The 2021 season for the Utah Utes could be a special year. Every draft-eligible Utah football player has announced they are coming back, capped off by Butkus Award finalist Devin Lloyd announcing his decision Sunday. Offensive lineman Nick Ford and tight end Brant Kuithe both also announced they are coming back. Barring any offseason transfers, this means Utah is slated to return 9 starters on offense and all 11 on defense. The only starters missing from the offense are quarterback Jake Bentley, who is transferring to the South Alabama Jaguars, and obviously Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year running back Ty Jordan who tragically passed away right after Christmas.
Lloyd would definitely have been drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft had he chosen to go. He is the captain of the Utah defense and is constantly around the football making plays. He was one of the only returning starters on defense in 2020 after nine players from the 2019 defense made NFL rosters. Lloyd’s talent and leadership led yet another top Utah defense, which figures to only be better in 2021. By my count, Lloyd was the only Pac-12 player to be a finalist for a national award. With 2020 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year USC safety Talanoa Hufanga off to the NFL, Lloyd has to be the early favorite to win 2021 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Ford was a leader on the offensive line and is versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. This versatility will find him favor in the NFL when he leaves Utah. Having his talent and leadership back will help the 2021 line take a step forward from the youth we saw in 2019 and 2020.
Kuithe showed in 2019 that he is a do-it-all threat both running and catching the ball from the tight end position. He is a weapon that fits so well in modern football offenses. His 2020 season was a bit down from his 2019 production, but it was a weird year with injuries at the quarterback position that led to a down year compared to Tyler Huntley in 2019.
This news of Lloyd, Ford, and Kuithe all coming back for 2021 feels like 2019 when Zack Moss, Bradlee Anae, and Julian Blackmon all announced they were coming back for one last ride on the Hill.