‘Knew he was going to be special’: Former Utah safety Cole Bishop is climbing up NFL draft boards

Utah safety Cole Bishop warms up before a game against Arizona State Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Salt Lake City. Bishop is looking forward to taking his game to the NFL.

One day in Indianapolis may have made Cole Bishop a lot of money.

The former Utah safety impressed NFL scouts and GMs at the NFL Scouting Combine, boosting his draft stock, and he now stands as likely the first Ute to be selected in this year’s edition of the draft. Currently, he’s projected as high as a second-round selection.

“Just the things that he was doing and processing early, combined with his athleticism, led you to believe that he was going to be a very good football player for us.”

Utah DC Morgan Scalley on Cole Bishop

Bishop’s 4.45-second 40-yard dash time was tied for third among safeties at the combine. He also ranked tied for fifth among safeties with a 39-inch vertical and his 10-foot-4-inch broad jump was eighth among safeties.

Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score, which was designed to compare athletes’ performance at the combine, gave Bishop a 9.82 out of 10, which ranked 19th out of 976 free safeties from 1987 to 2024.

While the combine performance — especially the blazing 40-yard dash time — may have surprised some observers, it was no shock to Utah defensive coordinator and safeties coach Morgan Scalley, who noted when you watch the film, Bishop has great field speed and few players are running away from him.

“A lot about the 40 is training for a 40, knowing how to run. It’s about the start and your transition and form, technique, all that stuff. Cole is a competitor and I knew that he was going to do everything he could to run the best time. So it did not shock me,” Scalley said.

Bishop heads into the biggest weekend of his life in a great position — he’s shown scouts his athleticism, impressed in interviews and has years of good game tape.

One thing scouts will pick up on while watching his Utah film is his versatility. From playing in the box to dropping back into coverage, Bishop was asked to do a lot in Scalley’s defense, and it’s something that will be a plus for NFL teams.

“That’s what the NFL is looking for. Fifty-three-man roster, you can’t just have a guy that is a one-trick pony. He’s got to be able to cover. He’s got to be able to zone drop. He’s got to be able to blitz and do all the things that the NFL’s going to ask of him,” Scalley said. “Now, depending on what the scheme is, he’ll be a better fit with some teams as opposed to others. But I think his versatility is what makes him attractive to a bunch of teams.”

From the beginning, Scalley “knew he was going to be special” and that’s why Scalley never gave up on Bishop, even after he committed to Duke as a linebacker. Utah eventually flipped the three-star recruit in late 2020, and he made an immediate impact for the Utes as a freshman.

Bishop played in 10 games his first year at Utah, and started the last six at safety, finishing with 54 tackles, three sacks, nine tackles for loss, five pass breakups and even blocked a field goal en route to an All-Pac-12 honorable mention season.

It was obvious early on during his freshman season that Bishop was Utah’s safety of the future.

“Just the things that he was doing and processing early, combined with his athleticism, led you to believe that he was going to be a very good football player for us,” Scalley said.

Bishop kept up the high level of play throughout his three years at Utah, earning another Pac-12 honorable mention in 2022, when he led the Utes in tackles (83), had six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception and three pass breakups.

In his last year at Utah before declaring for the draft, he had 60 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions while earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 second team.

Utah Utes teammates celebrate Utah Utes safety Cole Bishop (8) after he sacked Weber State Wildcats quarterback.
Utah teammates celebrate with Utes safety Cole Bishop (8) after he sacked Weber State's quarterback during game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

His interception against Baylor this season may have been his single-most impactful play during his time at Utah as he intercepted Sawyer Robertson with 1:35 left in a tie game to set up a game-winning touchdown run from Jaylon Glover.

“It was a product of everyone else doing their job,” Bishop said. “Lander Barton got to the quarterback, hit him, made the ball come to me, was able to catch it.”

Along with his on-field play and leadership as the captain of Utah’s defense, Bishop was also a leader off of it.

“He was a leader and guys respected him, respected his work ethic and his playmaking ability,” Scalley said. “So sometimes you get these athletes that are your top guys, but they’re not necessarily the best leaders. He was a great leader, very compelling, would bring other guys into the film room and help them study, help them grow, and that’s what good leaders do, is they build others up.”

While there’s rarely a “sure thing” in the NFL draft, Bishop enters the draft as pro-ready as anyone at safety. From his size to his knowledge of the game, his athleticism, versatility at the position, and ability to cover well and hit hard, Bishop could contend for a starting job in his first year in the league.

Dane Brugler of The Athletic ranks him as the fourth-best safety in the draft, with a projected selection in the second to third round.

“Overall, Bishop needs to put more impact plays on tape by setting traps for the quarterback in coverage, but he plays with top-down explosiveness and the football IQ to make plays at all three levels of the field. He has NFL starter-caliber talent and is ideally suited for a robber role,” Brugler wrote.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Bishop as the second-best safety in the draft, and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeramiah tabs him as the third-best safety.

“Bishop was a highly productive tackler and valuable three-year starter for Utah. He stays busy around the line of scrimmage and can dart into gaps but can be a little slow playing off of big blockers. Bishop has man coverage potential on tight ends and is a bona fide striker when crashing down from his zone perch,” wrote NFL analyst Lance Zierlein. “He balances pursuit flow with a last-line-of-defense mentality as a run defender from high safety but will lose discipline in his deep safety duties at times. Bishop is an enforcer with NFL size and toughness for consideration in both down safety and split safety alignments.”

Landing spots in the latest mock drafts include the Green Bay Packers at No. 58 overall, reuniting with teammate Dalton Kincaid on the Buffalo Bills with the 60th pick of the draft, teaming up with fellow former Utes safety Marcus Williams on the Baltimore Ravens with the 93rd pick, or playing with former Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson on the Chicago Bears with the 122nd selection.

Whichever organization selects Bishop this weekend will be getting a valuable player, Scalley says.

“He’s physical, he’s smart, he’s instinctive. He’ll find a way.”

Cole Bishop combine
Utah defensive back Cole Bishop runs a drill at the NFL Scouting Combine, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Indianapolis. | Darron Cummings, Associated Press

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  • April 26-28 | All day | Men’s golf | Pac-12 championships | @ Carefree, Arizona

  • April 26-28 | Softball | Oregon State | @ Corvallis, Oregon

  • April 26-28 | Baseball | UCLA | @ Salt Lake City

All times MDT.