Utah Football: Ranking the top-10 Utes players of all-time
Utah, especially in the last three decades, has produced a bevy of NFL draft picks and talented college players. Current Utah alumni in the NFL have led their teams to the playoffs (Alex Smith), looked like future defensive stalwarts (Star Lotuleilei, Paul Kruger) and anchor defensive secondaries (Eric Weddle, Sean Smith). With that in mind, here's our ranking of the 10 best Utes of all-time, based on longevity and impact at the collegiate level, not necessarily play in the NFL:
10. Kevin Dyson, Wide Receiver, 1994-1997
Dyson was a consistent and explosive weapon for the Utah offense for four seasons, playing at least 11 games in each. After his freshman year, he racked up at least 700 yards receiving per season and averaged at least 13.5 yards per catch per season in his time as a Ute. The Utes had winning seasons in three of his four years at the school, with his best coming in 1996, when he caught 53 balls for 812 yards and eight touchdowns. Dyson went on to become the 16th pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, among the highest picks in school history and was the protagonist in one of the best game-ending plays in NFL history.
9. Harold Lusk, Defensive Back, 1993-1996
Lusk was incredibly versatile and athletic with the Utes, with the skills to play quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kick returner and defensive back, where he starred for Utah. Lusk was a ball hawk, intercepting 16 passes in his three seasons as a starter, returning one for a touchdown. He remains the career interception leader at Utah with 19.
8. Jordan Gross, Offensive Tackle, 1999-2002
Gross redshirted his first season and played a limited role the following year, but went on to become arguably the best lineman in school history the following three seasons. In 2000 and 2001, he started all 23 games and played at left guard, right tackle and left tackle, showing the quickness and versatility to fill out several positions on the line. As a junior anchor of the offensive line, the Utes collectively surrendered only five sacks the entire season. However, his best and last season came in 2002, when Gross stood as an impenetrable wall at left tackle, not allowing a single sack and earning recognition as a first-team All-American. He went on to be the eighth overall pick in the 2003 draft, earning three Pro Bowl selections before retiring this off-season.
7. Brian Johnson, Quarterback, 2004-2008
Johnson was Alex Smith's backup in the undefeated season of 2004 and took the reigns the following season for Utah. Besides redshirting the 2006 season for a knee injury, Johnson started the 2005, 2007 and 2008 seasons, becoming the winningest quarterback in Utah history with a 26-7 record. He steadily improved with each season, finishing the 2006 season as the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl MVP. However, his true mark on the Utes program came in his final season in 2008, when he racked up nearly 3,000 yards passing and 27 touchdown passes. He also showed up big in arguably the most important game in Utah history, rolling for 336 yards and three touchdowns in the upset of Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
6. Bryan Rowley, Wide Receiver, 1989-1993
Rowley is the top receiver in program history for the Utes, producing in each season at Utah and leading the team in receiving yards in three different seasons. He led the nation in receiving yards per catch in 1990, racking up a whopping 27.2 yards per reception with five touchdowns. His best year came in 1991, however, when Rowley rolled for 1,011 yards on 60 receptions and 12 touchdowns, averaging 17.5 yards per catch as a big play threat whenever he touched the ball. He's the all-time leader in receiving yards for the Utes with 3,141, ahead of Dyson by 400 yards.
5. Eddie Johnson, RB, 1984-1988
Several talented runners have come through Utah, but none come close to Johnson's 3,219 yards for the Utes. He was a centerpiece of the offense instantaneously, rushing for 1,021 uards and seven touchdowns in his first season with a huge 6.5 yards per carry. He was dominant again in his junior season, rolling for 1,046 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, with three more receiving touchdowns and a total of 1,246 yards from scrimmage. He closed out his career with 748 yards rushing and a huge 12 rushing touchdowns in 1988, adding three more passing touchdowns for a total of 15 and 1,067 yards from scrimmage. Johnson was a dual threat out of the backfield and a bellcow for the Utes offense.
4. Scott Mitchell, QB, 1987-1989
Mitchell is somewhat of a forgotten man in Utes history compared with Brian Johnson and Alex Smith, but it's Mitchell who holds the all-time record for passing yards at Utah with 8,981. Mitchell was dominant in his final two seasons, tossing 60 touchdowns to 34 interceptions with a combined 7,533 passing yards. The Utes didn't have much team success in those few years despite the presence of Mitchell and Rowley in 1989, but Mitchell was a difference maker all on his own.
3. Luther Elliss, DT, 1991-1994
Elliss may be the most consistently dominant defensive lineman in Utah history among a bevy of historical talent. He made an immediate impact, collecting 24 tackles, three sacks and one tackle for loss in 1991 and continued to get better every season. In 1992, he had 87 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and two sacks, with 50 tackles, 10 sacks and three tackles for loss in 1993. However, 1994 was his best overall season, as he racked up 78 tackles, nine tackles for loss and four sacks to help the Utes to the program's best season to date. Overall, he had 239 tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 19 sacks at Utah, earning him a first-team All American and WAC Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994.
2. Alex Smith, QB, 2002-2004
Smith's career at Utah started off slowly in 2002 with game action against only San Diego State and New Mexico, but he'd go on to have the best career under center in Utes history. Although he's only fifth all-time in passing yardage, he executed Urban Meyer's offense to near perfection, leading Utah to a 21-1 record as a starter. Smith finished his last season at Utah with 2,952 yards passing and 32 touchdowns to only four interceptions, while also rushing for 10 touchdowns. He led the Utes to an undefeated season in 2004, carrying the program into a new era of prominence and respectability.
1. Eric Weddle, DB, 2003-2006
No one, offensively or defensively, has had as much of an impact on the field as Eric Weddle. Before the end of his collegiate career, he saw time at safety, cornerback, kick returner, punt returner, punter, running back and even quarterback. Weddle started immediately as a freshman, forcing four fumbles, grabbing three interceptions and collecting four sacks, 60 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. The following season, he started 11 games, racking up 75 tackles, four interceptions and returned 20 punts for 210 yards to help the Utes to an undefeated season. In 2005, He earned his first Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year award, starting 12 games and grabbing four interceptions, 11 tackles for loss, 78 tackles and three forced fumbles. He also returned 24 punts, rushed for 35 yards and a touchdown and punted twice. However, 2006 was his best performance yet. He was named a consensus All-American and Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the second time after making 64 tackles, seven interceptions, two interception returns for touchdowns, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. On offense, he rushed for 203 yards and five touchdowns, while adding a passing touchdown and 43 yards through the air. Weddle is one of the most versatile players in college football history and helped the Utes win games in every conceivable fashion. He's earned the top spot on this list and runs away with the best Utah player of all-time distinction.
Twitter: @BrennanJSmith Utes who made an NFL impact that didn't make this list:
• Steve Smith
• Larry Wilson
• Jamal Anderson
• Star Lotuleilei
• Paul Kruger