|Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press|
|Kyle Van Noy garnered a lot of attention for his dominating performance in the Poinsettia Bowl.|
Long known for its passing prowess, it wasn't a surprise that BYU's best-known alumni in the NFL over the past three decades came from that side of the ball. But with a dramatic reinvention as a defensive-oriented team the past few seasons, finishing in the top 25 nationally in yardage allowed the last three seasons and No. 3 overall in scoring and total defense in 2012, the number of Cougars in the professional ranks dwindled, with Ezekiel Ansah (fifth overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2013 NFL Draft) the only player from BYU taken in the last three drafts. That trend should reverse dramatically starting next year, with two standout prospects leading the way and an uptick likely on offense.
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Top senior prospects
LB Kyle Van Noy: Barring injury, Van Noy will be jockeying with Alabama's C.J. Mosley and UCLA's Anthony Barr to be the top senior outside linebacker in the 2014 NFL Draft. He possesses incredible burst and closing speed, but Van Noy's lack of strength shows at times (listed at 235 pounds) and can be erased when offensive linemen get both hands on him. Van Noy is very active and creates takeaways, with 11 forced fumbles and five interceptions in three seasons (four career touchdowns, two in the win over San Diego State in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl).
WR Cody Hoffman: He single-handedly carried the BYU passing game last season by tallying 100 catches for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns (next highest totals were 37 grabs, 315 yards and five scores). With his height and long arms, Hoffman excels at catching the ball in traffic and the red zone. He doesn't show top-end speed (only one career reception longer than 50 yards), so Hoffman's 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine or pro day will be critical if he cannot create more explosive plays. Hoffman also offers value on special teams, having averaged 25.1 yards per kick return.
OL Ryker Matthews: Matthews started all 13 games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman. He shows good power, but struggles to stay in front of quicker, more athletic linemen. Matthews missed the 2011 campaign because of turf toe and underwent hip surgery this offseason.
RB Jamaal Williams: Starting the final eight games as a true freshman last season, Williams rushed for 537 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. He also accounted for 106 yards of total offense on 21 touches against the gifted Notre Dame front seven. Williams is an adept receiver out of the backfield (24 catches for 282 yards and one touchdown as a starter). Despite being listed at just 190 pounds, he plays much bigger on tape.
OL Brayden Kearsley: Rated among the top 25 offensive line recruits in the nation by Scout and Rivals, the Aloha, Ore. native turned down offers from a host of Pac-12 schools to sign with the Cougars. Kearsley could be in the mix for early playing time as BYU looks for more consistent play on the interior of the offensive line.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 7 vs. Texas: The Longhorns are never lacking for talent, especially on defense. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat has tremendous burst coming off the line, a trait that gives Cougars tackle Ryker Matthews fits. Assuming the pass protection holds up, Cody Hoffman will try to break free from promising Longhorns corner Quandre Diggs.
Oct. 25 vs. Boise State: Kyle Van Noy had just two tackles in a defensive slog that saw Boise State come away with the 7-6 win last September, while teammate Ezekiel Ansah exploded onto the national stage with eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one pass breakup. Can Van Noy assert himself this time against Broncos left tackle Charles Leno?
Nov. 9 at Wisconsin: While Van Noy is likely to be called upon as a pass rusher in the NFL, his run defense will get a workout against the always-punishing Badgers ground game. Ryan Groy, set to slide over to left tackle from left guard, is the latest in a long line of Wisconsin maulers and, at 320 pounds, he will force Van Noy to show strength comparable to his speed off the edge.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.