By Tom Karren
Dominique Hatfield (Sr)
Hatfield has serious NFL draft potential if he can put together a senior season that many have come to expect to see from him. Hatfield is Utah’s #1 corner for a reason. He hauled in 4 interceptions in 2015 ranking him third in the conference, one of which was a memorable 46-yard pick-6 against rival BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. The former wide receiver is a talented athlete with well above average athleticism. These well-rounded skills have helped him develop into a corner with good instincts, great footwork, an ability to read and anticipate the quarterback, and an eye for the football.
Reginald Porter (Sr)
Porter might not be Utah’s “best” cornerback, but he might be their most well-rounded. He’s a high-risk/high-reward guy who can be great in single coverage at times and yet seem lost at others. His 2015 campaign was a good one. He managed to avoid the injury bug (minus the Arizona game) which helped contribute to an overall successful season. His man coverage skills are fantastic. He was second in the Pac-12 in pass break-ups and tied a school record (twice) in total pass breakups in a single game (4) twice last year. His downside? His aggressive play style is sometimes exploited resulting in broken coverage and big plays for the opposition.
Justin Thomas (Sr)
As far a nickel corners are concerned, I believe Justin Thomas is one of the best in the conference. His natural cornerback instincts are limited only by his size (5’8”). Despite being shorter than most players at his position, he commands respect from quarterbacks whenever they look his way. Thomas was a relatively high-profile recruit out of Texas and I think most Ute fans will agree that he has lived up to his hype. Thomas notched 3 interceptions last season – his first being a 55-yard TD that helped jump-start Utah’s 2015 season – while adding 9 pass deflections and 48 tackles on top of the INT’s. Again, he may be small but Thomas is a guy who plays well above his size and is without a doubt one of Utah’s best defenders.
Brian Allen (Sr)
Like Hatfield, Allen started his career at Utah as a wide receiver. Now entering his senior season Allen will play major minutes at corner after making the position change only a year ago. Before the 2015 season began many questioned whether or not he had the skill to make the switch and produce on the field. By the end of the season he showed he has the ability not only to play the corner position well but to potentially break out as an impact-player this year. Allen slowly settled into his new role last year earning reps in each of Utah’s 13 games. He’s followed that up with a very impressive spring and has set himself up well as we approach the start of fall camp. His size (6’3”) will be a nice asset for the CB group when height match-ups could give other Utah corners trouble.
Tavaris Williams (RS So)
Tavaris Williams is a redshirt sophomore who was forced to miss the 2015 season due to an injury suffered in the opening game against Michigan. Williams has been in the program for two years already playing in limited reps in 2014 on defense and special teams. Injury aside, he’s a guy who has had a chance to learn the scheme and play with a coaching staff that has a habit of developing solid corners. Williams is a guy with fantastic athletic ability. He’s one of the quickest players on the team and played both offense and defense in high school. He was a stand-out in this past spring and will likely see a lot of time on the field in 2016.
Boobie Hobbs (Jr)
Though most of his 2015 season is remembered in just one play – a 69-yard punt return touchdown scored on a trick play set up perfectly by Utah’s main return man Britain Covey – Hobbs did actually make some defensive contributions that set him up nicely as 2016 approaches. Hobbs had the game-sealing pass breakup of Cal QB Jared Goff on homecoming night and played in all 13 of Utah’s games last year. Hobbs will start fall camp as the backup to Justin Thomas in the nickel position. He’ll also take over for the departing Britain Covey (LDS mission) as kick/punt returner.
Julian Blackmon (Fr)
Blackmon is a local 3-star prospect out of Layton High School who played multiple sports and multiple positions throughout his varsity campaign. As a junior he helped lead Layton to the state title in hoops while also excelling at both wide receiver and cornerback in football. Blackmon broke out as a junior and committed to Utah shortly after they offered. He is undeniably athletic and similar to recent recruits Dom Hatfield and Cory Butler-Byrd he has the potential to play on either side of the ball in college. At this point, however, it’s highly unlikely he switches positions unless there is a dire need. He was recruited as a corner and odds are that’s where he’ll stay.
Terrell Burgess (Fr)
Terrell Burgess is an underrated and overlooked prospect who could burst onto the Utah defensive scene with a splash if just given an opportunity. Burgess is a threat wherever he lines up on the field. He has great hands and skills as a receiver, dynamite speed and agility as a returner, and fantastic anticipation and footwork as a corner. He’ll have to fight for time as a true freshman – but if he gets a chance he’s the type of kid who will make the most of it sooner rather than later. Watch for Burgess to quickly become one of Utah’s main defensive backs over the coming years.
Nygel King (Fr)
King committed to Houston early in the recruiting process before garnering attention from some bigger schools such as Virginia Tech, Kansas, and Utah. The 3-star corner eventually de-committed and took visits to Virginia Tech and Utah before ultimately choosing the Utes. King is a big defender standing at 6’1” but will need to add weight to his rather light frame (just 175lbs as a senior in Texas). He excels in man coverage which should help him earn reps among the gaggle of other young Utah cornerbacks. He may not see the field much in 2016 which means a redshirt could be in order as he adds some bulk to his frame but he should be a guy that eventually competes down the road.
The Utes will start an experienced group of seniors at cornerback this season which will likely ensure they have one of the conference’s best secondaries. They’ll have to replace some big-time players next year – but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. Likely starters Dom Hatfield, Reggie Porter, and Justin Thomas are one of the best man-coverage trios Utah has ever had on the field at one time. They’re all skilled, experienced, athletic, and very smart. Throw in rotational backups Brian Allen, Tavaris Williams, Boobie Hobbs, and the hungry group of young freshmen in the wings and I’d say Utah’s corner position is in fine shape heading into 2016. Freshmen Julian Blackmon, Terrell Burgess, and Nygel King are solid building blocks for the future at the position.
Projected End of Camp Depth Chart Projection