The ink is finally dry and the fax machine will return to its rightful place collecting dust. With the 2017 class in the rear view mirror, the UteZone staff presents its annual signing day awards.
Gem of the Class
Andrew Gorringe: Jaylon Johnson. Johnson is a Top 100 player from southern California, and chose Utah over USC when he made his initial commitment. And yes, USC wanted him. It was a big time coup for the Utes, and they also did a good job fending off late pushes by Arizona State and Oklahoma. Utah has been excellent at developing cornerbacks in to NFL players, and Johnson is the most talented cornerback out of high school to ever sign with Utah.
Steve Bartle: Jaylon Johnson. Forget Top 100, he’s the 8th best cornerback in the entire country. That is a huge victory for Coach Shah and Coach Scalley. Johnson could very easily be the best cornerback at Utah as soon as he steps on campus. His length and athleticism is very impressive, but it’s his tenacity that really makes Johnson great. He wants to absolutely destroy and embarrass the man lined up across from him.
Brian Swinney: Jaylon Johnson. He may not end up being the best player in the class, but how can it not be Johnson. This is the 59th ranked player in the country, who is from another state, and he’s coming to Utah. If he’s not in the two deep at corner to start the year, I’ll be shocked. If he’s not starting by the end of the year as a freshman, I’ll be very surprised. What a steal by the coaching staff.
Dan Sorensen: Everybody else has said it, but it’s pretty hard to say anything other than Jaylon Johnson. Utah landed an Army All-American from California who had offers from just about every major college football program in America. That’s never happened before. Johnson’s recruitment may be the finest piece of recruiting that I’ve ever seen up on the hill.
Best Offensive Recruit
Andrew Gorringe: Bryan Thompson. Tough call here, but I’m a big fan of Thompson’s game and think he could be a big time weapon at Utah. He’s a bully on the field, and looks to destroy smaller, weaker cornerbacks that line up across from him. He also has the speed be a deep threat, and has reliable hands.
Steve Bartle: Bryan Thompson. I originally had Orlando Umana, but Thompson is the guy. He’s the high level high school receiver that Utah has wanted, and needed frankly, since joining the Pac-12. He’s got a great combination of size & speed. He runs hard and gets on defensive backs in a hurry and then is able to cut on a dime. He runs good routes, his sluggo (slant-n-go) route is pro material. He’s a very physical receiver when run-blocking, he seeks defenders out and erases them from the play. Thompson is just an explosive receiver who can make plays at every level.
Brian Swinney: Orlando Umana. He’s a big dude with an impressive offer sheet. Umana hails from a high school in Grant Union that has pumped out plenty of top-notch players and he’ll be the next one to be a high level college athlete. His nastiness will earn him praise from the coaches while he works on his body a bit and rounds into form.
Dan Sorensen: T.J. Green. Green was a late addition to the class and he doesn’t have the star power of other recruits, but he’s tailor made to succeed in Troy Taylor’s offense. He’s got terrific speed - and the Utes needed a burner to replace Joe Williams. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield, which will suit the new scheme well. He may need a redshirt year to bulk up and be ready for the Pac-12, but he has a bright future ahead of him on the Hill.
Best Defensive Recruit
Andrew Gorringe: Jaylon Johnson. I know I gave him the Gem of the Class award, but he’s too good to not give this award to as well. Physicality, speed, aggression, length, toughness, it’s all there for Johnson to become an elite cornerback in College, and eventually in the NFL. Coach Shah has to be licking his chops at the thought of getting to work with someone as talented as Johnson.
Steve Bartle: Marquise Blair. This guy is a game changer. With his combination of size, athleticism, and effort he’ll change the entire look of the defense. Blair played linebacker in the Juco ranks, but while coming out of high school was ranked a 4-star safety. He has the ability to blitz off the edge or drop in coverage and not skip a beat. His presence allows Coach Scalley to be more creative with the defense, especially with a potential 3-headed monster at the safety positions.
Brian Swinney: Corrion Ballard. I already used my pick of Jaylon Johnson earlier, so I’ll go with the JC safety out of Blinn that should be able to grab the starting free safety position in spring ball. Ballard has very good size and can cover a lot of ground. Won’t be Marcus Williams, but he’ll still be a steady player for the Utes at a position of need.
Dan Sorensen: My pick is Corrion Ballard. Ballard may or may not be the “best,” but he’s far and away the most important. Marcus Williams’ departure leaves a big hole in the Ute secondary, and Ballard was the best JUCO option in the country to come in and fill the void. He’s a playmaker pure and simple. And the fact that he’s on campus already only bodes well for the Utes.
Diamond in the Rough
Andrew Gorringe: No 2 stars in the class makes it tough to call anyone a diamond in the rough, but going off of offers, I’m gonna say TJ Green. Green played for an elite HS program and played some of the best high school teams in the country, and put up ridiculous numbers during his senior year. He’s a do it all kind of back with great speed, and should be a perfect fit for what Utah want’s to do with the new offense.
Steve Bartle: I really want to say Devin Lloyd, like really want to! But I think Jaylen Dixon is going to be a guy that makes a much bigger impact than what is being said about him right now. He’s very under the radar right now, and is kind of the forgotten man in this class. With the new offense, I think he’s a great fit, and every time I watch his fit I’m more and more impressed by him. He’s sure-handed, athletic, and shifty, he’s small but his elusiveness is very impressive.
Dan Sorensen: Devin Lloyd is my pick here. A lot of fans were enthralled with the film and ranking of another LB recruit that didn’t pick Utah, but the fact of the matter is the staff chose Lloyd over him. He’s a bit of a project to be sure, but you can’t teach Lloyd’s speed, size and athleticism. He’ll have an opportunity to be a significant contributor after a redshirt season. On offense, Mo Unutoa was criminally underrated. He has a chance to be a really good offensive tackle, and may surprise a lot of people as well. Ute fans should be fired up about his prospects.
First to Score a Touchdown
Andrew Gorringe: Javelin Guidry. I don’t see many early contributors on offense, so I’m going with Guidry. With his speed, you can’t keep him on the sideline. Even if it’s not on defense, Guidry should be a Day 1 contributor on special teams as a returner. I wouldn’t rule him out take an INT to the house either as a true freshman.
Steve Barle: Javelin Guidry. That speed is a threat from anywhere on the field. He should be a returner on both punt and kickoff returns, so he’ll have opportunities too.
Dan Sorensen: Tyquez Hampton. He’s going to have a leg up on all of the other freshmen receivers simply due to the fact that he’s on campus and will participate in spring football. His film is good enough that it’s not a stretch to think he’ll play early, especially if the Utes want another big body opposite Raelon Singleton.
First to Force a Turnover
Andrew Gorringe: Marquise Blair. With how fast and violent he plays, I’ll lights up some poor receiver from North Dakota in game 1, and forces a fumble. Remember how hard Nai Fotu would hit guys? That’s how Blair hits, except he’s a whole lot faster than Fotu. He’s gonna be a blast to watch.
Steve Bartle: Corrion Ballard. The dude is as close to a Marcus Williams-clone as can be. He’s a true centerfielder in the defensive backfield and should have opportunities to make plays. Whether he can live up to what Williams did before him will remain to be seen, but the similarities in their games is undeniable.
Dan Sorensen: Javelin Guidry. Mark my words, he’s going to play at nickel back this year. In fact, if he can get the playbook down early, he has a legitimate chance to earn a starting spot in fall camp. Given that he’ll be in the middle of the field covering slot receivers, Guidry will get his chance to clean up on a tipped ball or throwing error and come up with a pick.
Most Likely to Start on Day One
Andrew Gorringe: Jordan Agasiva. Whether it’s at RT or LG, I believe Agasiva is a near lock to start on the offensive line. There’s a lot of holes to fill there, and Agasiva is a mauler. The only question will be which spot he ends up at on the offensive line.
Steve Bartle: Corrion Ballard. I think he's got the easiest path to the starting lineup. Not only is he already in the program, but he's a talented player and coming from a very good program in Blinn CC, he’ll be better prepared for high level football.
Dan Sorensen: Corrion Ballard is the obvious answer here, especially since he’ll be able to participate in spring camp. However, of the players arriving this fall, don’t sleep on Javelin Guidry. The competition at nickel is going to be wide open, and Guidry has all of the tools to be an amazing nickel back in Utah’s system.
Andrew Gorringe: Biggest surprise commitment for the Utes this year had to be Javelin Guidry. Being able to snag a 4 star CB away from Texas, when said recruit was committed to the Texas HC at another school earlier in the year, is a big testament to the job that Coach Shah did with establishing a relationship with Guidry. Guidry is a big time playmaker with elite speed.
Steve Bartle: You could say Tyquez Hampton flipping from Wazzu and spurning West Virginia, or Jaylon Johnson committing early and sticking. However, I'm going with Javelin Guidry committing to Utah over Texas and denying ASU even the opportunity to bring him in a visit was the biggest surprise. It made all the sense in the world for him to commit to the Coach Herman, but he recognized the opportunity at Utah and trusted the relationship that had been developed with Coach Shah and the entire staff.
Dan Sorensen: My biggest surprise was Utah finishing strong to land Bryan Thompson. He already said no to Utah once when he committed to Boise State. Then he seemed like he was all about Nebraska. Then Oregon came on a late charge to try to land him. But the Utes were able to pull that one out, and came away with one of the most promising offensive recruits they’ve ever signed in the Whittingham era.
Biggest Recruiting Loss
Andrew Gorringe: Ugh. Ya’ll know the answer to this one. It really, really sucks losing out on 5 star prospect just 20 miles south of your campus. Especially when he was considered a Utah lean for so long. Life goes on though. Utah will still have an elite defensive line without Tufele
Steve Bartle: Locally. Losing out on their top 3 guys from in-state with Tufele and Katoa both going to USC, and Damuni going to Stanford really hurt. Katoa and Tufele in particular, as both those guys seemed like Utes until very late pushes from USC.
Dan Sorensen: Frankly, I’m tired of typing his name. But the big DT from Bingham sure broke the hearts of a lot of Ute fans on Wednesday. And he went to a division rival to boot. That’s a loss that Utah fans will remember for a long time. And it will especially sting because Utah did everything (legal) they could to land him.
Biggest Recruiting Nemesis
Andrew Gorringe: Arizona State. Between Eno Benjamin (ASU), Gavin Holmes (Baylor), Jaylon Johnson (Utah), Tareke Lewis (Utah), Javelin Guidry (ASU), Michael Richardson (Utah) and Jhavonte Dean (Miami), the Utes and Sun Devils were involved late with a lot of the same prospects this class. Utah got the upper hand on the Sun Devils this cycle, but I expect these battles to continue well into the future.
Brian Swinney: Arizona State, Washington State, USC, and Oregon State seemed to be the teams that Utah battled this cycle with more wins against the Cougars and Beavers and more losses against the Sun Devils and Trojans.
Steve Bartle: USC. Katoa was basically packed and ready to move to Salt Lake City until a late offer from the Trojans changed everything. Then they stole prized 5-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele to pour salt into the would, when it seemed just a couple weeks earlier he was Utah bound.
Dan Sorensen: USC, without a doubt. The Trojans swept in late and won battles for two in-state recruits that Utah wanted badly. Utah has won more head-to-head battles against the Trojans in recent years, but other than Jaylon Johnson, Coach Helton got the better of the Utes on the recruiting trail this year more often than not. On the flip side, Utah was a huge nemesis to Oregon State this year. They flipped recruits from the Beavers, they won hard fought battles. It’s kind of nice to see the Utes finally be on the other side of that coin.