The 2015 recruiting class has been signed and analyzed. Now it is time to move on to the 2016 class. Utah currently has four commits for 2016. We will also look at the positions of greatest need, some players to fill those positions, and some of the top in-state talent.
The 2016 class is highlighted by four-star safety (according to the 24/7 Sports composite) Micah Croom. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound safety hails from powerhouse Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif. Croom is the kind of player Utah needs to start landing to move up in the Pac-12 South pecking order, a talented athlete from a good high school program in California. Croom will be able to step in and help replace safety Tevin Carter, who will graduate after the 2015 season. Croom is not afraid to lay a hit and can tackle well in space. He is able to cover receivers in man coverage and can play centerfield, as well. With almost a year until signing day, it will be hard to hold on to him, but another 9+-win season will go a long way to helping with that.
Utah also has local quarterback/linebacker Kahi Neves committed. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete hails from Brighton High School in Salt Lake City. Neves made a splash in camps over the summer at places like Auburn. While he can play quarterback well, Neves was a selfless teammate and played linebacker for Brighton last season.
The third commit in the 2016 class is Australian punter Mitch Wishnowsky. He is huge for a punter at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and runs a 4.5 forty. Utah has had success with Australian punters with fellow Aussie Tom Hackett winning the 2014 Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's top punter. Hackett will graduate after the 2015 season, meaning Wishnowsky can take over for him in 2016. Wishnowsky is currently a punter at Santa Barbara City College.
Utah's most recent commit in the 2016 class is junior college linebacker Kurtis Taufa. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker plays for Snow College in Ephraim, Utah.
Positions of Greatest Need and Recruits to Fill Them:
Due to injuries and several transfers before the season, linebacker was incredibly thin in 2014. Linebacker Jacoby Hale graduated (though he missed most of the 2014 season due to injury), but everyone else is back for 2015. Jared Norris, Gionni Paul, and Jason Whittingham, who all have starting experience, will be seniors in 2015. Behind them are a lot of unknowns in Uaea Masina (who missed most of the season with an injury) and Marcus Sanders-Williams, a convert from running back. Utah will need to add several linebackers in the 2016 class to replace the departed seniors.
Who can help? Neves can play linebacker, and given the needs at the position, that may be the better fit for him than quarterback (he also may have a higher ceiling at linebacker given that he has more experience there). Taufa should be expected to compete for playing time right away since he is coming from the junior college ranks instead of high school. Expect assistant head coach/running backs coach Dennis Erickson to find an under-the-radar junior college or Florida high school linebacker who will compete for playing time right away.
A key player that Utah should try to land is four-star outside linebacker Bryce Youngquist. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker hails from Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the same high school as incoming freshman athlete Caleb Repp. Youngquist is quick off the edge and can shed blocks. He would fit wonderfully in Utah's "Sack Lake City" defense (he also comes from a 4-3 defensive background at his high school). Youngquist has good instincts and can make plays on ball carriers in the backfield.
Other linebacker targets will likely emerge as the 2016 recruiting cycle starts to get going.
The Utah passing game has struggled since joining the Pac-12. In 2014, Utah finished dead last in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (they had three games where they threw for under 100 yards in 2014). Part of that is on the receivers. Utah needs to add talent at wide receiver, a position where they have lacked the perimeter athletic talent needed to compete against Pac-12 defensive backs. After the 2015 season, Kenneth Scott and Tim Patrick will both graduate (and Utah already lost Dres Anderson and Kaelin Clay after this season). Both Scott and Patrick are big, possession receivers, so Utah will need to add at least one 6-foot-2 or taller receiver, but they also could use more speedy, shifty receivers, as well.
The top player in the 2016 class in the state of Utah is three-star wide receiver (though he will likely end up a four-star) Simi Fehoko from Brighton High School in Salt Lake City. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound wide receiver will need to add some weight to his frame but would be a great addition to replace Scott/Patrick. Utah did not keep the top in-state talent home in 2015, so it is especially key to land the top players in 2016, especially at a position of need if Utah wants to move up in the Pac-12 pecking order. Fehoko uses his rangy, athletic body to go up and get the ball. And he's quick enough to beat defenders deep. Fohoko is the kind of player Utah needs to keep home. Landing him could help establish a pipeline to Brighton, a high school that produces a lot of talent.
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and Utah has struggled to maintain consistency at quarterback. Travis Wilson was the first Utah starting quarterback since Brian Johnson in 2008 to start and finish a season at quarterback for Utah. However, he was not the pillar of consistency. Wilson was benched against UCLA in favor of Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson, who also started against Oregon State and Oregon. Both Thompson and Wilson are seniors. Utah has unproven talent behind them in redshirt sophomores Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. Both saw action in a limited capacity this past season, and redshirt freshmen Donovan Isom and Chase Hansen (who some think may switch to linebacker). Adding a talented signal caller in 2016 could help Utah reel in several highly rated wide receivers.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has said the Utes are committed to running the spread offense. With the talent they have on offense, a read-option, spread-to-run offense seems like the best fit for the team moving forward. One quarterback who could run this offense very well is three-star quarterback Khalil Tate from Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif. Utah will have a battle on their hands for the 6-foot-2, 193-pound quarterback, as he already has offers from USC, UCLA, and Florida State.
In addition to Fehoko, there are several other talented players in Utah in 2016, including three-star defensive end Maxs Tupai from Murray High School in Salt Lake City, and three-star safety (though he can also play quarterback and wide receiver) Drew Jensen from Brighton High School. Tupai is the kind of defensive end that would thrive in Utah's defense (he is another player that will likely end up a four-star recruit). Keeping the talented pass rusher home would be huge for Utah. Jensen looks like a more athletic version of Brian Blechen. He might not be quite as hard of a hitter as Blechen (but most are not), but he has more speed and athleticism, something Blechen lacked. Versatile athletes like Jensen have thrived in Utah's defense in the past.
*All stats and film curtesy of Hudl.