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University of Washington Huskies Football
Sports >  UW football

Analysis: Will Washington’s DB pipeline to the pros continue to prosper with Jimmy Lake’s move to head coach

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 29, 2020

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (32) has emerged as one of the NFL’s best defensive backs.  (Matt York/Associated Press)
Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (32) has emerged as one of the NFL’s best defensive backs. (Matt York/Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – “No fear.”

So said Arizona Cardinals safety, former University of Washington standout Budda Baker, after storming forward to cut down Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson last fall.

“How’d you do that?” asked Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones, in apparent disbelief.

“No fear. No fear. No fear,” Baker repeated, spitting the same words to himself after Jones walked away. “I ain’t scared of nobody.”

For years, UW defensive backs – Baker included – have inflicted fear on opposing offenses.

Since Jimmy Lake was hired as UW’s defensive backs coach in 2014, seven Husky DBs – Marcus Peters (2015), Baker (2017), Kevin King (2017), Sidney Jones (2017), Byron Murphy (2019), Taylor Rapp (2019) and Jordan Miller (2019) – have been drafted, and all but Miller went in the first two rounds. On Tuesday, the Cardinals rewarded the 24-year-old Baker – already a two-time Pro Bowler – with a four-year, $59 million contract extension, making him the highest-paid safety in NFL history.

And it appears UW isn’t done pumping out professional defensive backs.

The next in line is likely senior nickelback Elijah Molden – who led the Huskies in tackles (79), pass breakups (13), interceptions (four) and forced fumbles (three) last fall. According to Pro Football Focus, Molden has produced the second-best slot coverage grade in the country in the past two seasons and forced 21 incompletions over that period – six more than the next-best nickel. A second-team PFF All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 performer, Molden could creep into the first round of the 2021 draft.

Even when Molden leaves, the UW defense will still be teeming with secondary talent. Of the Huskies’ 11 freshman or sophomore scholarship DBs, six – Kyler Gordon, Julius Irvin, Trent McDuffie, Asa Turner, Kamren Fabiculanan and Jacobe Covington – were considered four-star recruits by 247Sports. Several have already begun to live up to that billing.

The list begins, of course, with McDuffie – one of the best true freshmen in the country in 2019. In 13 games and 11 starts last fall, the former St. John (California) Bosco standout compiled 45 tackles with three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. His 85.4 overall grade by Pro Football Focus was 11th among 456 qualifying FBS cornerbacks and he missed just one total tackle in 45 attempts.

But even beyond McDuffie, optimism should abound. Safeties Asa Turner (19 tackles, one INT) and Cameron Williams (32 tackles, three INTs) both impressed as true freshmen last fall and should further improve in their sophomore seasons (whenever those actually occur). Gordon, a 6-foot, 195-pound redshirt sophomore from Mukilteo, Washington, remains the roster’s premier athlete, and should continue to improve. The oft-injured Irvin will have an opportunity to prove his worth, and Covington – a 6-1, 196-pound freshman from Chandler (Arizona) Saguaro High School – possesses the length to succeed at either corner or safety.

For six seasons, Lake has established a prolific DB pipeline to the pros.

But with him suddenly overseeing the entire team, what happens now?

It’ll be up to a pair of relatively unproven assistant coaches – defensive backs coach Will Harris and assistant defensive backs coach Terrence Brown – to continue to recruit and develop talent that will dominate the Pac-12 and eventually prosper in the pros. Thus far, the 2021 class can’t be considered more than a modest success. A pair of three-star California corners – Zakhari Spears and Dyson McCutcheon – have orally committed to UW, and three-star safety Vincent Nunley is expected to jump onboard as well.

But the class has also been marred by some high-profile misses – as four-star prospects Denzel Burke (Ohio State), Philip Riley (Notre Dame), Steven Ortiz (Minnesota) and JD Coffey (Texas) have all committed elsewhere.

Lake has entrusted Harris and Brown to develop Husky DBs who will continue to inflict fear on opposing offenses.

To find the next Budda Baker.

Now that’s a scary thought.

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