The 2011 season was Utah’s first in the Pac 12 conference after spending more than a decade playing football in the Mountain West. Even with a step up in competition, the team, led by Head Coach Kyle Whittingham, achieved modest success, finishing the season with an 8-5 record and a Sun Bowl win over Georgia Tech. Unfortunately, a loss to Colorado in the final game of the regular season cost the Utes a berth in the Conference Championship Game, and allowed UCLA to play for the title despite its .500 record. This season, Utah looks to rebound from that disappointment with a team led by two stars who arrived at the school by way of the junior college ranks. One of them may even work his way into top five consideration in April’s draft. Here is a look at Utah’s top draft eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Star Lotulelei DT 6’4 320 – Then a 245 defensive end, Lotulelei committed to BYU out of high school back in 2007. But after failing to qualify academically, he sat out an entire season before enrolling at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah in 2008. Once at Snow, Lotulelei played a season of football, then sat out the 2009 season while still taking classes at the school. By the time he came to Utah in 2010, Lotulelei had bulked up to over 300 pounds. He played in every game that season and started the final three. He finished the year with 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. In 2011, Lotulelei became a full time starter. He was a run stopping force in the middle of the Utes’ defense, totaling 44 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Lotulelei was even on the receiving end of a fake punt-pass against Cal that resulted in a 17-yard gain. After the season, he was named first team All-Pac 12, and the conference’s best defensive lineman. Lotulelei is an enormous man. He will routinely command double, and even triple-team blocks from the offense. He often collapses the pocket by driving opposing linemen right back into the face of the quarterback. He has good anticipation and is quick off the ball for a man of his size, but he will sometimes get caught over-pursuing the ball carrier. At this time, he’s also not much of a pass rusher. He relies on his brute strength and doesn’t show a great variety of moves. But this is a player still learning how to use his size and play his position. With the benefit of NFL coaching he could turn into a dominant player for years to come. Lotulelei will attract attention in the early part of Round One of the draft for the simple fact that players with his size and athletic ability don’t come around very often.
John White IV RB 5’8 188 – White’s post-high school career began at Los Angeles Harbor Community College, where he holds the school’s career rushing record. In his first season with the Utes, White carried 316 times for 1520 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns, and was named second team All-Pac 12. White has excellent speed and can make people miss in the open field. It’s clear that he can carry a heavy workload, and he runs with a physical style not typically seen in a player his size. This may lead to durability issues as he takes on bigger NFL defenders, but he’s a fearless runner and doesn’t seem intimidated no matter who he’s facing. He carried the ball more than 30 times in a game four times last season, topping out with 42 carries in a win over Washington State. He logged more than 25 carries in a game six times, and more than 20 on eight occasions. White has been rarely used as a receiver, and his small stature will make pass protection an issue. For all of his workhorse-type efforts at Utah, he doesn’t translate to an every-down back in the NFL. Still, White’s tough running style, quickness and agility make him a legitimate NFL prospect who could come off the board as early as the middle of Day Three of the draft.
DeVonte Christopher WR 6’1 200 – Christopher was a high school quarterback who threw for over 3000 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior. He took a redshirt in 2008 and played quarterback on the school’s scout team. As a freshman, Christopher mainly saw action on special teams. In 2010 he became a starter, caught 39 passes for 660 yards and six touchdowns, and was named honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference. Last season, as a junior, Christopher caught 42 passes for 663 yards and five touchdowns, despite missing a pair of games with an ankle injury. Christopher doesn’t have great speed, but he’s a good athlete with experience covering and returning kicks. He has a chance to catch on as a priority free agent and develop into a reliable role player over the next few years.
Also keep an eye on: Tevita Stevens C 6’3 300, Dave Kruger DT 6’5 300, Luke Matthews WR 6’2 206, Ryan Lacy CB 5’9 186