Four Deseret News sports writers recently jumped on a Zoom conference call to run their own college football fantasy draft, building a starting lineup from players currently at Utah schools.
Who ended up with the superior team? Each writer makes their case why they have the built the best starting lineup.
College football (and the NFL) have become increasingly pass-heavy over the past decade — and especially the last five years.
The quarterback is the most important position in the game right now, with nine of the last 11 Heisman Trophies being awarded to quarterbacks. The last non-QB Heisman Trophy winner was Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the first wide receiver recipient of the Heisman Trophy since 1987.
- Charlie Brewer, Utah QB
- Lopini Katoa, BYU RB
- Britain Covey, Utah WR
- Gunner Romney, BYU WR
- Solomon Enis, Utah WR
- Brant Kuithe, Utah TE
- Connor Pay, BYU OL
- Clark Barrington, BYU OL
- Chandler Dolphin, USU OL
- Wyatt Bowles, USU OL
- Sataoa Laumea, Utah OL
- Gabe Summers, BYU DL
- Tyler Batty, BYU DL
- George Tarlas, Weber State DL
- Hauati Pututau, Utah DL
- Moroni Anae, Utah LB
- Ethan Calvert, Utah LB
- Sherwin Lavaka, Weber State LB
- George Udo, BYU CB
- Malone Mataele, Utah CB
- Kamo’i Latu, Utah S
- Malik Moore, BYU S
- Conner Coles, USU K
- Jared March, Utah P
- Josh Davis, Weber State Ret.
With that in mind, I built my pass-heavy offense around the “11 personnel” grouping — three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back.
I picked Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer, a proven Big 12 quarterback. From there, I gave him weapons — four of the best in the state with Utah wide receivers Britain Covey and Solomon Enis, BYU wide receiver Gunner Romney and Utah tight end Brant Kuithe — all experienced receivers who can be counted on. Projected starting offensive linemen Connor Pay and Clark Barrington from BYU and Sataoa Laumea from Utah will anchor the offensive line. BYU running back Lopini Katoa will carry the running load.
On defense, I will be running a 4-3 base defense. The defensive front will be anchored by BYU defensive linemen Gabe Summers and Tyler Batty, along with Utah’s Hauati Pututau. BYU starter George Udo and Utah starter Malone Mataele will form a solid cornerback duo. BYU starter Malik Moore will be at safety, with three-star Utes recruit Kamo’i Latu at the other safety — he could see time this year at strong safety for Utah.
I drafted the linebacker core based on potential — Utah’s Ethan Calvert is a four-star recruit, one of the highest-rated recruits ever to commit to the Utes and one who could possibly play this year. Weber State’s Sherwin Lavaka is an All-Big Sky linebacker.
I’m counting on Utah punter Jared March, who punted in two games at the end of 2020, to live up to the Utes’ reputation of stellar punters. Weber State’s Josh Davis can do it all, including being an electrifying return man, and Utah State’s Connor Coles was solid last year and named the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week last season — plus, he has a great last name.
The secondary and offensive line were my focus early, as the talent level in the state is very top heavy there, and I feel I got very good players in Utah cornerback Clark Phillips, BYU center James Empey and Utah safety Vonte Davis with my first three picks.
- Logan Bonner, USU QB
- Chris Curry, Utah RB
- Devaughn Vele, Utah WR
- Samson Nacua, BYU WR
- Cole Fotheringham, Utah TE
- Dallin Holker, BYU TE
- James Empey, BYU OL
- Blake Freeland, BYU OL
- Braeden Daniels, Utah OL
- Quazzel White, USU OL
- Noah Atagi, Weber State OL
- Maxs Tupai, Utah DL
- Marcus Moore, USU DL
- Lorenzo Fauatea, BYU DL
- Patrick Joyner Jr., USU DL
- Nephi Sewell, Utah LB
- Payton Wilgar, BYU LB
- Max Tooley, BYU LB
- Mason Tufaga, Utah LB
- Clark Phillips, Utah CB
- D’Angelo Mandell, BYU CB
- Vonte Davis, Utah S
- Jadon Redding, Utah K
- Skyler Southam, Utah P
- Caleb Christensen, BYU Ret.
I chose to draft as if I’m running a 4-4, and getting BYU’s D’Angelo Mandell a little bit later in the draft as a third defensive back was sneakily one of my best picks. I would consider my offensive line as a whole unproven but with lots of potential.
Utah State’s Logan Bonner might be an unknown at quarterback locally, but barring a pretty big surprise in my view, he’ll be the starter, making him probably the safest signal caller pick. In other words, I was just fine when Utah’s Charlie Brewer and BYU’s Jaren Hall went off the board.
Tight end is a very deep position group in the state relative to the number of players who play that position, but after some of the top wide receivers went off the board, I decided to make it a big strength of my team by picking two in Utah’s Cole Fotheringham and BYU’s Dallin Holker. Fotheringham will get overshadowed by Brant Kuithe and Holker probably will by Isaac Rex, but I’m happy with having both players on my team.
I think the wide receivers I did get have the potential to be very productive. Utah’s DeVaughn Vele had an excellent spring, and BYU’s Samson Nacua proved he is solid throughout a long stay at Utah. Running back is a huge question mark all over the state, so I feel about as good with Utah’s Chris Curry, a transfer from LSU, as I would have anyone save BYU’s Tyler Allgeier.
A little bit like my offensive line, my defensive line should be solid, but it also has some guys like Utah State’s Marcus Moore and Patrick Joyner Jr., who transferred from Power Five programs and are looking to prove themselves. Rounding things out at linebacker, that position group is also very strong in the state, and I feel I will have good production from Utah’s Nephi Sewell and BYU’s Payton Wilgar and Max Tooley, and I’m also banking on highly-touted Utah freshman Mason Tufaga to make an early impact.
On special teams, I’m still a believer in Utah’s Skyler Southam at punter. He was a very highly touted kicker in high school before not making much of an impact at BYU and transferring to Utah. I also am confident in Utah kicker Jadon Redding, and am looking to BYU return man Caleb Christensen to be solid in his second season in Provo.
If there is one thing that has been proven time and again in college football, it is that games are won in the trenches. Yes, offense has exploded in recent years, rendering overall defense less important, but the teams that win are still the ones that can protect their own quarterback and get after the opposition’s. So that is where my focus was throughout the early stages of the draft.
- Cam Rising, Utah QB
- T.J. Pledger, Utah RB
- Theo Howard, Utah WR
- Jaylen Dixon, Utah WR
- Justin McGriff, USU WR
- Deven Thompkins, USU WR
- Nick Ford, Utah OL
- Alfred Edwards, USU OL
- Demytrick Ali’ifua, USU OL
- Harris LaChance, BYU OL
- Maisen Knight, USU OL
- Mika Tafua, Utah DE
- Viane Moala, Utah DT
- Tennessee Pututau, Utah DL
- Byron Vaughns, USU DL
- La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis, SUU LB
- Keenan Pili, BYU LB
- JaTravis Broughton, Utah CB
- Kyle Mayberry, USU CB
- Isaiah Herron, BYU CB
- Chaz Ah You, BYU S
- Preston Smith, Weber State S
- Manny Berz, SUU K
- Stephen Kotsanlee, USU P
- Rashid Shaheed, Weber State Ret.
My first three picks were linemen — Utah’s Nick Ford, Mika Tafua and Viane Moala — not to mention six of my first seven selections. Most of those were picks on the defensive side of the ball — Utah State’s Byron Vaughns is a Texas transfer who is largely expected to be a breakout pass rusher in the Mountain West this season — though the selection of Utah State’s Alfred Edwards gave me a player who has made 29 consecutive starts at left tackle, to pair with the state’s best offensive lineman in Ford.
In the pass-heavy modern era, the 4-2-5 is arguably the most effective defensive scheme, so that informed a lot of my decisions on defense. I took Utah cornerback JaTravis Broughton and BYU safety Chaz Ah You early on to anchor my secondary. Weber State safety Preston Smith is a returning FCS All-American, and Utah State’s Hunter Reynolds — a Michigan transfer — and BYU’s Isaiah Herron both have untapped potential.
Linebacker in a 4-2-5 has to be manned by productive and athletic sure-tacklers, and that is exactly what I got in SUU’s All-American La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis. BYU’s Keenan Pili is much less proven, but the athleticism is there.
On offense, my goal was to be overpowering, so along with Ford and Edwards, I added Utah State center Demytrick Ali’ifua — an All-Mountain West honoree, Ali’ifua has started 19 consecutive games — Liberty transfer Maisen Knight (USU) and BYU’s Harris LaChance. All five lineman are at least 6-3, 300-plus pounds, with four standing 6-5 or taller.
Utah running back TJ Pledger was my first skill position player selected, and by all accounts the Oklahoma transfer has the chance to be the next great Ute running back.
My emphasis on linemen cost me in the hunt for quarterbacks as I missed out on more proven commodities, but Utah’s Cameron Rising has all the potential in the world. He just needs to stay on the field.
I went the four wide receiver route, eschewing a tight end in favor of a more spread attack. Oklahoma transfer Theo Howard isn’t officially on Utah’s roster just yet, but he has the potential to be the Utes’ best pass catcher. Throw in the dynamic deep ball threats of Utah’s Jaylen Dixon and Utah State’s Deven Thompkins, plus Utah State’s giant Justin McGriff — the Tampa native is 6-6 — and I believe that I have a diversified enough receiving corps to give defense’s problems.
As for special teams, SUU’s Manny Berz was an All-Big Sky placekicker, and USU punter Stephen Kotsanlee was one of the Aggies’ few bright spots in a miserable 2020 season. Throw in dynamic Weber State return man Rashid Shaheed and I walked away feeling that not only had I put together a great special teams unit, but arguably the best overall team.
In building my fantasy lineup, I was trying to load the team with several experienced leaders combined with a handful of young, talented players who could surprise in 2021. For the most part, I believe I accomplished that.
The clear strengths on my team include a fearsome linebacking group, a balanced offensive line and standout special teams.
- Jaren Hall, BYU QB
- Tyler Allgeier, BYU RB
- Puka Nacua, BYU WR
- Neil Pau’u, BYU WR
- Chase Roberts, BYU WR
- Isaac Rex, BYU TE
- Jaren Kump, Utah OL
- Simi Moala, Utah OL
- Ty Whitworth, Weber State OL
- Braxton Jones, SUU OL
- Joe Tukuafu, BYU OL
- Nick Heninger, USU DL
- Uriah Leiataua, BYU DL
- Van Fillinger, Utah DL
- Devin Kaufusi, Utah DL
- Devin Lloyd, Utah LB
- Justin Rice, USU LB
- Conner Mortensen, Weber State LB
- Eddie Heckard, Weber State CB
- Faybian Marks, Utah CB
- Brandon McKinney, Utah S
- Shaq Bond, USU S
- Jake Oldroyd, BYU K
- Ryan Rehkow, BYU P
- Savon Scarver, USU Ret.
Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd, an All-American candidate who’s arguably the best player in the state this year, was at the top of my draft board. With him as my first selection, I built the defense around a strong linebacking corps that included Utah State’s Justin Rice, a talented transfer who’s known for making big plays, and Weber State All-American ‘backer Conner Mortensen.
Veteran guys like USU defensive end Nick Heninger, Utah defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi, Utah State safety Shaq Bond and Weber State cornerback Eddie Heckard helped add experience at key positions. The rest of the defense is built on unproven players who could shine this season, including BYU defensive end Uriah Leiataua, Utah pass rusher Van Fillinger, Utah cornerback Faybian Marks and Utes safety Brandon McKinney, a transfer from Washington.
The priority offensively was to build a stout line. That starts with Utah offensive tackles Jaren Kump and Simi Moala, then I added two FCS level All-Americans in Weber State’s Ty Whitworth and Southern Utah’s Braxton Jones, with BYU’s Joe Tukuafu at center — yes, he’s the backup in Provo, but he’s played well in limited opportunities.
At the skill positions, BYU running back Tyler Allgeier was a no-brainer after his breakout 2020 season, and there’s solid value in Cougar wide receivers Puka Nacua — the Washington transfer — and Neil Pau’u, though with Chase Roberts, I’m expecting he’ll be a quick study and work into the rotation. At tight end, BYU’s Isaac Rex shined as a freshman last year, and he should do so again in 2021.
That left just quarterback, a tough decision with the amount of quarterback competitions going on around the state this year at the FBS level. Ultimately, though, BYU’s Jaren Hall was intriguing, given his dual-threat abilities, though it’s a risk considering his injury history.
As for special teams? I felt great coming away with BYU kicker Jake Oldroyd, a 2020 Lou Groza finalist, Cougar punter Ryan Rehkow and Utah State All-American returner Savon Scarver. Yes, I’m the guy who was first to pick special teams, and I’d do it again.
Here’s a side-by-side comparisons of the teams:
|Team Trent||Team Brandon||Team Ryan||Team Joe|
|Cam Rising, Utah QB||Jaren Hall, BYU QB||Logan Bonner, USU QB||Charlie Brewer, Utah QB|
|T.J. Pledger, Utah RB||Tyler Allgeier, BYU RB||Chris Curry, Utah RB||Lopini Katoa, BYU RB|
|Theo Howard, Utah WR||Puka Nacua, BYU WR||Devaughn Vele, Utah WR||Britain Covey, Utah WR|
|Jaylen Dixon, Utah WR||Neil Pau’u, BYU WR||Samson Nacua, BYU WR||Gunner Romney, BYU WR|
|Justin McGriff, USU WR||Chase Roberts, BYU WR||Cole Fotheringham, Utah TE||Solomon Enis, Utah WR|
|Deven Thompkins, USU WR||Isaac Rex, BYU TE||Dallin Holker, BYU TE||Brant Kuithe, Utah TE|
|Nick Ford, Utah OL||Jaren Kump, Utah OL||James Empey, BYU OL||Connor Pay, BYU OL|
|Alfred Edwards, USU OL||Simi Moala, Utah OL||Blake Freeland, BYU OL||Clark Barrington, BYU OL|
|Demytrick Ali'ifua, USU OL||Ty Whitworth, Weber State OL||Braeden Daniels, Utah OL||Chandler Dolphin, USU OL|
|Harris LaChance, BYU OL||Braxton Jones, SUU OL||Quazzel White, USU OL||Wyatt Bowles, USU OL|
|Maisen Knight, USU OL||Joe Tukuafu, BYU OL||Noah Atagi, Weber State OL||Satatoa Laumea, Utah OL|
|Mika Tafua, Utah DE||Nick Heninger, USU DL||Maxs Tupai, Utah DL||Gabe Summers, BYU DL|
|Viane Moala, Utah DT||Uriah Leiataua, BYU DL||Marcus Moore, USU DL||Tyler Batty, BYU DL|
|Tennessee Pututau, Utah DL||Van Fillinger, Utah DL||Lorenzo Fauatea, BYU DL||George Tarlas, Weber State DL|
|Byron Vaughns, USU DL||Devin Kaufusi, Utah DL||Patrick Joyner Jr., USU DL||Hauati Pututau, Utah DL|
|La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis, SUU LB||Devin Lloyd, Utah LB||Nephi Sewell, Utah LB||Moroni Anae, Utah LB|
|Keenan Pili, BYU LB||Justin Rice, USU LB||Payton Wilgar, BYU LB||Ethan Calvert, Utah LB|
|JaTravis Broughton, Utah CB||Conner Mortensen, Weber State LB||Max Tooley, BYU LB||Sherwin Lavaka, Weber State LB|
|Kyle Mayberry, USU CB||Eddie Heckard, Weber State CB||Mason Tufaga, Utah LB||George Udo, BYU CB|
|Isaiah Herron, BYU CB||Faybian Marks, Utah CB||Clark Phillips, Utah CB||Malone Mataele, Utah DB|
|Chaz Ah You, BYU S||Brandon McKinney, Utah S||D’Angelo Mandell, BYU CB||Kamo'i Latu, Utah S|
|Preston Smith, Weber State S||Shaq Bond, USU S||Vonte Davis, Utah S||Malik Moore, BYU S|
|Special Teams||Special Teams||Special Teams||Special Teams|
|Manny Berz, SUU K||Jake Oldroyd, BYU K||Jadon Redding, Utah K||Conner Coles, USU K|
|Stephen Kotsanlee, USU P||Ryan Rehkow, BYU P||Skyler Southam, Utah P||Jared March, Utah P|
|Rashid Shaheed, Weber State Ret.||Savon Scarver, USU Ret.||Caleb Christensen, BYU Ret.||Josh Davis, Weber State Ret.|