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Who Will be the 2017 Breakout Player for Utah Football?

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NCAA Football: Foster Farms Bowl-Indiana vs Utah Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The ESPN Pac-12 Blog released a list of the top 10 breakout players for 2017, and on the list was Utah running back Zack Moss. Moss is certainly a great candidate, as Utah has produced a 1,000 yard rusher in five out of their six seasons in the Pac-12 (2013 was the only season they did not). Moss will compete with Armand Shyne for starting running back for Utah this season, and I would not be surprised to see them split reps during the season to keep both backs fresh. With the new offense Utah is going to run under new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, Utah will likely not run the football as much as in previous seasons. Moss (and Shyne) will continue the tradition of great running backs at Utah, but they might not individually produce the 1,200+ yards in 2017 that running backs like John White IV, Devontae Booker, and Joe Williams did in past seasons. We will take a look at three other offensive players who could breakout for Utah in 2017. Utah also always produces stellar defenses, so we will also look at three defenders as well.

Offense

Raelon Singleton - Wide Receiver

Taylor will very likely emphasize the passing game more in 2017 than Utah has in any other season in the Pac-12. Because of this, it would not shock me to see a Utah wide receiver produce the first 1,000 yard receiving season for Utah since Dres Anderson in 2013. Singleton is a great candidate to be Utah’s leading receiver in 2017. He is a big, physical wide receiver who can go up and get the football. He is a reliable possession receiver, as he showed against Cal, a game where he caught seven passes for 98 yards. He is also a deep threat. Against Arizona State, he caught four passes for career-highs in receiving yards (116) and touchdowns (three). He is a weapon in the red zone because of his size and ability to high point the football. He finished 2016 with 27 catches for 464 yards and four touchdowns.

Demari Simpkins - Wide Receiver

Simpkins is a smaller, shiftier receiver than Singleton and showed a lot of potential in the slot as a true freshman in 2016. He finished 2016 with the best game of his young career. In the Foster Farms Bowl against Indiana, he recorded career-highs in receptions (four) and receiving yards (58). Simpkins made several circus catches during the 2016 season, including his lone receiving touchdown of the season against Colorado. With Cory Butler-Byrd and Tyler Cooperwood both graduating, Simpkins has a clear path to start at slot receiver for Utah in 2017. With his speed and moves in the open field, he should excel in Taylor’s offensive, which is predicated on getting playmakers in space.

Troy McCormick - Running back/Wide Receiver

One player I am really intrigued by for 2017 is McCormick. Injuries have slowed his career, but when he is healthy, he is a big-time playmaker. In more of a true wide-open spread offense, I think McCormick could really shine. I would not be surprised to see him used as a hybrid running back and slot receiver. Taylor likes to go with five wide receivers, so there will be plenty of reps for players like McCormick at wide receiver. He can run between the tackles and bounce runs to the outside for big gains.

Honorable Mention

Siaosi Wilson - Wide Receiver

Wilson showed promise as a redshirt freshman and has a great chance to start in 2017.

Defense

Kavika Luafatasaga - Linebacker

Luafatasaga was highly recruited coming out of junior college. He got to Utah late, so he had to play catchup. By the end of the season, he showed off why he was so highly recruited. Against Colorado and Indiana, he recorded 22 tackles and four tackles for loss and forced a fumble. Coming into the final two games, he had only recorded one tackle for loss on the season and never had more than seven tackles in a game. If he continues to play like he did to end the 2016 season, Luafatasaga could be in for a monster season in 2017.

Bradlee Anae - Defensive End

Utah graduates Hunter Dimick and Pita Taumoepenu at defensive end. They will need a younger player to step up to fill the void left by the two talented pass rushers. Anae saw limited action in 2016 as a true freshman. He recorded two sacks on the season.

Leki Fotu - Defensive Tackle

Fotu played sparingly as a true freshman in 2016. He has sky high potential and will likely play more in 2017 with the departures from the defensive line. A strong showing from Fotu at defensive tackle could allow Filipo Mokofisi to play more at defensive end

Honorable Mention

Maxs Tupai - defensive end

A former four-star recruit, Tupai redshirted in 2016 but could push for a lot of playing time with the departures at defensive end.