One of the more surprising initial invites to this draft cycle’s Senior Bowl is Kylie Fitts of Utah. The Ute pass-rusher began his career at UCLA, after being named a high school All-American, but transferred after just one season (2013.)
Because of the NCAA’s transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2014 season in Utah. In 2015, he was a full-time starter who recorded 14 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, due to foot and ankle injuries, he’s only recorded 10.5 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage over the last two seasons, according to College Football Reference.
Of the 12 Power Five pass-rushers who were drafted in the first four rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, 10 of them recorded at least 16.5 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in their final college seasons. Fitts has only recorded six, with potentially only one game left in his college career (depending on if Utah can get to six wins and a bowl.) Every pass-rusher drafted in the first four rounds, including Vince Biegel, who was battling through foot injuries, and Deatrich Wise, who was removed from a starting role, eclipsed six “premium tackles” in 2016.
Of those 12 Power Five pass-rushers, all of them recorded at least 36.5 “premium tackles” in their careers. Fitts has only recorded 25.5, 70 percent of the standard for first- through fourth-round pass-rushers. The pass-rusher with the fewest of those tackles last class was Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, who declared as a redshirt sophomore. That’s a very different situation than the one Fitts, a fifth-year senior, is in.
This is all to say: Fitts doesn’t really fit the profile of top-150 draft pick, which is surprising considering the fact that he’s one of the first three senior pass-rushers to accept an invite to the game (along with UTSA’s Marcus Davenport and USC’s Uchenna Nwosu.)
Last year, Utah defensive end Hunter Dimick, who wasn’t invited the combine, went undrafted after posting a solid pro day to go along with 71 “premium tackles” in his college career. Another Utah end, Pita Taumoepenu, was invited to the combine last year. He recorded 28 “premium tackles” in his final two years at Utah. He did well at the combine, posting a 4.67-second four-yard dash and then recording a 6.98-second three-cone time at his pro day, but he wasn’t drafted until the sixth round (by the San Francisco 49ers.)
It just doesn’t pass the sniff test that someone with his injury history, age and production (relative to what others have done at the same program) is going to be someone who will immediately be given playing time at the NFL level. He’ll likely be a later round pick who is fighting for a roster spot in August and could be on a practice squad in September.
Another issue with his evaluation is that three of those six tackles in the backfield came in the first quarter against a 1-11 San Jose State team, in a game that he later missed time in because he was in Utah’s concussion protocol.
He’s a slippery defensive end, which is why I understand how both recruiters at the college level and the Senior Bowl’s staff fell in love with him, but there are a lot of question marks with him. He’s certainly someone you’d want to invest time in during the summer months, but developmental players get lost in the September shuffle every year.
A big Senior Bowl week or combine week could boost Fitts’ draft status, but draft status only means so much. He’s going to have to put it all together quickly, while staying healthy, to stick with a squad.