Ever since the internet birthed a myriad of athletic talent evaluation websites, recruiting success has largely been tied to a star-based evaluation system, one that depends on hundreds of scouts giving their opinions and funneling that into various algorithms and equations to determine which teams have wrangled in the most talent according to somewhat arbitrary and subjective observations. For the longest time, landing just one four-star talent in a recruiting cycle was reason enough for Ute fans to celebrate, but even with an uptick in top-rated talent making their way to Utah, it’s never been more clear that those ratings simply don't matter, especially for the Utes.
Incoming linebacker Lander Barton recently became the highest rated recruit to ever sign with the program with a 97 rating according to 247Sports, worthy of a four-star badge. Previously rated at a 94, Barton was always a highly-regarded prospect, but his value skyrocketed after an impressive showing at the All-American Bowl at the beginning of the year after more eyes had a chance to lay wonder at his skill set. Jaylon Glover, the newly anointed “Mr. Football Florida” was finally christened with an additional star after being bestowed with his “Mr. Football” title, but anyone who has seen even just a minutes worth of tape will tell you Glover has always been a four-star talent at minimum. Meanwhile, rewind to the 2018 recruiting class, and you’ll find a young Brant Kuithe buried towards the bottom of signees, ranked even below his brother Blake, who has seen very little action thanks in part to multiple injuries and playing defensive end, a position that is loaded with talent. Not many people were salivating over Brant in 2018, but as the PAC-12’s top receiving tight end and Utah’s number one option through the air, Kuithe is well on his way to joining the likes of Alex Smith and Eric Weddle as diamonds in the rough who excelled at Utah despite a lack of stars. The point is, talent scouts know far less than the guys working for the universities who are actually recruiting these young men. The University of Utah has never been the West’s home to elite talent, but with 27 former Utes currently serving on an NFL roster (not counting coaches like Alex Whittingham with Kansas City or Brian Johnson with Philadelphia) it’s clear evaluators whiff more often than not.
Credit where credit is due, Utah’s coaching staff has proven to be capable of turning projects into NFL prospects, and this class is littered with guys who fit that mold. Carson Tabaracci, an athlete out of Park City who can play both sides of the ball effectively has all the makings of a solid linebacker, running back, or even a tight end and sits with just three stars, just like Ryan Peppins, a speedy, smart and nimble wide receiver who was named “Mr. Football Alabama” at the end of the season. Then you look at a guy like Tao Johnson, one of Utah’s lowest-rated recruits in their 2022 class. Johnson plays both quarterback and defensive end, but has the type of speed, athleticism, and field vision that makes him a perfect fit for Kyle Whittingham’s defensive backfield.
Star ratings are great for the student athletes who have dedicated their young lives to their respective sport to get the recognition they deserve, but they aren’t the end-all-be-all when it comes to measuring success. It’s a flawed metric that relies too heavily on subjectivity and which schools are sending offers. Utah has found unbelievable success with under-the-radar type kids in the past, and the 2022 class looks to be no different. Celebrate the high-level talent the Utes are welcoming in, but don’t sleep on the guys rated just below them, because by the looks of things, Utah could be looking at one of the most under-valued classes in the nation.