There is a higher-than-normal amount of players with Utah ties on NFL rosters heading into the 2017 NFL season, with 50 on active rosters, 14 on practice squads and seven more on injured reserve.
Last year, the number of locals on active rosters hovered around the low 40s at any one time.
This year, there are 10 Utah ties who are rookies on active rosters heading into opening weekend, a big reason for the influx of local talent.
Those numbers help create a higher amount of local interest in the NFL this season. Here's a look at 10 top storylines to follow this year that pertain to Utah's ties to the league.
Bolles a first-year starter
Former Utah offensive tackle Garett Bolles has been playing up to the potential that helped him get selected 20th overall by the Denver Broncos in April's NFL draft. Bolles is slated to start at left tackle for the Broncos, the only local rookie poised to start Week 1.
“Every player has a demeanor to go out and fight for each other,” he said of Denver.
Bolles, who started three of four games in the preseason, is one of the lynchpins to helping the Broncos return to the playoffs two years after winning the Super Bowl, as he protects starting quarterback Trevor Siemian's blind side.
Sarkisian’s first year as Falcons offensive coordinator
Former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian’s whirlwind of employment over the past year ended with him earning the job as offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
Sarkisian is tasked with guiding an Atlanta offense that averaged 415.8 yards per game in 2016 — second-best in the league — and reached the Super Bowl. Helping Sarkisian out will be quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, two of the best at their position in the NFL.
QB play to watch
In Kansas City, former Utah quarterback Alex Smith is the starter for the Chiefs heading into his fifth season with the club. He’s led Kansas City into the postseason in three of the previous four seasons and has the Chiefs as the favorites in the AFC West. Still, Kansas City decided to trade up to take rookie Patrick Mahomes in the draft, leading to some unrest in KC. Any injuries to Smith could create a complex situation for the Chiefs.
Another local quarterback to watch is former BYU signal caller Taysom Hill, who threw for 149 yards and rushed for 71 while accounting for three touchdowns for Green Bay during the preseason but was waived by the Packers at final cutdowns. He was then claimed by New Orleans off waivers. The Saints have vast amounts of experience in front of Hill, namely 10-time Pro Bowler Drew Brees and veteran Chase Daniel, but it will be interesting to see if, and where, Hill may get a chance somewhere in the league.
Williams’ development in Green Bay
Three running backs who played college ball in Utah last year — BYU’s Jamaal Williams, Utah’s Joe Williams and Utah State’s Devante Mays — were taken in April’s NFL draft. Jamaal Williams is in the best position to make an early impact, as he’s listed as the backup to Ty Montgomery in Green Bay.
During the preseason, Williams showed his ability to pass protect and catch passes out of the backfield, in addition to running the ball. “(I’m) really just trying to make sure I’m an overall, all-around back,” he said. Mays, also a Packer, could also earn some carries as a bruising third-down back, while Joe Williams is now on injured reserve.
Players returning from injury
Speaking of injuries, a trio of local pass rushers will be looking to bounce back from seasons lost to an injury.
In Baltimore, former BYU and Timpview High defensive end Bronson Kaufusi will be making his regular-season debut with the Ravens after losing his entire rookie year to a broken ankle. Former Utah and Highland defensive end/outside linebacker Nate Orchard had his sophomore season cut short with an ankle injury in Cleveland after recording 36 tackles and three sacks as a rookie in 2015. And Atlanta's Derrick Shelby, also a former Ute, is coming back from an Achilles injury.
Can Bobby Wagner be a league leader again?
In 2016, former Utah State middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the NFL in tackles with 167 during the regular season. He added 18 more during two playoff games.
Wagner, a two-time All-Pro honoree, has put up 645 tackles in his five-year career. How will he follow up his league-leading performance?
Undrafted free agents who could make an impact
Three rookies who played college ball in Utah last year and weren't drafted made the opening-day active 53-man rosters for their respective teams. While Hill was claimed off waivers, former BYU linebacker Harvey Langi with the New England Patriots and former Utah cornerback Dominique Hatfield with the Los Angeles Rams remained with their original teams.
Both defenders had solid preseasons, as Langi started two games and had 12 tackles, and Hatfield had an interception, five tackles and one start. Both are listed as backups heading into Week 1 of the NFL season.
Performance of Utah’s eight draft picks
In addition to Bolles and Joe Williams, the Utes had six other players selected in this year’s NFL draft for a school record of eight taken in one draft. They include offensive linemen Sam Tevi (Chargers), Isaac Asiata (Dolphins) and J.J. Dielman (Bengals), who was released by Cincinnati and claimed off waivers by the Rams. Utah’s draft picks also included linebacker Pita Taumoepenu (49ers), safety Marcus Williams (Saints) and cornerback Brian Allen (Steelers). Their progress in Year 1 will be something to keep track of.
Practice squad guys moving up
Currently, there are 14 local ties on NFL practice squads, including guys like former BYU safety Kai Nacua (with Cleveland), former Aggie receiver Hunter Sharp (with Denver) and former Utah and Syracuse High defensive end Hunter Dimick (with Jacksonville).
They’ll all be trying to make an elevation to the active roster like former Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams, who is now slated to be the backup running back in Arizona in his fifth year in the league. He has 545 career rushing yards and has scored three touchdowns, mainly playing in wildcat formations the past two years.
Will any locals win a Super Bowl ring?
Last year, two players with local ties won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots: former BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy and former Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe.
Will there be any locals celebrating when Super Bowl XLII concludes in Minnesota next February?