UteSportsReport.com's Top 50 for '15: #20-#11

Who are the top 50 players returning for the Utes' 2015 season? We take a look at #20 - #11

Less than a week till Utah takes to the practice fields for fall camp, as we are inching ever closer to the return of college football. In order to help pass the time, we're revealing the players ranked #20 - #11 in the UteSportsReport.com Top 50 for '15. As a reminder, all players on this list have participated in at least one spring camp session during their Ute career, so no newcomers will be on this list.

#20: Linebacker - Jason Whittingham




After a breakout season in 2013, Whittingham took a step back in 2014, primarily due to missing 8 games with a broken wrist. Whittingham is a sure tackler and is also very good at attacking the quarterback and runningbacks behind the line of scrimmage. He can often be a liability in pass coverage, so that may lend himself to being used as a situational pass rusher, but if he can get back to the level at which he was playing at in 2013, that will be a big boost to the defense, and to the linebacking group that struggled with injuries last season.

#19: Cornerback - Reginald Porter




Before tearing an ACL in fall camp, Porter was seen as a lock to start at cornerback, and was viewed by many as the best cornerback on the team, especially in regards to his press man coverage, which is something that Utah utilizes a lot. In 2013, Porter saw a lot of playing time early on in the season, but saw his playing time dwindle after a bad performance versus Oregon State. He had a great Spring in 2014 and a great fall camp last year prior to his injury, but it will be a question mark as to whether or not he will return to the level he was at. Heading in to 2015, he will start at one of the two corner back spots.

#18: Quarterback - Kendal Thompson




After transferring from Oklahoma, Thompson pushed incumbent starter Travis Wilson during 2014's fall camp for the starting position, but ultimately lost out. He saw some time as the back up in the first 4 games, but then led Utah to upset victory against UCLA after taking over for an ineffective Wilson. The QB merry go round continued after that game, as Thompson struggled with consistency in the passing game, and he started two more games against Oregon and Oregon State before tearing his ACL. The prevailing thought going in to the Oregon game was that he would start the rest of the year, and the offense looked maybe the best it had all season against the Ducks, but the injury derailed those plans. Thompson participated in all non-contact drills during the Spring and will again go in to Fall Camp as the back up to Wilson, but that gap is not very big. A strong fall could lead to him getting the start to open the season.

#17: Offensive Guard - Salesi Uhatafe




Uhatafe was one of pleasant surprises during the 2014 season, as the redshirt freshman played in all 13 games, starting four of the last five of the season. Uhatafe simply starting wasn't the end of it though, as he often times was the best offensive guard on the field for the Utes. Now slated as the full time starter at right guard, Uhatafe will look to build upon a strong first year with the Utes. He has all the tools you would look for in an elite guard, as he has the quick feet and hip bend to handle interior pass rushers, but can also take on bigger, stronger defensive tackles with his 6'4-315lb frame. His technique has been one of the best on the team since getting to Utah, and he will now look to perfect his craft. An honorable mention All PAC 12 type season, or better, is very doable for Uhatafe in 2014.

#16: Wide Receiver/Running Back - Bubba Poole




It was only a matter of time till Bubba Poole had his starting job taken away last season, as the emergence of Devontae Booker meant that Poole saw his playing time dwindle drastically in 2014. With Booker not giving up that starting job anytime soon, Poole switched positions to wide receiver in the spring, and will head in to the fall as the starter in the slot. Poole has great size for a slot receiver (6'1-197) and is dangerous in the open field. He had a tendency to "dance" a bit too much as a running back, but that won't be a problem at receiver when he has the ball in his hands. Poole made a smooth transition in the Spring, but will have to fight off a couple other Ute receivers in order to hang on to his starting job. He won't be the deep threat that Kaelin Clay was last year in the slot, but he is someone that can do a lot of damage when given the ball in space.

#15: Quarterback - Travis Wilson




It's been quite the up and down career for Wilson, as he has been at least a part time starter since his freshman year. The 6'7-230 QB has had the highest of highs (USC, Stanford wins, etc.) and the lowest of lows (injuries, inconsistency, etc.). Wilson got off to a hot start in 2014, throwing for 618 yards 7 TD's on just 58 attempts in the first three games, but that all came crumbling down in the fourth game against Washington State, where he completed just 18 of 38 passes for 165 yards. After being benched against UCLA, only to be brought back in vs Oregon State, which lead to starts vs USC and ASU, Wilson was benched again in favor of Kendal Thompson against Oregon. After Thompson's injury, Wilson started the rest of the season, finishing his last two games with 469 passing yards, 102 rushing yards and 7 total TD's. Again slated as the starter heading in to 2015, Wilson looks find some middle ground between the 2013 Travis Wilson that made lots of big plays but threw lots of interceptions, and the 2014 Travis Wilson that made very few big plays but also threw very few interceptions. If Wilson can find that happy medium consistently, there's no reason Utah can't win 10 or more games in 2014

#14: Nickelback - Justin Thomas




A starter since his redshirt freshman season, Thomas is one of the best nickelback's in the PAC 12 heading in to 2014, as his physicality and aggressiveness, despite his small size, makes him a very valuable asset for the Ute defense. Thomas can sometimes get beat by speed while in man to man coverage, but he is one of the more sure tacklers in the secondary and is also a very good blitzer from the slot. Thomas has been one of the most consistent players for Utah over the past two seasons, and that should continue in to 2015.

#13: Defensive Tackle - Filipo Mokofisi




Mokofisi started out his Ute career as an undersized defensive lineman that had been playing tight end and linebacker in high school. A redshirt year of lifting and growing did him a lot of good though, as he got up to 270 pounds and became a staple in the defensive line rotation during 2014, playing in all 13 games with 2 starts. He finished the season with 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3 TFL's, but really became a force for the Utes during 2015's spring camp. Now up to 285, Mokofisi was downright dominant at times, as he's the perfect compliment to the other starting defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei. Mokofisi does a great job of using "violent" hands, which helps shed blocks. He also uses his agility and speed from his high school days to get after the QB in passing situations. He's still young, but he has a bright future anchoring the defensive line for the next three seasons.

#12: Defensive End - Jason Fanaika




A transfer from Utah State, Fanaika saw his first action as a Ute last season after spending 2013 on the scout team. The original plan was for him to primarily play defensive end, and occasionally slide in to defensive tackle, but injuries changed those plans, as he played a lot of linebacker in 2014 (6 starts at LB, 8 starts overall), despite being nearly 270 pounds. He finished the season with 55 tackles, 5 sacks, 9.5 TFL's and 1 INT. Now with the linebackers healthy, Fanaika is back at his natural position and will start at right defensive end this season. Replacing all-American Nate Orchard will be a tall task for him, but Fanaika has great power and violent hands. He likely won't match Orchard's numbers from last season, but a double digit sack performance in 2015 isn't all that unlikely for the senior.

#11: Offensive Tackle - J.J. Dielman




A first year starter in 2014, Dielman won the starting right tackle job in fall camp last season, and his performance gave the coaching staff the confidence that he could slide over to the left and take over the open left tackle position in 2015. Dielman is quick, athletic and does a good job with staying engaged with his defender. He played 2014 around 290lbs, and is now up over 300lbs. There is a learning curve when it comes to switch sides of the offensive line, especially at tackle, but Dielman has gotten a head start on that transition since playing the position during spring camp. The biggest question mark with Dielman heading in to 2014 is whether or not he'll have the strength to hold back some of the bigger defensive ends in the conference. If he can build on what was a very successful 2014 season, the Utes should be just fine at the left tackle spot in 2015.


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