the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Wolma had 28 catches (most since Gronk in 2008) and was a real weapon. If given the chance to contribute Wolma could show off a skillset that would translate well to the pros.