Utah concluded National Signing Day in 2016 by hauling in one of the team's most talented recruiting classes yet. The Utes addressed many needs at the offensive skill positions and grew even deeper along the defensive line – already traditionally an area of strength for the program.
“"I'm real excited about this class,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I thought our assistant coaches did an outstanding job of evaluating and targeting the right guys. We won some crucial head-to-head battles with some stiff competition.”
Utah doesn't look like it is going to take a step back in the Pac-12 any time soon with the talent joining the program. Here are five things that stand out about the Utes' 2016 recruiting class:
1. Utah has even more strength in the trenches
Utah is already blessed with tons of talent up front on both sides of the ball. It got even better on Wednesday.
The Utes reeled in standouts like Leki Fotu and Keaton Bills to add to their defensive line. Fotu led Herriman (Utah) to its first Class 5A state title in 2015. He totaled 79 tackles and 9.5 sacks as a senior for the Mustangs. Bills accumulated 141 tackles and eight sacks at Corner Canyon (Utah). He totaled 69 tackles and six sacks in his senior season alone.
On the offensive line, the Utes landed Garrett Boles, Scott Peck and Johnny Maea. Coming out of Snow (Utah) College, Bolles was rated the no. 1 junior college lineman in the nation for 2016. Maea anchored an offensive line at in-state prep powerhouse East that produced a state-record 5,509 rushing yards and a Utah Class 4A title for the Panthers in 2015. Scout rated Peck as the top offensive lineman in Washington in the 2016 class.
2. Quarterback talent received a major upgrade
Finding out who will succeed Travis Wilson in running Utah's offense in 2016 is sure to produce a healthy battle in spring ball. The Utes snagged a pair of impressive quarterbacks who both possess potential to get the job done.
Troy Williams threw for 2,750 yards 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions last season at Santa Monica (Calif.) College. Williams, who began his career at Washington, was the No. 1-ranked junior college quarterback in the 2016 class. Joining him is freshman Tyler Huntley, the Florida Player of the Year in 2015. Huntley passed for 3,636 yards and 42 touchdowns as a senior at Hallandale Beach.
Both players signed with Utah early and enrolled in classes in January.
3. Florida pipeline runs strong for Utah
Having assistant head coach Dennis Erickson on staff has really altered the recruiting landscape for Utah. The Utes are mining the Sunshine State and bringing in upgrades to speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball.
Donovan Thompson promises to be a disruptive playmaker in the mold of Gionni Paul at linebacker. Thompson led Miami Central to four Florida state championships. He accumulated 135 tackles and 11 sacks as a senior and led all Miami-Dade County schools with 167 tackles as a junior in 2014.
A pair of running backs from Florida will have a shot to earn time in Utah's backfield. Zach Moss comes to the Utes fresh off a senior season at Hallandale where he rushed for 1,098 yards and 17 touchdowns on 145 carries. Devonta'e Henry-Cole averaged 11.8 yards per carry as a junior at Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas before joining Utah. Henry-Cole showed blazing speed while also competing on the track team, posting a personal best of 10.87 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
4. Winning is breeding recruiting success
Utah won many more head-to-head recruiting battles with other Pac-12 schools than in past seasons. Because of that, the Utes drew in a recruiting class ranked in the top 40 by both Scout and Rivals, and came in at No. 37 in Athlon Sports’ consensus team rankings.
One key to success in recruiting battles is on-the-field results. Utah has finished as a top-25 team each of the past two seasons. The Utes have posted a combined 19-7 record over that stretch. Winning and contending in the Pac-12 South has helped Utah sway more talent to Salt Lake City.
“We attribute a lot of our success to the way we're trending,” Whittingham said. “We won nine games two years ago and we won 10 games last year. The recruits understand we're trending in the right direction and a lot of those guys want to be a part of what's coming next.”
5. Utah is having success targeting junior college talent
Devontae Booker offered a good example over the past two seasons for why Utah dips into the JUCO ranks during each recruiting cycle. Booker turned out to be a powerful runner who carried the offense on his shoulders at plenty of critical moments.
Utah has plenty of JUCO talent in the 2016 class that can be difference-makers in the same vein. The aforementioned Bolles and Williams, along with linebacker David Luafatasaga, wide receiver Alec Dana and punter Mitch Wishnowsky are all expected to play major roles for the Utes in the upcoming season.
— 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.