Rookie Lions running back was viewed as safety by every other team in NFL

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Vaki was able to declare for the draft after only two years of college football due to the fact that as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, he participated in a three-year mission after high school. After graduating from Liberty HS (CA) in 2019, he signed with the Utes, officially becoming a member of the team’s 2021 signing class following his mission.

As a true freshman in 2022, Vaki started five of his 14 game appearances as a safety on Utah’s defense, tallying 41 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three passes defensed. In 2023, injuries in the Ute’s running backs room led the team to utilize Vaki on both sides of the ball.

While starting all 12 games at safety, Vaki also saw significant time at running back and running the wildcat formation on offense. In addition to improving on his defensive marks with 51 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three passes defensed and an interception, Vaki averaged 7.5 yards per rush on 42 attempts for 317 yards and two touchdowns. If that wasn’t enough, he displayed impressive receiving abilities, catching 11 passes for 203 yards and three more scores. With all of his offensive production, Vaki still led the team in defensive snaps played. He earned two first-team All-Pac-12 distinctions: one as a safety and one in the all-purpose position.

Because most of his experience came on the defensive side of the ball, Vaki was mainly viewed as a safety prospect in the draft process. He projected as a strong safety due to his aggressiveness and toughness, but a lack of fluidity and instincts in coverage posed a threat to his value on defense, marking him as a likely sixth-round pick or later.

Detroit disagreed with this assessment and appears to have been the only team to do so. Not only did the Lions draft Vaki with the intention that he would play running back in Detroit, but they even traded up for the versatile Ute, taking him near the end of the fourth round. With a safety and a running back taken in the two picks following Vaki, it’s hard to say whether the trade up was intending to prevent another team from drafting him, but Vaki was taken shortly after a fourth-round run that saw five running backs taken in the span of ten picks.

Regardless of his intended drafted position, Vaki was the 10th player taken at either position, getting selected after nine other running backs and nine other safeties. Vaki won’t likely be a candidate to push David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs for offensive snaps at running back as a rookie, but because of his defensive experience, he vastly increases his odds of making the roster as a crucial special teamer. With the safety position thinned out following the departures of C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Tracy Walker, Vaki may be available on that side of the ball in a pinch, as well. For now, though, Vaki resides on the Lions’ roster as a running back.

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