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5 Things We Learned About Utah After National Signing Day 2017

Kyle Whittingham

Kyle Whittingham

Could Utah's 2017 recruiting class turn out to be the strongest one ever for the Pac-12 school?

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Coaches across the nation love to hype up National Signing Day successes. In the case of the Utes, such bragging may be warranted. Utah aggressively targeted needs in position groups depleted by graduation and early departures to the NFL.

The result is a 2017 recruiting class that ranked among the top 40 nationally by all major scouting services. Rivals ranked Utah's class 25th overall, Scout had the the Utes 33rd, and 247Sports placed Utah 37th.

“We feel like we really got some difference makers in this class,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We are really excited about getting the opportunity to get to work with them.”

What does this mean for the Utes heading into the 2017 season? Utah's latest signing class offers a tantalizing sneak peek at what lies ahead.

1. Utah filled holes in the secondary

Chase Hansen is the only full-time starter returning in the secondary for Utah in 2017. For many teams, that could be a huge problem – especially in a conference filled with potent offenses. The story is just the opposite for the Utes. Utah may not have a ton of experience in the defensive backfield to start the 2017 season, but the Utes are flush with talent after signing four 4-star prospects.

Corrion Ballard and Tareke Lewis both ranked among the nation's top junior college prospects at their positions. Ballard can easily step in at safety alongside Hansen to fill the void left by Marcus Williams. Ballard totaled 41 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble at Blinn (Texas) College last season. Lewis is an early favorite to lock down a starting spot after ranking as the no. 1 junior college cornerback in the nation. He had 16 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups for Riverside City (Calif.) College in 2016.

Joining them are Jaylon Johnson and Javelin Guidry. Johnson and Guidry will both be in the mix at cornerback as freshmen. They have the speed and agility to be dynamic defenders in coverage.

2. The Utes continue to have a strong JC pipeline

Many of Utah's top players in recent seasons – from Devontae Booker to Garrett Bolles – have come directly out of the junior college ranks. The Utes reloaded with talented JC transfers at multiple key positions.

Ballard and Lewis, as mentioned earlier, are likely day one starters in the secondary with their speed and disruptive abilities in coverage. Marquese Blair gives Utah another option at strong safety.

Blair played outside linebacker at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College but he has the versatility to drop back into the secondary. Last season, as a sophomore, he totaled 99 tackles, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and five pass breakups.

Jordan Agasiva, who signed out of Pima (Ariz.) Community College, could help fill the void left by Bolles and others on the offensive line. Agasiva can play at right tackle or either guard spot. With a 6-foot-5 frame, he has the size and mobility to make it tough for any opposing lineman to get past him.

3. More weapons have been added to the passing game

The bulk of Utah's recruiting attention fell on rebuilding the secondary and shoring up the offensive line. Still, the Utes managed to reel in a few gems that could make it easier for new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor to get Utah's offense to finally climb the Pac-12 ladder during the upcoming season and beyond.

Jason Shelley has quarterback of the future potential written all over him. Shelley is one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks and seems tailor made for Taylor's playbook. In three seasons at Lone Star High in Frisco, Texas, he threw for 8,772 yards and 84 touchdowns. Over that same period, Shelley totaled 3,163 yards and 54 touchdowns on the ground.

Bryan Thompson and Tyquez Hampton are both promising receivers with tons of speed. Thompson totaled 2,636 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns on 135 catches over his final two seasons at Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley, California. Hampton had 1,551 yards and 19 touchdowns on 99 receptions over his final two seasons at El Dorado High in El Paso, Texas.

4. Utah shored up its offensive line

Strength in the trenches has allowed Utah to become a consistent contender in the Pac-12 South. The Utes did a good job addressing some holes left behind by former standouts like Isaac Asiata and Garrett Bolles.

It all starts with Agasiva. The junior turned heads in Arizona with his ability to anchor the line and provide reliable protection for quarterbacks. Utah also landed other quality linemen in Michael Richardson, Orlando Umana and Mo Unutoa. Richardson and Umana both saw time on the defensive line as well in high school. It has helped them develop great instincts on how to read defensive players and know where to create seams and gaps.

Richardson and Unutoa are both a bit undersized, but should have no trouble getting into the mix once they bulk up in the spring and over the summer.

5. Recruiting efforts are turning away from Florida

The retirement of assistant head coach Dennis Erickson is already having a profound effect on Utah's pipeline to Florida talent. Without Erickson in the fold, only one player with Florida roots signed with the Utes in 2017. Even that player, Tareke Lewis, came to Utah through Riverside Community College in California.

While Utah is turning away from Florida, the Utes are making inroads in other traditional talent-rich recruiting areas. Utah reeled in three recruits from Hawaii, marking the first serious incursion into that state in several years. Some of Utah's best offensive talent joined from Texas, thanks to receivers coach Guy Holladay and his extensive connections in the state.

— 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.