Phil Steele released his annual preseason All-American and All-Conference list, and several Utah players made it, led by first-team All-American punter Tom Hackett. Joining Hackett as preseason All-Americans are third team kicker Andy Phillips and fourth team running back Devontae Booker. Utah also had four players named first-team All-Pac-12, Booker, defensive end Hunter Dimick, Hackett, and Phillips. Other players with preseason All-Pac-12 honors included second team linebacker Jared Norris, and third team center Siaosi Aiono, linebacker Jason Whittingham, defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei. You can find the All-American list here and the All-Pac-12 list here.
Overall, I think the lists are relatively solid. Hackett deserved first-team All-American honors, as he won the Ray Guy Award last year and was a consensus first-team All-American. He looks to continue to frustrate opposing teams in his senior season with his precision punting. It is hard to argue against Florida State's Roberto Aguayo and Maryland's Brad Craddock ahead of Phillips as they are the last two winners of the Lou Groza Award. Fourth team kicker Josh Lambert of West Virginia was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award last season. Fourth team All-American seems low for Booker (first team Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio St and Nick Chubb, Georgia; second team Samaje Perine, Oklahoma and James Conner, Pittsburgh; and third team Leonard Fournette, LSU and Derrick Henry, Alabama). I would flip Booker and Henry and have Booker as third team.
I really liked that Dimick got preseason first-team All-Pac-12. Dimick kind of flew under people's radars last season, which was surprising given his double-digit sack total. Without Ted Hendrick Award winning defensive end Nate Orchard, Dimick will get more attention from both media and opposing offensive linemen. Dimick could be headed for a breakout junior season. I also liked that Aiono got preseason honors. To me, he is very underrated, so it was nice to see him get some love because he is a very good player.
Norris is another player who has kind of flown under the radar. He is a hard-nosed football player who just makes plays. I expect a big senior season from No. 41. I personally would have put Norris on the first-team ahead of Blake Martinez of Stanford (Norris had more tackles and tackles for loss). Another player not getting the recognition he deserves in my mind is Lotulelei. He was a true freshman last year who had not gone through spring football, only fall camp prior to the season. With a whole offseason to get into better shape, he could be a terror for opposing offensive linemen this fall. I would have put him at least on the second-team. I was a little surprised to see Whittingham included. he is not the second Utah linebacker I would pick. I instead would have had Gionni Paul.
Paul to me is the biggest omission from the list. He led Utah in interceptions last season, despite only playing in eight games last season. Paul, if healthy, is a big-time playmaker. Safety Tevin Carter is another player that if healthy could receive post-season honors. I think at least one player from the secondary will receive post-season honors whether it be Carter at safety or cornerback Dominique Hatfield. I could see a defensive end opposite Dimick having a big season (either Jason Fanaika or Pita Taumoepenu). Lastly, it is hard to project, but I could see one of the incoming JUCOs like Cory Butler, Deniko Carter, or Kyle Fulks getting all-conference honors as either a return-man (Butler or Fulks) or possibly wide receiver (Carter).
Overall, the lists are solid from Steele. While it could be argued some Utah players should be higher, it is just nice to see all of the preseason honors Utah players are getting from national media. Last season, it was mainly just Hackett and Phillips getting any attention in the preseason. At the end of the day, preseason honors are nice, but what really matters is what happens during the season. What are your thoughts on Phil Steele's preseason evaluations?