by J.T. Toth
Photo courtesy of University of Utah Athletics.
At Draft 412, the NFL draft talk never ends. We will keep you ready for the next set of gridiron stars—from today and all the way until draft night 2024. We will bring you mock drafts, player profiles, individual team needs, and everything else you may need related to the 2024 NFL Draft.
Today’s Spotlight -Utah, Safety/Running Back, Sione Vaki
Name - Sione Vaki
Pos - S/RB
Team - Utah
HT/WT - 6’0” 208 lbs.
Home – Antioch, CA
Sione Vaki was a two-way star football player for Liberty High School in California. As a junior he totaled 1,214 all-purpose yards, which included 809 receiving and 358 yards rushing. On defense, he totaled 45 tackles, 1 interception and 2 fumble recoveries. His numbers only got better in his senior year as he recorded 1,684 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns on offense. Defensively he tallied 73 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. Vaki was named the Bay Valley Athletic League MVP in 2018 and invited to the Polynesian Bowl in 2019. 247Sports and Rivals rated him as a 3-star recruit as a two-way player.
Vaki signed with Utah in 2019, however, he went on a two-year church mission for the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints. Vaki wasted no time after two years away from football, playing in 14 games, with 5 starts, seeing time on defense and special teams. As the season extended, Vaki grew into the role of starting safety. On the season, he finished with 41 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 forced fumble and 3 passes defended.
As a sophomore in 2023, Vaki had a unique but quite productive season. He started in 12 games at safety, while seeing time at running back and out of the wildcat in 7 games. Due to excessive injuries on offense, Vaki got a two-way start in week 7 against California. In that game he carried the ball 15 times for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns, while collecting 5 tackles on defense. He finished the season with 317 yards rushing on 42 carries, a 7.5 yards per carry average. He also snared 11 catches for 203 yards and scored a total of 5 touchdowns. His defense showed no signs of slowing down either, grabbing 51 tackles, 2 sacks and 1 interception for the Utes. He earned both all-conference and all-American honors after his two-way break out season.
After his sophomore season, Vaki announced he was entering the NFL Draft. He can leave as a true sophomore because of his two-year mission he spent in-between high school and college.
Sione Vaki is an explosive athlete who in only two-seasons became the catalyst of the Utah defense. He has a ton of straight line speed and has the capability to line up all over the field on defense. He has had success in the box as well as being able to match up in the slot against the quicker receivers. Vaki plays with physicality and uses his hands well to create separation. He is smooth to transition and has loose, fluid hips when he opens up.
Entering the 2024 NFL Draft, there is no doubt that Vaki is one of the most versatile players on the board. Between special teams, defense and running back, creative teams could have some fun using Vaki in various formations and trick plays. He excels on special teams and could be a core leader for years to come.
As a running back Vaki is a physical runner who explodes through the hole and has big play potential on each carry. He has a toughness about him and does not get knocked off his path easily. He plays with exceptional contact balance and he fights for every inch he can get. He also has proven to have reliable hands out of the backfield and has the making of a really effective 3rd-down back.
On the downside, he lacks the length needed to battle tight ends one-on-one and could be a liability depending on how defensive coordinators use him. He is a physical player but has very poor tackling mechanics. He has a habit of dropping his head right after contact and misses his share of tackles. Not to mention the way he drops his head at times could lead to an injury, especially in the NFL where players are bigger and faster. He is still a raw player, only playing 2 years after being away from football for 2 years. He has issues with recognizing routes and can be beaten by double moves and pump fakes.
Adoree' Jackson was a USC cornerback who ran the ball and caught passes for USC. Jackson was a first round pick by the Tennessee Titans in 2017 and during his rookie season, he got some time at running back. Though Sione Vaki won’t go in the first round like Jackson did, he has a chance to be a special player on offense, defense and special teams in the NFL. Vaki’s success will be matched to how the team who drafts him tends to use him.
Sione Vaki is one of the most unique prospects in the 2024 class. It will be interesting to see who drafts him and how they intend to use him. He may have a higher ceiling on the offensive side of the ball. He plays a physical defense, but he is very raw and a team may not want to wait for him on the defensive side. He could be a fun mid-round pick.
Draft 412 Draft Prediction - 4th or 5th round