Well folks, we made it.
The wait is finally over as BYU fall camp practices are underway. As the team begins to prepare for the upcoming season it begs the question, what are the best position groups on the team this season?
To answer this question the crew here at Vanquish The Foe compiled a ranking. Individually, six of us ranked the team’s different position groups. From those, we were able to create a final ranking using the average rank for each position.
BYU has talent at the safety position but most of it is young and inexperienced. The job for strong safety is up for grabs heading into fall camp and there is a lot of valuable reps to be had for players to impress.
BYU’s safety positions are headlined by senior Malik Moore. Moore had a breakout season in 2021 and set himself apart from the rest of the safeties. Moore compiled 32 totals tackles, 3 passes breakups, and 3 interceptions. Moore will look to build on his great season in 2022. Hayden Livingston is slotted to back up Moore at free safety.
The question to be answered in fall camp is who the starting strong safety will be. Based off the depth chart released after spring ball it appears Ammon Hannemann will get the first crack at it. In 2021, Hannemann started four games and appeared in ten. Competing with Hannemann for strong safety will be Micah Harper and Talan Alfrey. Harper started in five games and played in nine during the 2020 season. After a promising freshman year he missed the 2021 season due to an injury suffered in spring ball. Alfrey also missed the 2021 season due to an achilles injury. Both players will compete with Hannemann for the strong safety position.
9. Defensive Line
Similarly to the safety group, there is a lot of inexperience when it comes to BYU’s defensive line. Most of the starters have had significant playing time but much of the depth behind those players is young and has not seen a lot of game action. The defensive line seems to be the most scrutinized position group by the fan base but there is some talent there that could get tapped into this season.
BYU’s defensive line is headlined by Tyler Batty. In 2021, Batty played in twelve games recording 43 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Batty is listed as the starter at defensive end and outside end. At both positions Batty is backed up by Alden Tofa. Tofa played in seven games in 2021 registering 7 tackles, 3 sacks, and 1 tackle for loss. They are joined by Fisher Jackson on the depth chart at both positions and freshman Aisea Moa at outside end.
Across the line, Earl Tuioti-Mariner is set to start at split end. Tuioti-Mariner played in all thirteen games during the 2022 season recording 25 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Behind Tuioti-Mariner are Black Mangelson and John Nelson. Mangelson played in seven games last season with 5 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Nelson played in all thirteen games last season with 12 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and half a sack.
At the nose tackle position, BYU will have Caden Haws as the starter. Haws started six games in 2021, playing in eleven. He posted 31 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 pass deflections, 1.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Josh Larsen is slated to back up Haws at nose tackle. He played in 3 games and recorded 1 tackle. Atunaisa Mahe is next on the depth chart along with freshman Joshua Singh. Mahe played in 12 games with 26 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and a sack.
At defensive tackle, Gabe Summers leads the way having started in thirteen games last season posting 24 tackles. After Summers on the depth chart is Lorenzo Fauatea who played in 5 games with 4 tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery before missing the rest of the season due to injury. Rounding out the DT depth chart is Alema Pilimai and Hunter Greer.
8. Special Teams (Kicking/Punting)
For the third consecutive season BYU will have the same tandem kicking the football with Jake Oldroyd kicking and Ryan Rehkow punting. For many years, special teams was an Achilles heel to BYU. This duo they have had for multiple seasons has really turned it around in the kicking department, much to the pleasure of BYU fans. Gone are the days where BYU fans would question whether the team should kick a field goal or go for it on 4th and 7 from the 30 yard line. Or whether or not BYU will be able to pin a team deep in their own end.
Over the past two season Oldroyd has made 22 of 26 field goals with a long of 54 yards. In 2021, Ryan Rehkow averaged 48.58 yards per punt, best for 5th among all college punters according to ESPN. As long as those two continue to kick the football BYU is in a good place on special teams.
7. Tight Ends
BYU has historically been a school that tight ends thrive at. However, in 2021 the production from the tight ends seemed to have taken quite the hit. Isaac Rex had a mostly disappointing year coming off an All-American season. He suffered a gruesome ankle injury to close out his 2021 season. Rex’s health will be a must watch as fall camp and the season progresses. Coach Sitake told media on Tuesday that Rex will be monitored on a “pitch count”.
If Rex is not ready to contribute to full capacity to start the season Dallin Holker is ready to fill in. Holker played in all thirteen games last season after returning home from his mission. He caught 14 passes for 200 yards and a score. Assuming Rex will not be given the majority of the snaps, at least to start the season, expect Holker to have a more elevated role and plan to grow on his 2021 season.
Other tight end depth includes Carter Wheat, Lane Lunt, Ethan Erickson, and Anthony Olsen.
The cornerback position is the strength of BYU’s secondary in 2022. BYU has multiple players that have been with the program and have quality game experience while also having multiple new players that will bring youth and athleticism to the position.
On the outside, starters from last season Kaleb Hayes and D’Angelo Mandell are set to continue to start in 2022. Last season, Hayes had 26 tackles with 12 pass breakups and Mandell had 36 tackles with a tackle for loss and 4 pass break ups.
As we go down the depth chart, Caleb Christensen and Gabe Jeudy-Lally are currently in the second string positions. Christensen has played in games the past two seasons including eight last season. He has also returned kicks for BYU. Jeudy-Lally is a new transfer this year from Vanderbilt. He played in 23 games over three seasons for the Commodores with 63 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions, a nice addition to the cornerback room.
The remainder of the outside depth at cornerback includes Evan Johnson, Korbyn Green, Zion Allen, Nate Gillis, and Chika Ebunoha. All five of these players are incoming freshman that have a lot of athletic ability to bring to the position.
At nickel corner, BYU has Jakob Robinson as the starter. Robinson, a transfer from Utah St in 2021, played in twelve games last year while starting five of them. He totaled 29 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. Behind Robinson, Jacob Boren and Caleb Christensen are noted as the backups. Boren played in all thirteen games during 2021 and had 20 tackles, a forced fumble, and 2 pass breakups.
5. Running Backs
BYU’s running back room might have the hardest task of all in 2022 in trying to make up for the loss of Tyler Allgeier who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2022 NFL Draft. Allgeier ran the ball 276 times for 1,601 yards and 23 touchdowns and also caught 28 passes for 199 receiving yards. That is a lot of touches, yards, and touchdowns that BYU’s running backs will need to try to replicate this upcoming season.
Christopher Brooks, a grad-transfer from Cal, is expected to be the starting running back come September 3rd. Brooks had injuries that limited his carries in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 but was the Bears best rusher for three seasons. He is a big, bruising runner and is expected to take the brunt of the load this upcoming season.
Lopini Katoa will be the back up to Brooks and will be expected to contribute in the run game and the passing game out of the backfield like he has his entire career with the Cougars.
After the top two, there are a lot of “or’s” on the depth chart. More specifically with Jackson McChesney, Miles Davis, and Hinckley Ropati. BYU fans have been hoping to see expanded roles for these three for a couple years and perhaps that is what will need to happen in order to replace the production of Allgeier. Other running backs on the team include Utah St transfer Enoch Nawahine, Beau Robinson, and Mason Fakahua.
As for fullback, Mason Wake will return and look to grow on his season last year. The tight end/fullback hybrid seems to have hurdled his way into a full time fullback. Wake will be joined by Stanford transfer Houston Heimuli. Heimuli is the son of former BYU fullback Lakei Heimuli who was the starting fullback on the 1984 National Championship team. Together, Wake and Heimuli will bring a lot of power out of the backfield.
BYU’s strength of the defense by far is their linebackers. The amount of talent and experience could rival almost any other position on the team as BYU could run seven or eight deep at linebacker. The depth should be improved on last year, which ended the season very banged up, and should provide a much needed anchor on the defensive side of the ball.
At WILL linebacker Ben Bywater is listed as the starter coming off a fantastic season. A starter in all thirteen games last year that racked up a team leading 102 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Bywater is poised to continue his success from 2021 into this upcoming season. Behind Bywater on the depth chart is Jackson Kaufusi and Josh Wilson. Kaufusi has appeared in multiple games per season over his BYU career with double digit tackles each year from 2019-2021.
At FLASH linebacker, Chaz Ah You and Max Tooley are both listed as starters. Both are very talented players that have a nose for the football. Ah You has had a roller coaster of a career at BYU. Switching back and forth from safety to linebacker and dealing with injuries almost ever season. It seems like they have found a happy medium with a linebacker hybrid role. With a talent like him, BYU hopes he can stay healthy because of what he brings to the defense. As for Tooley, he is just a hard nosed football player. Exactly the type of player BYU loves at the linebacker position. He was second on the team last year with 68 tackles, added on 5.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. With either of these players in the FLASH position, they can’t go wrong. Morgan Pyper is set to back up the two of them and add depth to the position.
At MIKE linebacker, BYU is getting a needed boost by getting Keenan Pili back from a season ending injury last season. The defense, and linebackers more specifically, were never quite the same after Pili went out after the Arizona State game. In just three games last year, Pili had 31 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. In a healthy season at the rate he was going, PIli would have lead the team in all three of those categories. That was a huge loss for the Cougars and will be a huge boost to the defense in 2022.
At ROVER, Payton Wilgar is set to be the starter in 2022. Wilgar has proven to be extremely athletic and provides a lot spark to the defense. Last season, he was third on the team with 57 tackles, including 7 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Wilgar also added 2 interceptions and has 5 picks in his college career. Wilgar was one of the many linebackers last season that suffered season ending injuries and with him back in the fold the BYU defense is in a much better place.
The quarterback position continues to be a strong point for BYU. Jaren Hall returns as the starter after having a fantastic 2021 season. For the first time in several seasons BYU will not be having a quarterback competition entering fall camp. Even Zach Wilson couldn’t say he never had that. In 2020, while he had the best shot at it, Aaron Roderick was very open about Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney having every opportunity to win the starting job. In 2021, Hall had to win the job over Romney. So for the first time in several seasons BYU has an incumbent starter heading into fall camp.
The loss in the quarterbacks room comes at the back up position. Baylor Romney is no longer with the program after graduating and landing a job at Adobe. There is an argument to be made that Romney was one of the best backup quarterbacks in the country. Appearing in sixteen games over his career while being undefeated in five games as the starter. Passing for 1,787 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. That is a lot of production and security at the position that is going to be missed.
As of right now, Jacob Conover is penciled in as the backup quarterback. Conover had high expectations coming out of high school being a 4-star recruit. In his limited playing time which mostly came in relief of Baylor Romney against Utah St, Conover looked a bit shaky and lacked confidence. A lot of that may have had to do with inexperience and being put under the lights without warning. Conover is still very talented and will continue to develop in an expanded role.
However, that expanded role won’t come without competition. Cade Fennegan, the Boise St transfer, missed all of spring ball due to injury and wasn’t able to compete for the back up role. Fennegan will get his chance during fall camp to win the spot.
2. Wide Receivers
BYU’s wide receivers might be the deepest they have ever been at the position in 2022. Jaren Hall will have no issues trying to find an open receiver. This room is very talented and has experienced players to lead the way with a few young guys looking to make a name for themselves.
The returning starters from last year are Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney. Nacua in his first season with the program lead all wide receivers with 805 receiving yards and tied for the lead with 6 receiving touchdowns. Nacua is expected to be BYU’s top receiver again this season and was named to the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award. Romney is returning for his fifth season with the Cougars and is expected to be one of the leaders alongside Nacua. If it weren’t for injuries Romney could have potentially rivaled Nacua in receiving yards last season. He finished with 594 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in eight games.
Keanu Hill is penciled in as the third starter among the receivers. Hill is expected to have a much larger role without Neil Pau’u and Samson Nacua ahead of him on the depth chart. In 2021, Hill caught 18 passes for 343 yards and 2 touchdowns.
At the two deep, BYU currently has Kody Epps, Chase Roberts, and Brayden Cosper. Epps was an All-American at Mater Dei in California. As a senior in high school, Epps caught 93 passes for 1,735 yards and 28 touchdowns. Chase Roberts, who grew up playing in BYU’s back yard at American Fork, was selected to play in the Under Armor All-American game his senior year. He is a player that BYU coaches were really excited about when he commit and could have a chance to show why this upcoming season. Brayden Cosper is a guy who has paid his dues at BYU. Seeing limited time for his first few seasons and then missing the entirety of last season due to injury. Cosper will look to have his best season while on the two deep of the depth chart.
Others looking to compete in fall camp for playing time are Chris Jackson, Hobbs Nyberg, Talmage Gunther, Terence Fall, Dom Henry, Kyson Hall, Parker Kingston, Kade Moore, Preston Rex, and Tanner Wall.
1. Offensive Line
To the surprise of nobody, BYU’s offensive line is the best position group on the team. They can run 10 guys deep this season without any significant drop off from player to player. BYU has what could be a Top 10 unit in all of college football.
At the tackle positions there are a lot of “or’s” looking at the depth chart. That indicates from BYU’s coaches perspective there is not much drop off, if any, from player to player. At left tackle, BYU has Blake Freeland, Kingsley Suamataia, and Campbell Barrington. Freeland will most likely be the starter to open the season. He has been revered as BYU’s best offensive lineman and some say best NFL prospect. At 6’8 and 310lbs it’s hard to not see why. At right tackle, BYU has Harris LaChance, Kingsley Suamataia, and Brayden Keim. Right tackle seems to be more up for grabs. LaChance and Keim both made starts there last season and could be named starters again but the player that could win the job is is Suamataia. The Oregon Ducks transfer was a 5-star recruit out of high school and could push for the starting spot opposite of Freeland. Either way, it seems BYU is not lacking talent at tackle.
At center it’s more of the same. According to the depth chart the starter could be Connor Pay or Joe Tukuafu. Both have played in a lot of games and have starting experience. It seems BYU can’t go wrong either way but expect Pay to start the season at center.
At the guard positions, Clark Barrington has the left spot locked up. He was one of the more decorated players returning along with Blake Freeland. Barrington started in all thirteen games last season and will be the starting left gaurd for 2022. Tyler Little is listed to be backup at the position. On the right side, both Joe Tukuafu and Campbell Barrington are listed. It seems to be another situation that BYU can’t go wrong. However, Tukuafu has the experience and the starts over Barrington. Expect him to be named the starter come September 3rd.