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Utah football: Why four-star lineman Xavier Carlton ‘has tremendous upside’ on the defensive front

Utah football insider and former college player Bryan Brown breaks down Xavier Carlton’s film.

Juan Diego’s Xavier Carlton looks to the sideline during the Soaring Eagle’s win over Judge Memorial last season. Carlton joins the Utah football program as a four-star pass-rushing prospect.
Deseret News video screenshot

SALT LAKE CITY — A lot of expectation is assigned to 4-star prospects, with Utah football coaches and fans hopeful Xavier Carlton’s play can match his recruiting evaluations.

Carlton signed with Utah as a consensus four-star prospect, opting for the Utes over several Pac-12 programs, including Washington and Arizona, among other big-name programs, such as Ohio State. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound defensive line prospect prepped at Juan Diego High after moving in from California and soon received more than his share of recruiting attention, and for good reason.

Throughout offseason combines leading up to his senior season, Carlton acquitted himself well against the nation’s best, with national recruiting expert for the 24/7 Sports Network, Brandon Huffman, stating Carlton, “has tremendous upside. Projects as multi-year Power Five starter and projects as a late-round NFL draft pick.”

Indeed Utah is in need of immediate contributors for the coming season along a defensive front that graduated the likes of Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu and John Penisini.

“It’s a rebuild. The whole defense,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham when discussing the prospects for his defense in the immediate future.

So what can be expected from Carlton specifically?

We sat down with Utah insider Bryan Brown to go over the Juan Diego prospect’s film. Brown contributes to utezone.com, and played collegiately at Snow College before holding high school coaching positions at both Cyprus and Olympus. Brown also works as a producer for the Zone Sports Network.

What are your overall impressions of Xavier Carlton?

“What stands out is how long of an athlete he is. His size and length are really impressive, and there’s those that feel he may eventually move inside to defensive tackle, but I really like him as an edge rusher. He doesn’t necessarily have that explosion that guys like Bradlee Anae had, but he’s super athletic and reminds me a bit of Carlos Dunlap, who plays for the (Cincinnati) Bengals with how he just uses his long frame to his advantage in getting past guys.

“For a guy his size, Carlton really does well at getting low and gets to the ball really well. He has good hand-placement, which allows him to get inside on guys, which works really well with his long arms. I also like that he’s still really strong, even for a really tall high school kid, which will help him transition to college player.”

What does he need to work on upon arriving at Utah?

“He’s going to have to work on his technique, but that’s the same for almost any incoming player. Timing the snap, and getting off that way, is always an adjustment, too. You saw Bradlee Anae get really good at that, and that’s what Xavier needs to develop to become a truly effective edge rusher. He also needs to fill out his frame better, but again, that’s largely the case for any incoming lineman.”

What are his chances of contributing as a true freshman?

“I think he’ll definitely get into the rotation along the defensive line. Just his size and natural ability to get to places quickly will help him a lot in being able to contribute his first year. Again, his length really helps his overall play, and he knows how to use his length effectively.

“He’s going to have to develop his hip strength because he’s no longer going to be going against 220-pound offensive linemen. So he’ll have to develop lower strength to go against the heavier and much stronger offensive linemen at the college level.”

“There’s room for a true freshman to contribute, no doubt, especially given how athletic he is, but he’ll have to battle some really good guys already in the program, along with Van Fillinger, who is another four-star defensive lineman. I don’t think he’ll start initially, but with some development could certainly become a starter by the end of next season.”

Which former Utah player does he remind you of?

“I think Martail Burnett is a good comparison because of the length and both of their ability to get off the ball well. They also both played with good level, even though both were so long.

“Another guy he sort of reminds me of is Derrick Shelby, although Derrick was a little thicker in his base. I think he’s comparable to those two and feel he has the potential to match what both those guys did at Utah, which would make him one of the better rush ends to ever play in the program by the time he’s finished.

“There’s obviously a ton of work Xavier needs to put in until he could be mentioned with guys like Derrick and Martail, but I really like his athleticism and his potential at a rush end.”