SEATTLE – This has been an offseason of extreme uncertainty.
So why not ask a few more question before kickoff finally comes?
As Washington’s long-(long, long)-awaited season opener against Cal looms next weekend, let’s open up the mailbag and address a couple questions from UW football fans.
If you were a betting man, who would be the next UW first round pick AFTER the 2021 draft? – Joshua C.
To begin with, let me be clear: I am not a betting man. No sirree, not me. Not ever. That’s not something I would endorse. Absolutely not. No way, no how. And this exaggerated denial is in no way a smokescreen to distract you from the fact that I am, in fact, a betting man.
But if I were, here’s what I’d say.
First, we need to eliminate the Huskies who could realistically be selected in the 2021 NFL draft. So, for this exercise, let’s disregard Elijah Molden, Keith Taylor, Cade Otton, Josiah Bronson, Jaxson Kirkland, Ryan Bowman and Luke Wattenberg. They’re out.
With that being said, the clear favorite is true sophomore cornerback Trent McDuffie.
In his freshman season in 2019, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound McDuffie compiled 45 tackles with three passes defended, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. He was credited with just one missed tackle and surrendered only six passes of 15-plus yards on 421 coverage snaps. The former St. John Bosco High School standout was ranked as the 12th-most valuable corner in all of FBS, and he did it as a true freshman.
From a historical perspective, McDuffie’s freshman season was on par with both Budda Baker (80 tackles, seven passes defended, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, a sack and an interception) and Sidney Jones (61 tackles, 7 passes defended, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 1 FF) in 2014. It was better than Kevin King (17 tackles in 2013) and Byron Murphy (redshirted).
And from a personal perspective, McDuffie’s size, precise technique and tackling acumen remind me of a guy I used to cover at Notre Dame – 5-11, 195-pound corner Julian Love, who was drafted in the fourth round by the New York Giants in 2019.
Like Love, McDuffie’s diminutive frame could conceivably push him down draft boards. But if he were to declare following the 2021 season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up as a first-round pick.
Other contenders (some more realistic than others): redshirt sophomore defensive back Kyler Gordon, sophomore wide receiver Puka Nacua, sophomore outside linebacker Laiatu Latu, sophomore defensive back Asa Turner, redshirt sophomore defensive back Julius Irvin, redshirt junior offensive lineman Henry Bainivalu, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Ulumoo Ale, redshirt junior wide receiver Ty Jones
Why do you think Sean McGrew has been given such inconsistent carries and do you expect a bigger load for him this season? – Zach Beal
When you play three seasons behind the most accomplished running back in program history, your statistics will likely suffer. And given that Myles Gaskin holds Husky records for career rushing yards (5,323), total touchdowns (62) and rushing touchdowns (57), it’s hard to criticize Chris Petersen and Co. for not spreading the ball around more.
But, with that said, I do think McGrew – a 5-7, 175-pound redshirt senior – should have been a more consistent element in the offense last season. He led Husky running backs with 6.2 yards per carry and, when given opportunities, rushed for more than 100 yards against both BYU and Arizona (arguably the UW offense’s two most complete performances). He has proven a reliable runner with deceptive toughness and a knack for falling forward.
And, in John Donovan’s offense, I’d expect a more steady serving of McGrew this season. Richard Newton will likely be the starter, but McGrew – who dropped 11 pounds this offseason to be more shifty and light on his feet – should provide a productive change of pace. And if Donovan is serious about incorporating his running backs more in the passing game, McGrew would be the obvious option to benefit from an uptick of screens and check-downs.
Don’t forget, either, that Newton has sustained a series of nagging injuries and redshirt freshman running back Cameron Davis remains unproven in Pac-12 play. There’s certainly a scenario where McGrew could lead UW in rushing in 2020.
What would you say is the expectation for the average annual recruiting class ranking for the Huskies, given they’re not Bama, Clem, OSU? – Justin
UW had the following 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings in the seven classes under Petersen.
In the most recent three-year run, Washington proved it can snag a perennial top-20 recruiting class. But what should be a realistic goal under first-year head coach Jimmy Lake?
The objective, ultimately, is to win Pac-12 titles and make semi-annual trips to the Rose Bowl or the College Football Playoff – and Washington can’t do that consistently unless it keeps up with both Oregon and USC in recruiting. From a fan’s perspective, the bar should be a top-15 class. That’s the next step for this program. And it doesn’t appear UW will clear it in 2021, as the Huskies currently rank 26th with 15 commitments (and little roster room for more).
It’s true, Petersen’s CFP team in 2016 reached that pedestal on the back of recruiting classes that ranked 38th and 26th nationally. But the programs that most consistently prosper – namely, Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State – do so because of superior depth. They do so, simply put, because they have better players at every possible position. Granted, those players also need to be developed. Culture and coaching are important pieces as well.
But now, and always, the players matter most.
Hey Mike, who’s your candidate for breakout player of the year? – Stan Teuber
By definition, this has to be someone who has not already broken out. So no McDuffie, no Newton, no Molden, no Puka Nacua or Cade Otton or Asa Turner.
Under those terms, I present the following viable contenders, in no particular order: defensive back Kyler Gordon, outside linebacker Laiatu Latu, inside linebacker Daniel Heimuli, wide receiver Rome Odunze, running back Cameron Davis, defensive back Julius Irvin, offensive lineman Henry Bainivalu, offensive lineman Ulumoo Ale, tight end Devin Culp and defensive lineman Jacob Bandes.
Offensively, Odunze – a 6-foot-3, 205-pound wide receiver – is the true freshman most likely to work his way into the starting lineup. His tantalizing blend of size, speed and explosiveness will make him an attractive target for (insert UW starting quarterback here). Davis is also set for an increased workload alongside Newton and McGrew, and Bainivalu and Ale are massive athlete who appear to have locked down the starting guard spots.
On the other side, Latu will be counted on to be UW’s premier pass-rusher following Joe Tryon’s departure. The uber-athletic Kyler Gordon could conceivably ascend in both the secondary and the return game, and Bandes and Heimuli are rising redshirt freshmen as well.
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