COUGAR TRACKS

Way-Too-Early Look At BYU Football’s 2023 Offense

Jan 23, 2023, 7:00 AM | Updated: Jan 24, 2023, 2:02 pm
BYU Football, Kody Epps, Ethan Erickson...
BYU football wide receiver Kody Epps and tight end Ethan Erickson return for the 2023 season. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – We’re beginning to understand better what the BYU football depth chart could look like in 2023.

It’s still early, of course. Way too early. But the NFL draft withdrawal deadline has passed. The window for fall athletes to enter the Transfer Portal has now closed. So it’s a chance to step back and evaluate what BYU’s first Big 12 team could look like.

The BYU offense always creates many headlines, and this year will be no exception.

RELATED: QB Jake Retzlaff Speaks On Path To BYU, Expectations

Star quarterback Jaren Hall is off to the NFL, along with wide receiver Puka Nacua and offensive tackle Blake Freeland. Those are big shoes to fill for Aaron Roderick’s offense. Who will be the guys to step in and replace those standouts? Plus, the rest of the depth chart?

It’s time to dive in and make a way-too-early projection on what the 2023 BYU football depth chart could look like this fall.

Keep in mind that BYU is still pursuing players who could shake up these projections. For example, Eastern Washington WR Freddie Roberson and El Paso, Texas running back LJ Martin. If either player commits to BYU, they would be immediate contributors.

Quarterback

Starter: Kedon Slovis

No. 2: Jake Retzlaff

A complete overhaul of the quarterback position for BYU. USC/Pitt transfer QB Kedon Slovis will be the starting quarterback when BYU faces Sam Houston on September 2. If it isn’t Slovis, it would be a shock to everyone.

Slovis is a veteran quarterback that enters a BYU offense that has produced back-to-back NFL signal-callers. Could Slovis, who was once viewed as a surefire first-round pick, become the third? Aaron Roderick has a quarterback-friendly system. But there is still a lot of nuance to what they run.

Slovis has been hard at work since he arrived on campus two weeks ago, trying to learn everything he can to hit the ground running in spring ball.

Jake Retzlaff has that “dawg” mentality that people love in a quarterback. Retzlaff comes to BYU via Riverside City College as a Non-LDS prospect. Being at a faith-based institution didn’t matter to Retzlaff as he thought highly of Roderick’s system and the rich QB history that BYU has put together over the last five decades.

Retzlaff will have to earn the No. 2 job over returning veterans in Cade Fennegan, Nick Billoups, New Mexico Bowl Offensive MVP Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, and a pair of freshmen in Ryder Burton and walk-on Cole Hagen.

Running Back

Starter: Aidan Robbins -OR- Hinckley Folau Ropati

Next in line: Miles Davis

Who will be the next star running back to emerge for BYU? Last season, Chris Brooks had high expectations, but a hamstring injury impacted his availability throughout the season. Despite the injury, he still averaged over six yards per carry.

Along with great quarterback play under Aaron Roderick, the Cougars have produced stars at running back.

UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins has all the makings of being the next star ball carrier. He’s probably the assumed RB1 against Sam Houston. Robbins rushed for over 1,000 yards last season in Las Vegas.

But don’t sleep on Hinckley Ropati. A former JUCO standout, Ropati dealt with injuries early in his BYU career, but he had a breakout performance last year at Boise State. I expect both of these guys to get their fair share of carries next season.

Besides Robbins and Ropati, BYU also has Miles Davis, a star in the win over Wyoming last season. Also, returned missionary Nukuluve Helu is an intriguing prospect that will eventually become an RB1 in his BYU career.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Kody Epps, Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts

Second Unit: Talmage Gunther, Tanner Wall, Josiah Phillips*

The starters are easy to identify for the wide receivers. Kody Epps emerged as a fan-favorite last season for his knack for finding the endzone and his charisma and personality in interviews.

Epps will be returning from a season-ending injury suffered last October in the loss at Liberty.

Keanu Hill quietly went about his business and was one of the most productive and reliable receivers for Jaren Hall last season.

Then there’s Chase Roberts, who might have the highest ceiling of all three. He shined in the spotlight against Baylor in relief of an injured Puka Nacua last season.

Speaking of Nacua, his loss is a big one. No one on this year’s team can compare to him. So that will be a significant loss and hard shoes to replace. But the starting three should be productive.

The reserves are where it gets interesting. I’ll give the early nod to a pair of walk-ons in Talmage Gunther and Tanner Wall. BYU Passing Game Coordinator Fesi Sitake doesn’t rotate much, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2023 receivers are much like the 2019 unit (Micah Simon, Aleva Hifo, Talon Shumway), where he rides with three guys. But Wall and Gunther have the trust of Sitake, and they know Roderick’s offense.

I’ll also add heralded freshman Josiah Phillips to the two-deep. It’s a lofty projection for a true freshman. The Sierra Canyon star doesn’t arrive on campus until the summer.

Other intriguing prospects to watch at receiver includes Kyson Hall, Parker Kingston, and Devin Downing.

Tight End

Starter: Isaac Rex

No. 2: Ethan Erickson -OR- Masen Wake

There is no suspense here; Isaac Rex will be the starting tight end for BYU. Rex could have left for the NFL and found his way onto a roster as an undrafted free agent. But he played through last year recovering from a devastating injury he suffered in 2021 at USC.

Ideally, Rex returns to the form and the production he had in 2020, where he was one of the top tight ends in the country. So when trying to identify potential All-Big 12 candidates on BYU’s offense, Rex is one of the first players you have to look at.

At full strength, he can be one of the best tight ends in college football.

Who will line up behind Rex? It should make for an intriguing battle in spring practice. Does Masen Wake continue competing as a traditional tight end, or does he go back to the wing/fullback role?

Ethan Erickson was a star in spring and fall camps last season. Aaron Roderick is bullish on the future of the former Kahuku High standout. But along with Erickson and Wake, BYU also has redshirt freshman Anthony Olsen and Bentley Redden back from a mission. Then in the summer four-star prospect Jackson Bowers matriculates into the program.

Offensive Line

Starters: Kingsley Suamataia (LT), Paul Maile (LG), Connor Pay (C), Weylin Lapuaho (RG), Brayden Keim (RT)

Second Unit: Lisala Tai (LT), Tyler Little (LG), Peter Falaniko (C), Vae Soifua (RG), Ian Fitzgerald (RT)

BYU’s offensive line suffered some losses this off-season. Blake Freeland and Harris LaChance move on to the NFL. The Barrington brothers entered the Transfer Portal, ending up in the Big 12 at Baylor.

Then there was the tragic death of Arizona State transfer Sione Veikoso during a construction accident in Hawaii.

Amidst a lot of change, it’s a retooled unit for offensive line coach Darrell Funk. And they might not be done adding pieces between now and summer conditioning.

For now, the additions that BYU has signed out of the portal will be looked upon to be impactful from the moment they arrive on campus.

Former Utah starter Paul Maile comes in as a graduate transfer. He could start anywhere along the offensive line. Last season for the Utes, Maile started in 12 games at center. For BYU to get the best five on the field, I’ll call for Maile to line up at guard.

That keeps Connor Pay at the center spot.

The star of the unit is sophomore Kingsley Suamataia. In his redshirt freshman season after transferring from Oregon, Suamataia didn’t give up a sack. As a result, he earned Freshman All-American recognition from College Football News.

With Freeland off to the NFL, Suamataia is a great candidate to switch from the right side to left tackle. If Suamataia shines at left tackle, he could be a coveted NFL Draft pick next year.

On the right side, Utah State transfer Weylin Lapuaho should be a plug-and-play addition. Lapuaho started in all 13 games along the Aggie offensive line in his freshman season. At right tackle, it could be Lisala Tai, Missouri State transfer Ian Fitzgerald, or Brayden Keim.

I’ll give an early nod to Keim, who earned starter reps for Funk two seasons ago. At 6-foot-8, 305-pounds, Keim looks the part of a Power Five offensive lineman.

Players that I’m curious to see take significant steps forward in their development are redshirt freshmen Peter Falaniko and Vae Soifua.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Way-Too-Early Look At BYU Football’s 2023 Offense