Brant Kuithe leads way in PFF all-Pac-12 preseason nominees

Ryan Kostecka

Entering the 2020 college football season this fall, Utah tight end Brant Kuithe was all set to become a household name.

He wasn't named to the Mackey Award preseason watch list, while Oregon's Hunter Kampmoyer, Washington's Cade Otton, Stanford's Tucker Fisk and Arizona's Curtis Hodges were all named. Yet, very few outside of the Pac-12 believe that there is a better tight end in the conference other than Kuithe. 

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He finished last season by earning all-Pac-12 second team honors — totaling 34 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns, while adding another 102 yards rushing on six attempts and three more scores on the season. Hunter Bryant of Washington, who is now signed with the Detroit Lions, earned first-team honors last year.

He had two major breakout games last season — against UCLA when he caught five passes for 132 yards and a score — and against Colorado when he caught three passes for 63 yards and two scores while adding two rushes for 59 yards and a touchdown. 

"He’s just a tremendous athlete and it’s not anything we scripted differently other than he just happened to shake free more often than he had in the past," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said after the UCLA game last season. "He has been playing really great football for us all year long, but he’s a tremendous weapon. He’s a tough match-up. ... He’s only a sophomore too."

He's a matchup nightmare for opponents as he's too big for safeties and cornerbacks, yet too athletic for linebackers. Kuithe reminds me of San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle, who like Kuithe really made a name for himself this past season.

“I don’t know if teams really know how to account for him because he can’t be covered by a linebacker and even safeties struggle with him,” Whittingham said. “One of the strengths of Andy (Ludwig, Utah offensive coordinator) is he puts guys in position to maximize their ability and what they do best. He’s certainly done that with Brant Kuithe.”

According to the recently-released PFF preseason all-Pac-12 team, Kuithe was named the first team tight end. PFF had this to say...

"While his size isn’t prototypical for a tight end, Kuithe is incredibly athletic and has route-running chops most guys his size don’t. He’s a weapon in the slot — 47% of his slot targets resulted in a 15-plus-yard play, the highest rate in the FBS."

Joining Kuithe on the first team was linebacker Devin Lloyd, a returning starter and the unquestioned leader of the defense.

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Lloyd also excels in pass coverage, as he's strong and fast enough to run with tight ends while being able to track down ball carriers in the backfield. He plays with good instincts and fills holes solidly, continuously paying downhill. He needs to get better at shedding blocks and recognizing plays as they develop, but the potential is there for him to be Utah's next great linebacker.

Last season as a sophomore, Lloyd broke out in a big way when he was named to the all-Pac-12 honorable mention team after racking up a team-high 91 tackles for one of the best defenses in the nation.

He started all 14 games at rover linebacker, adding 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, both of which ranked second on the Utes and within the top-10 in the conference.

Wide receivers Britain Covey and Jaylen Dixon were named to the second team, while quarterback Jake Bentley, tight end Cole Fotheringham, edge defender Maxs Tupai and Covey as a punt returner were all named to the honorable mention team.

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Covey redshirted all of last season to recovery from a knee injury suffered in the 2018 Pac-12 championship game against Washington, but now that he's healthy, it appears he's receiving the same status throughout the conference he had prior to the injury.

Covey was Utah’s leading receiver in 2015 and 2018 — he served a two-year LDS church mission in 2016 and 2017 — but he was also an all-Pac-12 return specialist both years.

In 2018, Covey averaged 8.8 yards per punt return and was often so dynamic in tight spaces that he typically made something out of nothing. Covey's return should give in an instant spark to Utah's return game and receiving corps, as his ability to play in the slot or in the backfield are traits Utah's offense could use.

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