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BYU center James Empey, Utah tight end Brant Kuithe among the ‘best players returning to college football’

Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe signals a first down after catching a pass against the USC Trojans during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.
Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe signals a first down after catching a pass against the USC Trojans in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. Kuithe and BYU center James Empey are considered among the best returning college football players.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Who are the best returning players in college football?

Over the past month, ESPN has sought to answer that question by examining the top 10 players across the country at nearly every position group. On Friday, Pro Football Focus senior college analyst Anthony Treash put the finishing touches on the exercise.

Using a pair of metrics provided by PFF — grades and wins above average (WAA) — he compiled two teams for ESPN, filled with the best players returning to college football, appropriately named College football’s All-PFF team for 2020.

Many of the athletes on either the first or second teams are readily known nationwide, be it Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Oregon offensive tackle and Desert Hills High alum Penei Sewell — the reigning Outland Award winner and potential No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft — or LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

Among the 46 college football stars who ESPN and Treash highlighted are representatives of both BYU and Utah — Cougars center James Empey and Utes tight end Brant Kuithe.

BYU offensive lineman James Empey poses for a photo at the Indoor Training Facility at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.
BYU offensive lineman James Empey poses for a photo at the Indoor Training Facility at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Both Empey and Kuithe earned spots on the All-PFF second team, after strong seasons in 2019. Empey was a key cog in the 12th highest-rated offensive line nationwide, per PFF, not to mention ESPN’s 10th best returning offensive lineman overall. Kuithe, meanwhile, finished the year with 34 catches, 602 yards and six touchdowns in what proved a breakout campaign, one of the best in Utah history.

The Pac-12 and Big 12 tied for the most representatives overall, with eight players apiece, followed by the SEC and Big 10, which each had seven. The ACC added five players, while the Mountain West and MAC had three apiece, followed the AAC (2), Sun Belt (2), and finally independents (1).

No teams were better represented than the Oregon Ducks and Alabama Crimson Tide, which finished with four players apiece, followed by Washington and Oklahoma State with three each.

You can read more about the selection process here.

ESPN’s All-PFF Team for 2020

Quarterback

First team — Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Second team — Justin Fields, Ohio State

Running back

First team — Travis Etienne, Clemson; Najee Harris, Alabama

Second team — Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State; Jaret Patterson, Buffalo

Wide receiver

First team — Ja’Marr Chase, LSU; Devonta Smith, Alabama; Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

Second team — Jaylen Waddle, Alabama; Rondale Moore, Purdue; Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

Tight end

First team — Charlie Kolar, Iowa State

Second team — Brant Kuithe, Utah

Tackle

First team — Peneii Sewell, Oregon; Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin

Second team — Rashawn Slater, Northwestern; Samuel Cosmi, Texas

Guard

First team — Nolan Laufenberg, Air Force; Wyatt Davis, Ohio State

Second team — Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC; Peter Nestrowitz, Navy

Center

First team — Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma

Second team — James Empey, BYU

Defensive line

First team — Marvin Wilson, Florida State; Levi Onwuzurike, Washington

Second team — Christian Barmore, Alabama; Cameron Thomas, San Diego State

Edge rusher

First team — Quincy Roche, Miami (FL); Chris Rumph, Duke

Second team — Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon; Taylor Riggins, Buffalo

Linebacker

First team — Micah Parsons, Penn State; Nick Bolton, Missouri

Second team — Carlton Martial, Troy; Troy Brown, Central Michigan

Cornerback

First team — Derek Stingley, LSU; Jevon Holland, Oregon; Elijah Molden, Washington

Second team — Shaun Jolly, Appalachian State; Mykael Wright, Oregon; Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati

Safety

First team — Trevon Moehrig, TCU; Ar’Darius Washington, TCU

Second team — Kolby Harvell-Peel, Oklahoma State; Dwayne Johnson Jr., San Diego State