Utah is coming off their first ten win season in the Pac-12, a feat accomplished by a roster full of seniors and upperclassmen. In order to maintain the momentum Utah football has built in the past two seasons, this year’s recruiting class was vital. Utah has some big losses at key positions next season and filling those needs was paramount with this recruiting class.
Gone is the entire starting linebacking corps of Gionni Paul, Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham. On offense there will be a major overhaul. Devontae Booker moves on after a stellar collegiate career, Utah’s most reliable receiver Kenneth Scott graduates and Utah’s most dynamic receiver, Britain Covey, leaves for his mission. On top of everything Utah will replace four year starter Travis Wilson at perhaps the most important position, quarterback.
Whittingham listed quarterback and linebacker as the primary needs going into next year, but receiving talent was also a glaring need watching the team over the past few years and replacing Booker’s production will be key. So how did Utah do in filling those needs with this year’s recruiting class?
The quarterback position, might be the number one need heading into next year. To address the need, the Utes signed two quarterbacks, Troy Williams a highly touted junior college transfer from California and Tyler Huntley, a promising freshman from Florida.
Williams looks to fill the immediate void left by Wilson’s departure. Williams was a highly coveted recruit coming out of high school when he chose Washington, and again out of Santa Monica junior college. At 6-2 210, Williams has good size and while considered to be dual threat, is a pretty polished passer and should provide an upgrade in the "throw game". Huntley looks to be the quarterback of the future unless he comes in and wows coaches right away. Given that Huntley is just a freshman and could stand to put on some more bulk, odds are Williams and Brandon Cox will battle it out for the number one spot.
How do you replace a talent like Devontae Booker? Joe Williams filled in during the last two games and performed well despite showing a penchant for putting the ball on the ground. Williams has a great burst and can out run a defense, but isn’t built for pounding between the tackles like Booker was. Enter a pair of Florida running backs in Zack Moss and Devontae Henry-Cole.
Moss runs with a physical style with an ability to pound in between the tackles and bounce of defenders. Recruited heavily by Tennessee, Moss is a big time running back recruit who should be able to compete for playing time immediately as a change of pace back to Williams. Henry-Cole is more similar in style to Williams. With 4.40 speed, he has the ability to run past a defense. Standing 5-9 and weighing 195 lbs., Henry-Cole runs with a low center of gravity and is shifty in open space with ability to make tacklers miss. He may not make it onto the field as quickly as Moss, but should be a quality contributor in time.
Utah has struggled in the passing game in recent years and while many had complaints about the play calling and quarterback play, a big reason for the struggles laid with the receivers themselves. Last year Utah did not really have a deep threat that could get behind the defense. While there may be some players already on the roster ready to step up into that role this season, the Utah coaching staff went ahead and added some new talent to the position as well.
Demari Simpkins, one of the Hallandale trio, is a receiver with 4.40 speed and decent size standing 6-0 and weighing 176 lbs. While he will be just a freshman, Simpkins has the wheels to run past defenders on go routes and could play his way into seeing some action this season. Kenneth Scott was Utah's big receiver last season that could go up and get jump balls. With Scott gone, Utah signed Alec Dana, a 6-3 190 lb. JUCO product who should be able to come in and play immediately.
Other than quarterback, linebacker was probably the biggest postion of need for the Utes. Not only did they lose three starters, but they lost two all conference type linebackers in Jared Norris and Gionni Paul. Replacing that kind of production and leadership is tough to do. Fortunately for Utah, the program was on the receiving end of a nice surprise when four star linebacker and Ole Miss commit David Laufatasaga flipped and signed with Utah. This was a huge pickup for Utah as he will be able to step in right away and give the Utes an impact player at an important position. Early indications from the coaching staff is he will fill the OLB/DE rush hybrid position filled in recent years by the likes of Trevor Reilly, Nate Orchard and Jason Fanaika.
Another name to keep an eye on is Davir Hamilton, a 6-3 202 lb athlete form Long Beach Poly HS. He was the most vocal of Utah's commits, actively recruiting other players with unbridled enthusiasm for the UTah program. He has the ability to play receiver as well as linebacker and safety. He is a very good pass rusher however and has natural instincts at the linebacker position. He will need to add weight to play at the collegiate level, but with a 6-3 frame and with Utah's strength and conditioning program it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Donovan Thompson is another promising linebacker prospect who was a late flip from Florida International University.
The future appears bright for the Utah football program. There are big shoes to fill, but this Utah class on paper looks like one of the most talented classes Utah has ever brought in. Kyle Whittingham has noted the success of the past two seasons has been instrumental in bringing in a higher caliber of recruit. Here's hoping this next wave of Utah players can build on the success of the recently departed Utes.