Idaho Vandals

Former Vandal, son of NFL veteran, rockets up draft boards after impressive workouts

Usually, the NFL gets it right when it brings 300 or so of the best prospects every year to Indianapolis for the scouting combine. Most will end up names you know as Sunday’s stars.

But there are always those who are overlooked who wind up making some team very happy and leave the other 31 kicking themselves for not doing their homework.

One of those unheralded players in this year’s draft could very well be Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss.

Not extended a combine invite, Elliss got the NFL’s attention with some excellent pro day showings and is now a likely pick in the NFL Draft, which runs Thursday to Saturday.

“It was disappointing not being able to go to the combine, but God has a plan for everything,” Elliss said. “After I knew I wasn’t going to Indianapolis, I had to figure out a strategy to get their attention, and I’m happy with how it’s worked so far.”

[Related: Meet the 20 highest NFL Draft picks with ties to the Gem State]

Elliss, who attended high school in Salt Lake City, is the son of former Utah defensive lineman Luther Elliss, who played 10 NFL seasons for the Lions and Broncos and now coaches the Vandals’ defensive line. He was given the chance to take part in Utah’s pro day on March 28, and then Idaho’s six days later.

A funny thing happened in Utah — Elliss (6-foot-2, 229 pounds) was as impressive as any of the Utes. His three-cone drill time (6.63 seconds) was particularly strong, as was an 11.1-second 60-yard shuttle. Both would have been No. 1 or No. 2 at the combine. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at Idaho’s pro day.

“That pro day at Utah was basically my version of the NFL combine, because I knew there would be a lot of teams there,” Elliss said. “I knew any times I didn’t love I could try again at Idaho’s. It was really rewarding being able to show well, because in a way, your whole playing career has led to that opportunity.”

Sure, some savvy teams knew about the 278 tackles (47 for loss) and 17 sacks Elliss had at Idaho, but the testing numbers made sure plenty of linebacker-needy teams took notice. Elliss said he visited eight NFL teams in recent weeks for pre-draft interviews.

A high school quarterback, Elliss played every linebacker spot at Idaho and even dabbled at tight end, hauling in 10 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns as a junior and senior.

“Teams picked my brain a lot, really wanted to know all they could about me since I didn’t meet them at the combine,” Elliss said. “Some said they wished they could have seen me at one spot, what I could do there, but most have really liked the versatility, that I can play wherever I might fit best.”

A month ago, he was a likely undrafted free agent, but Elliss has earned a lot of recent attention from draftniks. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah tweeted April 14: “Looking for an intriguing day 3 LB? Meet Idaho LB Kaden Elliss. Good mix of instincts, versatilty & strength.” The Athletic’s Dane Brugler replied by saying “love the competitive energy he put on tape.” He grades Elliss as a sixth-round pick.

Longtime draft expert Rob Rang compiled his recent list of “diamonds in the rough,” and Elliss was his top linebacker. Perhaps like Adam Thielen, Phillip Lindsay and Antonio Gates, he may be the latest big find not to be in Indianapolis.

“Elliss won’t be the first player on this list to get drafted but make no mistake, he will be drafted,” Rang wrote on “In fact, I believe he will be the first player selected this year who was not invited to the combine.”

Even if he is drafted, likely during Saturday’s final day (rounds 4-7), Elliss knows he will again be in a position where he must compete to get noticed. But as the eldest in a family with 12 children, that won’t be anything new.

Elliss also could be the first Vandal drafted since Korey Toomer was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the Seahawks, potentially ending the school’s longest such drought since the draft began in 1936.

“It would be an honor,” Elliss said. “I came to Idaho with the expectation to play in the NFL and play my best at all times. I wanted to raise the program up, and if I can do that by having my name called this week, I’d be very happy.”

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Dave Southorn is a 2004 graduate from the University of Colorado. He has covered Boise State athletics since 2005, and worked at the Idaho Statesman since 2013. He’s won multiple Idaho Press Club awards and once won a contest designing a play for the Seattle Seahawks.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.