Going into this year’s training camp, there are currently 89 players with Utah ties on NFL rosters.

That’s just one fewer than the max 90 players NFL teams can carry on their roster during the offseason, and it got me thinking, what would an NFL team composed solely of current players with Utah ties look like? How competitive could they be in the 2021 season?

The answer? The offense has some shortcomings, though the defense looks just fine. Here’s how I would build my all-Utah team, broken down by who would and wouldn’t make the 53-man regular-season roster.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill runs against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. | Brian Blanco, Associated Press

Quarterbacks on the 53-man roster

  • Player, NFL team, Utah connection
  • Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints, BYU
  • Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers, Utah State
  • Zach Wilson, New York Jets, BYU and Corner Canyon High

Quarterback not on the 53-man roster

The explanation: This was easily the most difficult position to determine. There are four options but so few years of NFL experience at the quarterback position among them.

At one point, I seriously considered leaving Hill in the same utility role that he’s been in for so long with the Saints, especially since this team is lacking in experienced pass catchers (more on that in a minute). After thinking it over for a good long while, though, (and perhaps overthinking it) it just made more sense to let Taysom be Taysom, and rely on his dual-threat abilities to be the most impactful as a quarterback.

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Hill’s resume as a starter is a small sample size — he threw for 928 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions while going 3-1 as a starter in Drew Brees’ absence last season. He also had some turnover issues. But ultimately, Hill is a dangerous player when he can get things going as a runner and passer, and his greatest asset to this team would be as a quarterback.

That leaves the backup position to one of three players: Wilson, Love or Huntley. While all three are young and relatively inexperienced, they all bring an appealing game to the field. If Hill falters, a fallback plan would be to run a more traditional dropback passing offense. That’s what gives the slight edge to Wilson and Love, with Huntley retained as a practice squader.

Buffalo Bills running back Zack Moss (20) runs against the Denver Broncos during an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Denver. | Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

Running backs on the 53-man roster

  • Devontae Booker, New York Giants, Utah
  • Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills, Utah
  • Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs, Utah State
  • Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions, BYU

Running back not on the 53-man roster

  • Ty’Son Williams, Baltimore Ravens, BYU

The explanation: I actually like this collection of backs and think they could hold their own.

There’s no real No. 1 back here ... right now. The most likely nod would go to Moss, Utah’s all-time leading rusher who showed promise as the Bills’ No. 2 runner last year before getting injured during the playoffs in his rookie year. 

Jamaal Williams is a solid secondary back — he’s showed that the past four years with Green Bay — and is an excellent pass blocker. Booker revitalized his career a bit last year in Las Vegas, while Thompson adds value as a special-teamer and additional change-of-pace back.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick (81) runs against Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nevin Lawson (26) during an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Denver. | Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

Wide receivers on the 53-man roster

  • Simi Fehoko, Dallas Cowboys, Brighton High
  • Dax Milne, Washington Football Team, BYU and Bingham High
  • JoJo Natson, Cleveland Browns, Utah State
  • Tim Patrick, Denver Broncos, Utah
  • John Ursua, Seattle Seahawks, Cedar and Westlake High

Wide receivers not on the 53-man roster

  • Marcus Kemp, Kansas City Chiefs, Layton High
  • Micah Simon, Carolina Panthers, BYU

The explanation: This is the most inexperienced position by far on the all-Utah team — even in a three-receiver set, two of the starters would have two catches or less in their career.

The 6-foot-4 Patrick, a one-time undrafted free agent, is the lone experienced receiver. He had a breakout year in 2020 — when he had a career-highs with 51 catches for 742 yards and six touchdowns, a team high — and is a solid option for whoever starts at QB.

Beyond Patrick, though, no other wide receivers among this bunch have been involved much in the pass game as a pro. Natson is a return man, Kemp is mainly a special teams ace and Ursua hasn’t broken into the rotation in Seattle. I kept Natson for special teams and Ursua over Kemp, though at this point, it’s kinda splitting hairs.

Fehoko, Milne and Simon are all rookies, with the 6-3 Fehoko showing the most promise as an early contributor, and perhaps Milne could start at slot — which, again, is asking a lot this early in his career. 

Let’s just say there would be plenty of growing pains with this group.

Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (86) defends against a tackle attempt by San Francisco 49ers defender in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. | Ron Jenkins, Associated Press

Tight ends on the 53-man roster

  • Matt Bushman, Las Vegas Raiders, BYU
  • Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys, Bingham High
  • Noah Togiai, Indianapolis Colts, Hunter High

Tight ends not on the 53-man roster

  • Bronson Kaufusi, Green Bay Packers, BYU and Timpview High
  • Dax Raymond, Pittsburgh Steelers, Utah State and Timpview High
  • Hunter Thedford, Detroit Lions, Utah
  • Andrew Vollert, Indianapolis Colts, Weber State

The explanation: Like wide receiver, there’s only one player here with any serious pro experience.

When injuries to other Dallas tight ends last season forced Schultz into a starting role, he produced in his third NFL season. His 615 receiving yards was No. 11 among NFL tight ends in 2020 — he also had 63 catches and four touchdowns — and Schultz could hold down the lead tight end spot in this offense.

Beyond Schultz, though, there are a lot of unproven players. Togiai went undrafted last year, but played in a few games, and the undrafted Bushman showed great hands during his time at BYU.

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) blocks during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Inglewood, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. | Peter Joneleit, Associated Press

Offensive linemen on the 53-man roster

  • Garett Bolles, Denver Broncos, Utah, Snow College and Westlake High
  • Brady Christensen, Carolina Panthers, BYU and Bountiful High
  • Jordan Devey, Buffalo Bills, Snow College and American Fork High
  • Andre James, Las Vegas Raiders, Herriman High
  • Tyler Larsen, Washington Football Team, Utah State and Jordan High
  • Sua Opeta, Philadelphia Eagles, Weber State and Stansbury High
  • Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions, Desert Hills High
  • Xavier Su’a-Filo, Cincinnati Bengals, Timpview High
  • Sam Tevi, Indianapolis Colts, Utah

Offensive linemen not on the 53-man roster

  • Jackson Barton, New York Giants, Utah and Brighton High
  • Branden Bowen, Arizona CardinalsOhio StateCorner Canyon
  • Chandon Herring, Tennessee Titans, BYU
  • Tristen Hoge, New York Jets, BYU
  • Corbin Kaufusi, San Francisco 49ers, BYU and Timpview High
  • Darrin Paulo, Detroit Lions, Utah

The explanation: This group has a very solid core outside mixed with a touch of veteran experience on the interior of the line.

The strength of the line would be at tackle, led by the All-Pro Bolles, who’s coming off his best season and signed a four-year extension last year with Denver, and Sewell, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. There’s more depth at tackle, including Tevi, who has 44 career starts.

Why is there a notable increase of Utah ties in the NFL this offseason?

Devey and Larsen have both played some center, among other positions, at the NFL level, and Su’a-Filo is a veteran guard. Cross-training guys like James, Tevi and Christensen, a rookie tackle, at other positions would hopefully help strengthen the two-deep on the interior.

Barton, who’s won a Super Bowl with the Chiefs but has yet to play in a regular-season game, is the odd man out.

Offensive assessment

This team would need to do a lot of running, mostly out of necessity, and it’s built to better handle that. Thankfully, the running back room looks capable and the offensive line has enough experienced pieces to shuffle around a pair of top-caliber tackles. The lack of experience at quarterback and the receiver positions is the most pressing issue with this team. Even if a quality quarterback emerges, that’s a receiving group that is going to be tested.

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (98) watches following an NFL preseason football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit on Aug. 23, 2019. | Duane Burleson, Associated Press

Defensive linemen on the 53-man roster

  • Bradlee Anae, Dallas Cowboys, Utah
  • Leki Fotu, Arizona Cardinals, Utah and Herriman
  • Porter Gustin, Cleveland Browns, Salem Hills High
  • Star Lotulelei, Buffalo Bills, Utah, Snow College and Bingham High
  • John Penisini, Detroit Lions, Utah, Snow College and West Jordan High
  • Khyiris Tonga, Chicago Bears, BYU and Granger High
  • Jay Tufele, Jacksonville Jaguars, Bingham High

Defensive linemen not on the 53-man roster

  • Zac Dawe, Atlanta Falcons, BYU and Pleasant Grove High
  • Bryan Mone, Seattle Seahawks, Highland High
  • Jonah Williams, Los Angeles Rams, Weber State

The explanation: There is experience and talent at defensive tackle, not nearly as much at defensive end, though.  

Lotulelei is the veteran presence here, and he’s been a solid defensive tackle since entering the league in 2013. The only question surrounding him will be how he responds after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. Penisini was an effective 12-game starter as a rookie last year, and Tufele is a promising rookie tackle.

Gustin is the only truly game-tested defensive end, though he’d step into a larger role than he’s had so far in Cleveland. Anae rarely played as a rookie at DE, and perhaps Fotu could move to defensive end from an interior position to help out.

Williams gets the nod for the final D-line spot over Mone and Tonga simply to bolster a very thin defensive end position.

Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner takes part in NFL football practice Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Renton, Wash. | Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

Linebackers on the 53-man roster

  • Cody Barton, Seattle Seahawks, Utah and Brighton High
  • Kyler Fackrell, Los Angeles Chargers, Utah State
  • Sione Takitaki, Cleveland Browns, BYU
  • Kyle Van Noy, New England Patriots, BYU
  • Nick Vigil, Minnesota Vikings, Utah State and Fremont High
  • Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks, Utah State
  • Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers, BYU

Linebackers not on the 53-man roster

  • Francis Bernard, Dallas Cowboys, Utah, BYU and Herriman High
  • Kaden Elliss, New Orleans Saints, Idaho and Judge Memorial High
  • Kylie Fitts, Arizona Cardinals, Utah
  • Tipa Galeai, Green Bay Packers, Utah State
  • Chase Hansen, New Orleans Saints, Utah and Lone Peak High
  • Isaiah Kaufusi, Indianapolis Colts, BYU and Brighton High
  • Harvey Langi, New England Patriots, BYU, Utah and Bingham High
  • Jared Norris, Washington Football Team, Utah
  • Pita Taumoepenu, Denver Broncos, Utah and Timpview High

The explanation: This is the star power of the all-Utah team. I’d put this collection of linebackers up against almost any other in the NFL right now.

Wagner is a six-time first-team All-Pro and the heart and soul of the Seahawks’ defense.  Warner is quickly ascending the ranks as one of the best young talents at any position in the NFL. And Van Noy could slide into a pass-rushing role and make moving the ball against the middle of this defense extremely difficult.

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Beyond those three, Vigil, Fackrell, Barton and Takitaki are solid players who’ve stepped up when called upon during their careers and can handle a high workload.

Unlike some other positions, I had to cut some young, talented players at linebacker simply because there is so much veteran experience here. That’s a good problem to have, though.

Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson (24) runs back an interception for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. | John Munson, Associated Press

Cornerbacks on the 53-man roster

  • Michael Davis, Los Angeles Chargers, BYU
  • Javelin Guidry, New York Jets, Utah
  • Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears, Utah
  • Taron Johnson, Buffalo Bills, Weber State
  • Nevin Lawson, Las Vegas Raiders, Utah State
  • Chris Wilcox, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, BYU

Cornerbacks not on the 53-man roster

  • Brian Allen, Cleveland Browns, Utah
  • Jalen Davis, Cincinnati Bengals, Utah State
  • Dayan Lake, Los Angeles Rams, BYU and Northridge High

The explanation: There’s some really solid — albeit a bit unknown — talent in this cornerback group.

Taron Johnson has developed into a top defender for the Bills — he had 94 tackles and five tackles for loss last season — and Jaylon Johnson showed a lot of promise as a shutdown corner during his rookie campaign in 2020.

Those two are the basis for a good group here, including Davis, who’s worked his way from an undrafted free agent into a starting role and reliable option in Los Angeles. Lawson has nearly 70 starts to his name and could add valuable experience, while Guidry showed well as a rookie in 2020. 

For depth purposes, I went with the rookie Wilcox for that final CB spot, though Allen and Davis aren’t in that mix.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) can’t make the catch as New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. | Danny Karnik, Associated Press

Safeties on the 53-man roster

  • Julian Blackmon, Indianapolis Colts, Utah and Layton High
  • Marquise Blair, Seattle Seahawks, Utah
  • Terrell Burgess, Los Angeles Rams, Utah
  • Eric Rowe, Miami Dolphins, Utah
  • Daniel Sorensen, Kansas City Chiefs, BYU
  • Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints, Utah

Safeties not on the 53-man roster

  • Zayne Anderson, Kansas City Chiefs, BYU and Stansbury High
  • Alohi Gilman, Los Angeles Chargers, Orem High
  • Miles Killebrew, Pittsburgh Steelers, Southern Utah
  • Dallin Leavitt, Las Vegas Raiders, Utah State and BYU
  • Kai Nacua, San Francisco 49ers, BYU
  • Troy Warner, Los Angeles Rams, BYU

The explanation: There is a lot of good, young talent here, led by five Utes making the 53-man. 

Williams has been a starting free safety for the Saints since Day 1 entering the league, and he’s the top safety among this group. Rowe is solid as well, along with Blackmon, who showed his playmaking abilities as a rookie last season.

What’s made Utah so successful at turning out secondary talent for the NFL?

While Blair and Burgess haven’t stood out as much as the others, they’ve shown promise in limited opportunities and are strong depth pieces and potential starters if needed.

And then there’s Sorensen, the veteran presence who would be valuable in many ways. The Super Bowl champion has made a name for himself both in the Chiefs’ secondary and on special teams, a value that can’t be overstated.

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Like at cornerback, the value of depth at safety left special teams options like Killebrew, Leavitt and Nacua on the outside looking in.

Defensive assessment

The linebackers are the stars of what looks like a well-rounded defense that could hang with most NFL offenses. The secondary is stocked with young talent at both safety and cornerback. The only big question mark is how depth issues hurt the defensive line, particularly at the defensive end position. Most likely, you’d need to turn elsewhere to find ways to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks until the defensive ends proved capable.

Los Angeles Rams kicker Matt Gay prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. | Rick Scuteri, Associated Press

Special teams on the 53-man roster

  • Matt Gay, Los Angeles Rams, Utah, Utah Valley and Orem High
  • Mitch Wishnowsky, San Francisco 49ers, Utah
  • Patrick Scales, Chicago Bears, Utah State and Weber High

Special teams not on the 53-man roster

  • Dominik Eberle, Las Vegas Raiders, Utah State

The explanation: There wasn’t too much thought put into cutdowns here just because of the number of available players.

This group, though, has me confident. Gay overcame being cut by Tampa Bay and finding himself in a good situation with the Rams, while Wishnowsky has been a solid punter for the 49ers. 

Scales is a longtime long snapper, and Natson, who’s also at wide receiver, will serve as the main returner.

Special teams assessment

It’s not a flashy group, but there’s some optimism here. Gay made 14 of 16 field goals for Los Angeles last season after joining the team midway through the year, and Wishnowsky averaged 46.9 yards per punt in 2020. The return game is OK, and there are a handful of experienced special teams players throughtout the roster.

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