Because the Cougars lost No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson and several other offensive stalwarts such as receiver Dax Milne and tackle Brady Christensen to the NFL draft after the 2020 season, BYU’s offense in 2021 was supposed to be in rebuilding mode.

Guess again.

Behind an offense that ranked No. 17 nationally in yards per game (452.6) and No. 28 nationally in points per game (33.1), the Cougars defeated six Power Five programs, went 5-0 against the Pac-12 and finished with a 10-3 record. They posted an outstanding season marred only by a 31-28 upset loss to UAB in the Independence Bowl.

Clearly, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick’s high-scoring crew was the strength of the team, as starting quarterback Jaren Hall filled in almost seamlessly for Wilson and got outstanding help when he couldn’t play due to injury from the likes of backups Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover.

“We are going to have a good team. The raw material we are working with is as good as it has ever been, since I have been here.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick.

So, what does Roderick have in store for 2022?

Although the Cougars will lose junior running back Tyler Allgeier to the NFL draft and several other key contributors, namely center James Empey and receivers Neil Pau’u and Samson Nacua, from an offense that probably would have done more if the defense had been better at getting off the field and stopping opponents on third and fourth down, the cupboard isn’t bare. Far from it.

“We are going to have a good team,” Roderick said after the third practice of spring camp. “The raw material we are working with is as good as it has ever been since I have been here.”

Having wrapped up spring camp on March 31, BYU coaches have been taking a little time off, but they have also been conducting exit interviews with players and updating them on their status within the program, and their perceived futures. Naturally, there will be some attrition, especially this year because of the glut of personnel due to COVID-19 and the NCAA allowing players an extra year of eligibility without increasing the roster limits.

No fewer than 10 BYU players have entered the transfer portal since the season ended. Coach Kalani Sitake said the final day of spring camp that there will be more. No surprise there. Upgrading the roster’s overall talent level is a priority as the Cougars get closer to Big 12 entrance.

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Coaches have also been hammering out their post-spring depth charts, which hadn’t been officially released by BYU as of Monday.

Who will replace the few players who have moved on? Here’s the Deseret News’ third-annual post-spring stab at what the offensive depth chart will look like in 2022. Our guesses for the defensive and special teams depth chart will be published in a separate article later this week:

No questions at starting quarterback

History has proven that whenever BYU has a senior quarterback, the Cougars have thrived on offense, so that portends good things in 2022. Technically, Hall is listed as a junior on BYU’s roster, but this will be his fifth season in Provo, and he’s hinted that it will be his last. He is already older than most college seniors, having served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sacramento, California, before enrolling at BYU in 2018.

By all accounts, Hall was in complete control of the offense in spring camp and added some arm strength to his repertoire through offseason workouts with former BYU QB John Beck and others.

“I think having a returner at any of your big playmaker positions is huge for an offense, not to mention our entire offensive line is back,” Hall said. “With that comes a greater grasp on the offense. There is more control and command, not just from the quarterback. Everybody talks about the quarterback commanding the offense, but in our case with our experienced receivers, tight ends and O line, everyone takes command of their job and holds each other accountable. So I think that alone has put us quite a bit ahead of last spring ball. We have a lot to look forward to this fall.”

Hall, the first African American starting quarterback in BYU history, won the job last August and started in 10 games, winning eight of them, and completed 64% of his passes for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns, with only five interceptions. He told the Deseret News in March that he would like to get “more well-rounded as a quarterback” before fall camp starts in early August.

“So there are a lot of small things I will be working on, just spending on the day and the week,” he said.

Hall’s backup will be redshirt freshman Jacob Conover, barring an unforeseen turn of events between now and the opener on Sept. 3 at South Florida. Roderick said midway through camp that Conover had emerged as QB2, and Sitake confirmed that assessment the final day.

Sitake also confirmed that Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan was slowed by an undisclosed injury in camp, which limited his reps; Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and walk-on Nick Billoups also got reps.

Running backs room is ready

The story of how Allgeier went from a walk-on who had to work at Walmart gathering shopping carts to make ends meet to a linebacker and then a big-time running back is well documented. The Fontana, California, product made himself a probable NFL draft pick by setting a school single-season rushing record with 1,601 yards (5.8 per attempt) and 23 touchdowns in 2021.

Who will replace him?

Running backs coach Harvey Unga told the Deseret News that there are plenty of outstanding candidates, without naming a specific starter for the opener. So we will do it for him: Christopher Brooks. The Cal transfer was easily BYU’s biggest offseason acquisition, and could make the kind of impact that Washington transfer receiver Puka Nacua had in 2021, coaches say.

Having rushed for 607 yards and four touchdowns for the Bears in 2021, Brooks should be able to surpass those marks in 2022, if he stays healthy.

“He will have a role in the offense, for sure,” Unga said. “He’s big, fast and explosive. He’s got great instincts, and he can run over people as well.”

Based on experience alone, we’re going with sixth-year senior Lopini Katoa as Brooks’ primary backup. Katoa lost carries to the talented Allgeier, for obvious reasons, in 2021 after both entered the season as co-starters, but still had 61 carries for 242 yards.

Jackson McChesney, Miles Davis and converted quarterback Mason Fakahua also got reps in spring camp. Not much was seen of junior college transfer Hinckley “Folau” Ropati, who attended practices but didn’t get any reps when in media-viewing portions of practices.

“We can play in so many different personnel groups, so this is probably the most personnel versatility I have ever had,” Roderick said. “We can show a lot of personnel groups, a lot of formations, and we are doing a lot of things this spring that I think are pretty exciting, things that we haven’t done before.”

A big position battle brewing at receiver

There’s no mystery at the top two receiver spots, as Washington transfer Puka Nacua and fifth-year senior Gunner Romney form a solid one-two punch and lead what should be one of the best receiver groups in school history. Nacua, a junior, proved to be as good as advertised in 2021, catching 43 passes for 805 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 67.1 receiving yards per game.

Romney was BYU’s third-leading receiver (behind Puka Nacua and Pau’u) last year despite playing in only 10 of 13 games. He caught 34 passes for 594 yards and three TDs.

“I have been really happy with our receivers,” passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake said. “There are obviously still little areas we can improve in, but the depth in our room is something I am really happy with. … We have an identity that is being created. We are being super physical and making plays.”

The Cougars finished spring camp with Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts, Brayden Cosper and Kody Epps competing to be WR3. We’re going with Hill as the man for now, after the Texan finished 2021 with a flourish.

Really, all six receivers should hit double digits in catches, especially if injured tight end Isaac Rex is delayed in getting back from a devastating ankle and foot injury he suffered against USC. Special teams stars Talmage Gunther and Hobbs Nyberg could also push for playing time.

Behind Rex, junior Dallin Holker is a star on the rise and would start at most places.

Ethan Erickson, a redshirt freshman, got a lot of reps in spring camp and looked good at tight end, along with Lane Lunt. Others were out with injuries.

Brooks isn’t the only transfer from a Pac-12 school that should help the BYU offense this year. Former Stanford fullback Houston Heimuli will join returning starter Masen Wake at the fullback/hybrid wing TE position, so the Cougars should be solid there.

A deep and experienced offensive line

As has been mentioned, the offensive line should be a strength for not only BYU’s offense, but its entire team. The group features a lot of team leaders and two- and three-year starters.

Second-year offensive line coach Darrell Funk can go nine or 10 deep there, even with the departure of Empey to the professional ranks and the loss of former three-star recruit Tysen Lewis to medical retirement.

The two-deep on the left side of the line is probably the easiest to call, as left tackle Blake Freeland and left guard Clark Barrington seemingly have those spots nailed down.

Sophomore Connor Pay and senior Joe Tukuafu are the best options at center, with Pay filling in there most of 2021 when Empey went down.

Freshman All-American Campbell Barrington shined at right tackle last year after Harris LaChance sustained a serious lower leg injury. Campbell played a lot at right guard in spring camp, so we will pencil him in there and assume former five-star recruit Kingsley Suamataia, the Oregon transfer, is the starter at right tackle.

Obviously, LaChance and Tukuafu have a lot of starting and playing experience, but could start the year as backups. Sophomore Brayden Keim and senior Keanu Saleapaga, back after briefly leaving the program a few years ago, also add depth and make our two-deep listing, along with sophomore Seth Willis.

Add it all up, and expectations are high for an offense that averaged 33 points and 452 yards per game last year.

“We don’t really talk expectations, to be honest,” Hall said. “We have goals for our seasons, but expectations wise, we just try to go play, play loose. No expectations, other than to play our best and execute the way we know how to, and kinda let the result fall into place.”

BYU’s projected offensive depth chart

Starter  — Backup

QB 3 Jaren Hall (Jr.) — 17 Jacob Conover (Fr.)

RB 2 Christopher Brooks (Sr.)— 4 Lopini Katoa (Sr.)

WR 18 Gunner Romney (Sr.) — 20 Brayden Cosper (Jr.)

WR 12 Puka Nacua (Jr.) — 27 Chase Roberts (Fr.)

WR 1 Keanu Hill (So.) — 0 Kody Epps (Fr.)

TE 83 Isaac Rex (So.) — 5 Dallin Holker (Jr.)

FB/W 13 Masen Wake (Jr.) — 35 Houston Heimuli (Sr.)

LT 71 Blake Freeland (Jr.) — 64 Brayden Keim (So.)  

LG 74 Clark Barrington (Jr.) — 61 Keanu Saleapaga (Sr.)

C 70 Connor Pay (So.) — 52 Joe Tukuafu (Sr.)

RG 74 Campbell Barrington (So.) — 69 Seth Willis (So.)      

RT 78 Kingsley Suamataia (Fr.) — 76 Harris LaChance (Jr.)