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Undersized UCLA prospects Demetric Felton and Osa Odighizuwa fit well in changing NFL

The LA Times logo The LA Times 4/25/2021 Thuc Nhi Nguyen
a group of people watching a football game: UCLA running back Demetric Felton is just out of the reach of Arizona defensive back McKenzie Barnes as he gains a first down in the first half at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 28, 2020. ( Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images) © ( Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images) UCLA running back Demetric Felton is just out of the reach of Arizona defensive back McKenzie Barnes as he gains a first down in the first half at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 28, 2020. ( Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

Demetric Felton didn’t need a full senior season to show NFL scouts what he could do.

The UCLA running back/receiver led the Pac-12 and ranked sixth in the nation in all-purpose yards with 165.83 per game in 2020, and enters this week’s NFL draft as “one of the most intriguing prospects,” Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth said.

UCLA’s top prospects Felton and defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa are undersized at their positions but can pin their draft chances on athleticism that could translate well to a rapidly evolving NFL. In the copycat league that’s seen recent success from small players such as Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, Felton stands to benefit most after his diminutive 5-foot-9 frame raised concern early in his college career.

“More teams are going to find a role for someone like him, who may not wow you with his size but will wow you with how he plays the game and how versatile he is,” said Roth, who expects Felton and Odighizuwa to be selected in the third, fourth or fifth rounds. “He’s a matchup issue for teams in the NFL.”

Former UCLA coach Jim Mora cited Felton’s stature — 5-foot-9 and 189 pounds during the draft evaluation process — as a reason the former four-star prospect couldn’t be a full-time running back with the Bruins. A coaching change allowed Felton to fully shine.

During three years under coach Chip Kelly, Felton averaged 99.9 all-purpose yards per game, rotating among receiver, running back and kick returner. In 2020, he earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors after a team-high 132 rushing attempts with 668 yards and five touchdowns, 22 catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns and a 21-yard average on kick returns.

Felton put his versatility on display at the Senior Bowl by working out with both receivers and running backs, impressing scouts with his speed and polished route-running.

The draft showcase event in Mobile, Ala., also provided a big platform for Odighizuwa, who was named the top defensive lineman on his team in a vote from offensive linemen. In 2020, Odighizuwa collected 30 tackles with six tackles for loss and four sacks and was named a first-team All-Pac-12.

At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Odighizuwa likely doesn’t have the size to fit as a full-time interior lineman. At UCLA, where he played under three defensive line coaches, he played every position along the line, which gives the three-time Oregon state wrestling champion flexibility that could help him carve out a role in a quickly changing NFL.

“I think the NFL is enthralled with his versatility and specifically his motor,” Roth said. “The NFL is just like college where you can’t have enough defensive linemen. I think rosters are showcasing that, as tempos change in the league, they want to be able to roll guys, especially young guys.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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