Utah landed the biggest commitment of its 2017 class just a few days before Halloween, proving that the recruiting trail can be more treat than trick when things are going right.
The Utes may be coming off a tough loss to No. 4 ranked Washington, but in all, it has been a good season in Salt Lake City. Utah is currently 7-2 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 South, only behind Colorado. The Utes still have a chance to remain in the race and make a push for the Pac-12 championship game, so Kyle Whittingham has to feel good about where his team is at.
Remember, the Utes went 10-3 last season with a win in the Las Vegas Bowl — their second LVB win in a row — and Utah’s 2016 recruiting class finished No. 37 nationally and No. 8 in the Pac-12.
Momentum. It’s an important thing on the recruiting trail and in the grand scheme of things, Utah has it.
That’s why it’s not surprising that Jaylon Johnson, four-star cornerback from Fresno, Calif. (Central East), decided to hitch his college football fate to Utah’s. Johnson committed to Utah on Oct. 28, and he instantly became the Utes’ top commitment.
He’s ranked as the No. 8 cornerback in the country as well as the No. 9 player from California, one of the most talent-rich states in the nation. To put that in perspective, the only players ranked above Johnson in California are five-star running back Najee Harris (Alabama), five-star weak-side defensive end Jaelan Phillips (UCLA), five-star cornerback Darnay Holmes (undecided), five-star wideout Joseph Lewis (undecided), five-star running back Stephen Carr (USC), five-star offensive guard Wyatt Davis (Ohio State), five-star tight end Colby Parkinson (Stanford) and four-star cornerback Thomas Graham (undecided).
California is a high school football talent factory, and Johnson’s name is among the most elite from the state. Not only that, but some of the top schools in college football have landed commitments in the Top 10 from the state, which goes to show how big of a commitment Johnson is for Utah.
He’s an elite recruit. Ranked as the No. 80 overall player in America and bestowed the honor of being a U.S. Army All-American, Johnson committed to Utah over the likes of Arizona State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Cal, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and USC, among others.
Utah must have really impressed Johnson, because he ended up committing just a few weeks after his official visit with the Utes. According to Ryan McDonald of Deseret News Sports, Johnson originally wanted to commit at the U.S. Army All-American bowl, but he moved up his commitment date. The bowl game is in January and its one of the more high-profile commitment spots for recruits, so the fact that Johnson moved his announcement up so drastically points to Utah really making an impression on him.
And according to his coach, Kyle Biggs, who spoke with McDonald, that appears to be the case.
“I know he really liked it out there,” Biggs said. “He liked the people, he liked the coaches, he liked the scheme they run defensively.”
If there is any hint of bad news surrounding Johnson’s commitment to the Utes, it’s that he played through an injury this fall, and McDonald reports that the injury was apparently bad enough that the cornerback will have to undergo surgery. Johnson is expected to have surgery on a torn labrum this week, though it doesn’t appear that will impact his ideas of playing early at Utah.
“If he had any intentions of redshirting, he wouldn’t be going in for surgery,” Biggs told McDonald.
Johnson is 6-foot-1, 177 pounds and he runs a Nike Verified 4.55 40-yard dash, which isn’t the fastest time you’ll see from a football player, but it’s right up there with the best of the best. That’s a nice blend of size and speed for a corner and both traits translate onto the football field.
Johnson has long, lanky legs and arms, which allow him to cover a lot of ground quickly as well as get his hands into passing lanes that “shorter” cornerbacks wouldn’t be able to find. He has great instincts as a cornerback and can be a ball hawk. He gets a quick break coming downhill and isn’t afraid to be physical.
Johnson is athletic enough to thrive in zone coverage where he may need to cover a bit more ground — he also played wideout for his high school, which points to his overall athleticism as a football player — but he can get up to the line of scrimmage and jam a receiver, and he’ll be tough to beat on-on-one because of his length and speed.
He projects to be a big-time cornerback for Utah and a game changer. He’ll be able to make plays in coverage for the Utes and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a few picks back to the house during his time in Salt Lake City.
He’s certainly a massive commitment.