Editor’s note: First in a series that pegs the best player to don every jersey number in Utah Utes football history.
SALT LAKE CITY — A segment about notable numbers takes up a couple of pages in Utah football’s annual media guide. The listing provides valuable insight into the history of the program, holding some empirical evidence to those who simply refer to past eras as how good things were “back in the day.”
It’s also been quite beneficial to an ongoing Deseret News series attempting to identify the top players to wear each number in the history of Utah football. We’ll attempt to do so from No. 1 though No. 99 in five segments.
Here’s the first installment:
No. 1: Jaylon Johnson, cornerback
The Chicago Bears rookie left Utah after his junior season, a campaign where he earned All-America honors from the Associated Press, Phil Steele, Pro Football Focus Sports Illustrated, USA Today and Walter Camp. Named first-team All-Pac-12 after leading the Utes with 11 pass breakups in 2019. Earned a degree in business. Also considered: Kevin Dyson, Jeff Griffin, Tyler Huntley, Shaky Smithson.
No. 2: Zack Moss, running back
The leading rusher in team history (4,167 yards) is the first player to rush for 1,000 or more yards in three seasons. Moss, the 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and an All-American, broke six school career records as a senior and tied for two others. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Also considered: Erroll Tucker.
No. 3: Brian Johnson, quarterback
Named the Most Outstanding Player in the 2009 Sugar Bowl when the Utes upset Alabama. Passed for 336 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-17 victory. The winningest quarterback in Utah history was 26-7 as a starter. Also considered: Wally Nalder, Jordan Wynn.
No. 4: Sean Smith, cornerback
Former receiver made his mark on defense. He finished a two-year stint (2007-08) as a cornerback with 16 pass breakups and nine interceptions. Left for the NFL early and was drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins. Also played for the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders in a career that consisted of 137 games over nine seasons. Also considered: Brian Blechen, Antwoine Sanders.
No. 5: Paris Warren, wide receiver
Capped his Utah career as co-Offensive MVP with Alex Smith in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh. Warren wound up with 1,885 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns over the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Also considered: Brent Casteel, David Cunningham, Jay Hill, Kavika Luafatasaga, Brandon Warfield.
No. 6: Bradlee Anae, defensive end
Utah’s ninth consensus All-American received first-team recognition from the AFCA, FWAA, Sporting News and Walter Camp. He made the Associated Press third team. The two-time all-conference honoree and winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s top defensive lineman was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Utah’s all-time sacks leader with 30. Also considered: Dres Anderson, Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, Steve Savoy.
No. 7: Steve Smith, wide receiver
Averaged a school-record 20.6 yards per catch over his career with the Utes (1999-2000). The MVP of the Blue-Gray All-Star Game went on to have a lengthy NFL career. Played 16 seasons (Carolina Panthers, Baltimore Ravens) and finished with 1,031 receptions for 14,731 yards. Smith had 81 touchdown catches and also scored on four punt returns and two rushes. He was named to the Pro Bowl five times. Also considered: Mike Fouts, Phil Glover, Travis Wilson.
No. 8: Nate Orchard, defensive end
Highland High product made quite an impact at Utah. Orchard was named to 10 All-America teams and received the Ted Hendricks Award and Morris Award after a stellar career with the Utes. Played in all 50 games from 2011-14 and racked by 38.5 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, eight forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. Also considered: Kaelin Clay, Harold Lusk.
No. 9: Trevor Reilly, defensive end
Garnered first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a senior, also earned All-America honorable mention recognition from the Associated Press. Topped the Utes in tackles in two seasons (2012, 2013), making 100 stops in his final college campaign. Played for the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots in the NFL. Also considered: Larry Egger, Henry Lusk, Spencer Toone.
No. 10: Stevenson Sylvester, linebacker
Put on quite a show in Utah’s win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl — recorded seven tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery in the 31-17 win. Sylvester was a three-time all-conference selection and a Poinsettia Bowl Defensive MVP. Made 263 tackles in his career with the Utes before going to the NFL and playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills. Also considered: DeVonte Christopher, Mike McCoy.
No. 11: Alex Smith, quarterback
Powered the Utes to an undefeated season and a win over Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Smith received All-America accolades and was the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, going to the San Francisco 49ers. Also considered: Pokey Allen, Lee Grosscup, Carl Harry, Paul Kruger.
No. 12: Mark Stevens, quarterback
CEU transfer proved to be a dual threat for the Utes. In addition to passing for 3,875 yards and 23 touchdowns over the 1983 and 1984 seasons, Stevens ran for 986 yards and 23 scores. Also considered: Joe Dale, Frank Dolce.
No. 13: Gionni Paul, linebacker
May have been the Pac-12’s most impactful defender in 2015 when he made 117 tackles (13.5 for loss) with four fumble recoveries, four interceptions, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. A year earlier, in his first game after transferring from Miami, Paul racked up 14 tackles in a win over Michigan. Also considered: Francis Bernard, Marquise Blair, Quinton Ganther.
No. 14: Reggie Dunn, return specialist
Set an NCAA record with five kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career with the Utes, had four as a senior in 2012 when he was named an All-American. Also considered: Brian Allen, Tom Dublinski, Steve Marshall.
No. 15: John White, running back
The “Wolfman” howled, make that ran, his way to back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Led the Utes with 1,519 yards rushing in 2011 and followed it up with 1,041 in 2012. Also considered: Dominique Hatfield, Brett Ratliff, Jason Shelley.
No. 16: Mac Speedie, end
Pro Football Hall of Fame was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1940s. Netted 7,006 yards receiving while playing for the Cleveland Browns from 1946-52, made 349 catches and scored 45 touchdowns. Excelled in football and track at Utah before military service in World War II. Later became head coach of the Denver Broncos. Also considered: David Reed.
No. 17: Robert Johnson, safety
Recorded 155 tackles and 13 interceptions over three seasons at Utah. Scored touchdowns on a fumble return and a pick. As a senior, Johnson had three interceptions in a win over Colorado State. Went on to play for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Also considered: Don Rydalch.
No. 18: Eric Rowe, defensive back
Saw action at both cornerback and safety for the Utes. Netted 261 tackles and three interceptions over 47 games from 2011-14. Won a pair of Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots in an NFL career that began with the Philadelphia Eagles and currently includes playing for the Miami Dolphins. Also considered: Britain Covey, Curtis Marsh.
No. 19: Scott Mitchell, quarterback
Threw for 8,981 yards and 69 touchdowns for Utah from 1987-89. Mitchell then marked on a 12-year career in the NFL. He completed 1,301 passes and teamed for 95 touchdowns over stints with Miami, Detroit, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Also considered: Rick Partridge, Bryan Rowley.
Up next: Best to wear Nos. 20 through 39