Climbing the ladder in the Pac-12 hasn't been limited to results on the field for Utah. The Utes are making equal upward strides in recruiting.
Utah brought in its highest ranked class in school history in 2017. The Utes added several players poised to make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball. Utah, in particular, shored up depleted depth in the secondary and feature several players who have the explosiveness and vision to make the defensive backfield an area of strength in the upcoming season.
Here's a closer look at five new Utah football players who could make a name for themselves during the 2017 season:
5 Newcomers for the Utah Utes to Watch in 2017
1. Corrion Ballard, DB
Filling the void left behind by Marcus Williams should be much easier with Ballard in the fold. The 6-foot-3 safety has the size and speed to be a monster in coverage. Ballard isn't afraid to hit and has a knack for zeroing in on the ball and making disruptive plays. He totaled 41 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble during his sophomore season at Blinn College (Tex.) in 2016.
2. Jaylon Johnson, DB
Johnson is the type of athlete that can neutralize all sorts of tall and speedy receivers on the outside. He has a 40-yard dash time of 4.47 seconds and a 38' 3” vertical jump. The 6-foot-1 defensive back made a name for himself at Central High (Calif), earning offers from a legion of schools including USC, Oklahoma and Nebraska before choosing the Utes. Johnson could step in and start at corner right away during his first season.
3. Bryan Thompson, WR
Thompson promises to be the sort of playmaker that can take Utah's offense to a higher level. The 6-foot-2 receiver has the height and speed to stretch the field, making him a truly dynamic threat on the outside. He runs clean routes and is a skilled blocker. Over his final two seasons at Rancho Verde High (Calif.), Thompson totaled 2,636 yards and 27 touchdowns on 135 receptions. He has the ability to step up and be a major contributor from day one.
4. Marquise Blair, LB/S
Blair has the right tools to be a disruptive force on defense. During his time at Dodge City College (Kan.), he played at outside linebacker and earned first-team NJCAA All-American honors as a sophomore. He totaled 100 tackles – including 24 tackles for loss – in 2016 to go along with three sacks, four interceptions, five pass breakups, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a fumble return for a touchdown. Blair has enough versatility to play either safety or linebacker.
5. John Penisini, DL
There's never a shortage of defensive line standouts at Utah and Penisini is the latest player who could thrive up front for the Utes. The 6-foot-3 sophomore fits the mold of past defensive lineman who have excelled in the program. He's physical and athletic and knows how to make his presence known on practically every down. Penisini totaled 40 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks at Snow College (Utah) in 2015. He also totaled 92 tackles and six sacks during his senior season at West Jordan High (Utah) in 2014.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.