Photo: Kelli Nakagama, The Utah Review
If you didn't follow recruiting and only watched college football and the NFL Draft you would think the Utes must be reeling in dozens of 4 & 5 star recruits every year. How could they not be? They lead the Pac-12 in wins from 2014-2019 with 55. They have had 26 players drafted to the NFL from 2015-2020. A staggering number that is also #1 in the Pac-12.
So how has Utah recruited? Since joining the Pac-12, their conference recruiting ranking has been 7th or worse 7 times. From 2012-2018, the Utes signed just 13 4/5 stars total. For comparison, USC (The Pac-12 recruiting juggernaut) has brought in 97 4/5 stars from 2012-2018.
Based on this data, USC should be blowing Utah out of the water when it comes to NFL Draft picks and wins. But, the opposite is true. Utah boasts 55 wins from 2014-2019 while USC has won 51 games. Utah has had 21 players drafted over the past 4 years while USC has had 15 in the same span.
What does player development look like? Utah has had 12 players drafted in the past 2 years. Here is their 247 Composite national ranking when coming out of high school:
Jaylon Johnson - 81
Julian Blackmon - 935
Zack Moss - 1100
Terrell Burgess - 1038
Leki Fotu - 575
Bradlee Anae - 1409
John Penisini - Not Ranked
Marquise Blair - 519
Cody Barton - 835
Mitch Wishnowsky - Not Ranked
Matt Gay - Not Ranked
Jackson Barton - 250
Among these 12 players, only Jaylon Johnson and Jackson Barton could be perceived as potentially likely NFL draft picks when coming out of high school.
For comparison, here are the 247 Composite rankings of USC's 6 NFL draft picks over the past 2 years:
Austin Jackson - 59
Michael Pittman - 35
Chuma Edoga - 26
Iman Marshall - 4
Marvell Tell - 59
Cameron Smith - 183
You can see that there is a huge difference between the athletes that Utah and USC are bringing in out of high school.
Utah is overcoming that perceived "talent gap" through outstanding player evaluation during the recruiting process and even better player development once they get the recruit on campus. Utah's 2 and 3 star players always seem to bring a toughness and dedication that allows them to outwork their competition, win games and then often eventually surpass the nation's 4/5 star prospects when it comes to the NFL Draft.
Kyle Whittingham and his staff are making one thing clear: If you want to play in the NFL and win football games there might not be a better place to do it than the University of Utah.