As the rounds of the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft passed on Saturday, it began to feel like déjà vu for BYU football hopefuls.

Yes, former Cougars Zach Wilson (first round) and Brady Christensen (third round) were selected on Days No. 1 and 2, but the fourth round went by ... then the fifth ... then the sixth with no one from BYU getting that coveted call.

Then came the momentous seventh round.

In a span of nine selection, a trio of Cougars got their moment in the spotlight as defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga was picked by the Chicago Bears with the 250th pick overall.

The very next selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 251 overall) was ex-Cougar cornerback Chris Wilcox, who became the first BYU cornerback to be drafted since 1991.

Former BYU wide receiver Dax Milne didn’t have to wait long as the Washington Football Team made him their final selection of the draft at No. 258 overall.

Those three picks gave the Cougars five total selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, tying them for the 11th highest amount out of all college football teams and also tying for the most picks for a team west of the Mississippi River.

It was the first time BYU had that many selections since 2002 and tied for the program record in the first seven rounds of an NFL draft, a mark that was also hit in 1995, 1985 and 1981. The Cougars had seven players selected in 1981 and 1986 but both of those drafts had more than seven rounds.

“I am really happy for Khyiris, Chris and Dax,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said in a statement after the draft. “I am so proud of Khyiris and all he has achieved in his life and for our football program. Chris has done a great job developing as a cover corner and has the size and speed to play at the next level. Dax has impressed and gotten better every year culminating with a tremendous All-America season in 2020. I love each of these guys and look forward to following their careers in the NFL.”

While it is never easy to make a team when drafted in the seventh round, ESPN analysts who cover the Bears and the Washington Football Team expressed guarded optimism about what Tonga and Milne might be able to do.

“The Bears welcome back Eddie Goldman, who opted out last year due to COVID-19 concerns, but it never hurts to add possible depth at nose tackle,” ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson said in his Chicago Bears draft analysis. “Tonga is a big body (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) who can eat up space in the middle of the defensive line. Seventh-round picks always face an uphill battle to make the roster, but the Bears aren’t super deep at defensive tackle after Goldman, Mario Edwards Jr. and Akiem Hicks, who can play anywhere up front.”

ESPN’s John Keim, who analyzed the Washington draft picks, said Milne faces an uphill battle.

“Milne was one of Zach Wilson’s favorite targets and caught 70 passes for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns,” Keim said. “He’s considered a strong route runner and has decent size at 6-foot-1, 193 pounds. His special teams play will dictate whether he makes the roster. Washington has enough depth at receiver that it will be tough but not impossible to win a job.

In addition to BYU’s five drafted players, seven other athletes also quickly got opportunities as undrafted free agents:

  • Safety/linebacker Zayne Anderson joined head coach Andy Reid and former BYU safety Daniel Sorensen when he was added by the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi became the third Kaufusi in the league when he signed with the Indianapolis Colts, joining cousins Bronson Kaufusi (Green Bay) and Corbin Kaufusi (San Francisco 49ers).
  • Tight end Matt Bushman got an opportunity to stay close to home when he was picked up by the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Offensive lineman Tristen Hoge might end up blocking for Wilson again as he signed with the New York Jets.
  • Defensive lineman Zac Dawe signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Offensive lineman Chandon Herring signed with the Tennessee Titans.
  • Safety Troy Warner ended up in the same division as his older brother, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, as he was added by the Los Angeles Rams.“Lil bro officially in the league what a blessing!!!” Fred Warner tweeted from his @fred_warner Twitter account. “Wish it was in red and gold..but can’t wait to see my dawg twice a year [hugging face emoji] proud of everything you’ve done to get here and can’t wait to see you show everyone what they missed out on!! Best in da [globe emoji] no [cap emoji]. Love you [love you gesture emoji]”

Sitake has frequently emphasized that he wants players to come to Provo who want to play football at the highest level. Having 12 players get that opportunity in 2021 (with possibly more to come) shows that BYU has achieved that goal this year.

“Whether it was the guys who got drafted or those who are signing deals after the draft, I’m equally excited for the opportunities that await them in the NFL,” Sitake said in a statement. “We have talented football players and great people in our program, and I know they will all represent themselves and BYU well. It was an honor to coach them.”

Now the question becomes whether it is going to be an anomaly or a tradition for the Cougar football program.

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Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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