Francis Bernard’s path to the NFL Draft hasn’t been easy, but the Utah linebacker has shown time and time again that he will beat the odds.
Bernard initially began his career with the BYU Cougars. He made the jump to Utah after two seasons and turned into one of the most productive linebackers in the Pac-12. This past season, he totaled 85 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Back in October of 2018, Bernard and his wife Alexis Johnson had their first child, who was just over two pounds at birth. It was a scary time for the Bernard family, but fortunately their son is doing well.
Last week, the All-Pac-12 performer had the chance to showcase his skills at the NFL Combine. He sat down with us to discuss his experience at the combine, his favorite moment with the Utes and why he believes he’s the best linebacker in the draft. Let’s get started.
The Spun: You were a running back in high school. How did playing that position help you transition over to linebacker?
Francis Bernard: As a running back, you have to read the defense and see which hole to hit. I feel like that helped me a lot at linebacker because I was able to anticipate where the running backs were going to be. So, I got a better feel for the game and was able to pick up on things a lot faster than other guys at the college level.
The Spun: Utah had a special season in 2019 and just missed out on the College Football Playoff. How far do you think Utah is from making the CFP?
FB: I don’t think they’re far off at all. I think what we left behind and what Coach Whittingham has established over there, the Utes are right there. We were so close this year, and I think if we had another piece or two that things would’ve played out differently. They’re’ heading in the right direction and I think very soon Utah is going to be competing year in and year out in the College Football Playoff.
NINE Utes have been invited to the NFL Combine. The 4th most of any school in the country. @TiTaniumT98 @BradleeAnae @FrancisJBernard @NBAxJay1 @LekiFotu
@JavKFootball28 @Dub_jayy_boy @PresMoss2 @JumpManJuice23 #ProUtes pic.twitter.com/OUNEKKbVmb
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) February 7, 2020
The Spun: Despite dealing with adversity off the field, you managed to have a successful season. What allowed you to fight through it and play at a high level?
FB: Honestly, I was fortunate to have great teammates at the University of Utah. Guys like Cody Barton, Chase Hanson and a bunch of seniors extended their hands out to me and made sure I was OK. Every time I was at the facility, they would ask questions and make sure my mind was on football. Coach Whittingham has really established a family-oriented locker room, and it was nice to have that during those hard times.
The Spun: What was your favorite moment at Utah?
FB: I would say my pick-six against BYU. Being a former Cougar and getting one last chance to play at LaVell Edwards Stadium, there was nothing sweeter than scoring a touchdown in that stadium and doing it for the right team.
The Spun: What was your experience at the NFL Combine like and how do you think you performed?
FB: The experience was amazing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something that I will cherish forever. I’ve been dreaming of that my whole entire life, so for that to finally happen is amazing. Overall, I think I did great. Unfortunately, I did get hurt during the bench press and it led to me getting hurt while running the next day. But with my interviews and jumping, I thought I did well. I’m actually back in San Diego prepping to get healthy so I can run at my pro day.
The Spun: Moving over to your pro day, what do you want to show coaches and scouts?
FB: I think my 40 time would have surprised a lot of people had I been healthy at the NFL Combine. Some people discredit me for not being able to move fast, but actually a huge part of my game is being able to change directions. I’m a guy who takes pride in being able to cover guys and if you can cover guys, you have to be able to change directions, you know? So that’s what I’m excited to go out and showcase at my pro day, just my whole athletic ability. I want to be able to the show the coaches how smooth and how efficient I am in all my movements.
— Francis Bernard —
40-Yard Dash: 4.81
Bench Press: 19
Vertical Jump: 32.5”
Broad Jump: 120.0”
— Josh Furlong (@JFurKSL) March 1, 2020
The Spun: Is there a linebacker in the NFL you watch film on and compare yourself to?
FB: I watch a lot of Luke Kuechly film, but the two guys I try to mirror are Eric Kendricks and Bobby Wagner. They have that sideline-to-sideline speed and that tenacity to play inside the box and against the run.
The Spun: If an NFL coach asks what they’re getting in Francis Bernard, what would you say?
FB: I’m telling them I’m the best linebacker in this draft class – probably the best defensive player in this draft class. There’s nobody in this draft class that prepares the way I do. There’s no one who’s coming into this league more prepared like I am from a professional level. My junior and senior year were pretty much professional years for me, and I treated it like I was already in the NFL until. I went about all my preparation like I was already an NFL player. So, I have the right maturity level and the preparation. And then like I said, I’m the complete package. Whether you want me to play in coverage, blitz or stuff the run, I’m able to do every single one of those things.
"I can do it all."
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) February 27, 2020
Bernard has received praise for his ability to diagnose plays and hold his own in coverage. That should allow him to be a three-down linebacker at the next level.
Hopefully for Bernard, he recovers from his injuries in time for his pro day. A faster time during the 40-yard dash should only help his stock as the draft inches closer.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.