Projecting BYU Football’s Post-Spring 2024 Depth Chart: Defense

Apr 1, 2024, 1:42 PM

PROVO, Utah — BYU football made progress on defense last year under defensive coordinator Jay Hill. However, they were still near the bottom nationally in many statistical metrics, such as total defense (106th, 417.7).

So, if BYU wants to return to the postseason, it will need to improve in year two, with Hill overseeing the defense.

Spring football provided a glimpse into how Hill’s defense could look in 2024. The early returns show more depth, but the defense remains a work in progress as they inch closer to the season opener against Southern Illinois on August 31.

There was a lot to digest from BYU football spring camp with a quarterback battle, young newcomers looking to make a splash in their first season, and a program hungry to return to respectability after a disappointing 5-7 debut in the Big 12.

It’s a perfect time to dive into projections for the upcoming year.

Let’s start by forecasting the three-deep on the 2024 BYU football depth. We will roll it out in three installments: offense, defense, and special teams. The offensive depth chart projection was released over the holiday weekend.

Remember that these projections do not include the players BYU will add in the summer. So, individuals such as four-star safety Faletau Satuala out of Bountiful High School are not included in this depth chart.

Also, I won’t list “ORs” on this depth chart. What’s the fun in that? So, at a position like quarterback, where the battle will continue into the fall, I’ll still call my shot and make a projection.

Defensive End

Tyler Batty

Blake Mangelson

Bodie Schoonover

BYU’s leader along the defensive line is senior defensive end Tyler Batty. Batty used his extra year of eligibility from the COVID season in 2020. Last season, Batty recorded 5.5 sacks and earned Second Team All-Big 12 recognition.

Behind him, some players will arrive in the summer and contend for a two—or three-deep spot. Right now, I have Blake Mangelson at that second-string spot, but Mangelson could also be used at defensive tackle.

Defensive Tackle

John Nelson

Blake Mangelson

David Latu

John Taumoepeau

The star of this position group is John Nelson. Nelson suffered an ankle injury last October against Texas Tech, which caused him to miss the final five games. BYU was 0-5 in those games.

Nelson can help generate a pass rush for BYU from the interior. In 2024, he will be among the top players along BYU’s defensive line.

Behind Nelson, there are questions. I mentioned it earlier, but Blake Mangelson took snaps at defensive tackle during spring. He bounced back and forth between end and tackle throughout spring. To get the best 11 on the field, Mangelson has a career arc similar to Nelson’s—a lightly recruited prospect who began as a productive defensive end.

After Nelson and Mangelson, a pair of former Snow College transfers, David Latu and John Taumoepeau, could round out the depth.

Nose Tackle

Danny “Tui” Saili

Joshua Singh

Dallin Johnson

The nose tackle spot is a question mark coming out of spring ball. Danny “Tui” Saili is a junior college transfer with an excellent opportunity to earn the first-string spot. Kalani Sitake praised Saili early in spring ball for his immediate impact on BYU’s defensive front.

The depth at this position is light at the moment. This is a position where BYU would be well-served to find a transfer portal addition in the post-spring window. The only problem is that productive defensive linemen are hard to find in the portal.

Outside Edge

Isaiah Bagnah

Logan Lutui

Ephraim Asiata

The outside edge players must deliver if BYU produces a pass rush this season. Returning starter Isaiah Bagnah is the clear favorite to start again this season. Last year, he only had one sack in 12 games played.

After Bagnah is Logan Lutui, who is entering his third season in the program. Jay Hill has been familiar with Lutui since their time together at Weber State. Lutui dealt with injuries in fall camp last year and appears healthy enough to take a noteworthy step forward in 2024.

The wild card in the group is former Herriman High standout Ephraim Asiata. Asiata is only a true freshman, but his speed in his get-off will make it hard for Kelly Poppinga and Jay Hill to keep the freshman standout off the field.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound freshman dealt with an injury in the final two weeks of spring, but Hill expects Asiata will be fully recovered for fall camp.

Outside Linebacker

Jack Kelly (SAM) / Isaiah Glasker (ROVER)

Ace Kaufusi / Miles Hall

Sione Moa / Maika Kaufusi

Weber State transfer Jack Kelly is a plug-and-play transfer addition. Out of the transfer portal, Kelly picked BYU over offers from Oregon State, Washington State, Houston, and Wisconsin.

If BYU lines up with three linebackers, Kelly will be on the strong side of the field at SAM.

BYU lost Max Tooley due to his eligibility being exhausted. So that leaves an opening at the ROVER spot. I’ll go with Isaiah Glasker as the starter coming out of spring. Glasker has been a camp standout the past few years, but it has yet to carry over to gamedays in the fall.

Last year, Glasker dealt with an early season injury that limited his availability. He can potentially be a playmaker at the second level of BYU’s defense.

Another player to watch is sophomore Ace Kaufusi. Kaufusi was excellent in the regular season finale last year against Oklahoma State, finishing with seven tackles.

He’s a versatile backer who could play any of the three positions.

Mack Linebacker

Ben Bywater

Harrison Taggart

Siale Esera

This is a position of strength for BYU. Bywater, Taggart, and Esera are big-time talents.

Veteran Ben Bywater is still working his way back from a shoulder injury that required surgery last fall. Bywater didn’t participate in spring practice.

The same goes for Siale Esera, who missed the entire spring due to an injury.

Harrison Taggart, a former Oregon transfer, had 28 tackles last year and looks to be more comfortable this season.

When healthy, this is one of the top position groups on BYU’s roster this season.


Jakob Robinson / Marque Collins

Mory Bamba / Therrian “Tre” Alexander

Marcus McKenzie / Zion Allen

BYU returns Jakob Robinson for his senior season. Robinson had four interceptions last season and is up to eight picks in his career. He’s a playmaking cornerback; if he’s not at nickel, he will anchor one of the two cornerback spots.

The other cornerback spot will be up for grabs.

One of the names to watch is Weber State transfer Marque Collins. He didn’t participate in spring due to an injury but is expected to be good to go in the fall. With Jay Hill’s history working with Collins and his experience at the college level, I’m giving the nod to Collins coming out of spring.

However, junior Mory Bamba, freshman “Tre” Alexander, sophomore Marcus McKenzie, and third-year player Zion Allen will all contend.

Strong Safety

Micah Harper

Talan Alfrey

Raider Damuni

Crew Wakley

Micah Harper is returning from an ACL injury he suffered last year in fall camp. He didn’t participate in spring camp, but when healthy, he will be in the starting 11 for BYU on the back end of the defense.

The question will be whether it’s at strong safety or the nickel spot left behind by Eddie Heckard.

After Harper, Talan Alfrey had a productive spring camp. He had an injury-plagued season a year ago, but when healthy, Alfrey has made plays at both safety spots.

Raider Damuni made strides in the spring as he prepares for his second year in the program.

I placed Crew Wakley at fourth string because he was out of spring with an injury. Wakley earned a lot of playing time last season. Seeing how he factors into the mix this fall will be interesting.

Free Safety

Tommy Prassas

Ethan Slade

Tanner Wall

I’m going bold and giving the starting nod at free safety to 17-year-old Tommy Prassas. The Arizona native was a top priority for Jay Hill when he joined the staff in December 2022. Prassas should still be in high school, but enrolling early for winter conditioning and spring ball put him in the conversation to earn immediate playing time this fall.

There will be players that join in the summer, who will also contend for playing time, but Prassas seems poised to be a factor at safety in his first year in the program.

BYU could also use Talan Alfrey in this spot.

Ethan Slade played a lot last season and is back for another year. Tanner Wall is returning from an injury he suffered last year.


Micah Harper

Jakob Robinson

Koa Eldredge

Preston Rex

You could probably call this position the “Eddie Heckard role” in Jay Hill’s defense. It’s a critical position in Jay Hill’s defensive scheme. Heckard was perfect for the position as it requires a playmaker with the versatility to go up in the box while also dropping back and covering some of the best receivers BYU’s opponents have to offer.

Micah Harper seems like the perfect fit for that role. The same goes for Jakob Robinson.

After that, BYU gave nickel reps in the spring to converted wide receiver Koa Eldredge and Preston Rex.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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Projecting BYU Football’s Post-Spring 2024 Depth Chart: Defense