I'm interested in gauging how closely the expectations of the recruit actually correlate with the eventual career of the college athlete.
Here I've laid out all the Huskies I consider to be proven, key contributors. In this case that means guys that have already contributed in a big way and who will be expected to play at or near All-Conference level in 2014. At least two or three players will belong on this list at the end of the year that don't deserve to be on it now.
If I'm missing someone obvious, you can always harp on the list in the comments. I probably would if someone else put this together.
Oh, and before I forget: this is not an indictment of recruiting rankings. As much as people love to rag on rankings by pointing out a handful of NFL studs who barely cracked two stars back in high school, there is a clear correlation between stars and production in college and the NFL. There will always be plenty of low-ranked success stories because there are far more two and three-star recruits than four and five-star guys, who are statistically much more likely to find success.
Danny Shelton - Class of 2011 - Scout: 3 Stars - Rivals: 4 stars
After seeing significant time his freshman year, Shelton slid in as the starting nose tackle post-Ta'amu and has progressed each year to the point that he is now, in my opinion, the most irreplaceable player on the defense. He also consistently makes Academic All-Conference. Any and all expectations met or exceeded. Probably a 1st or 2nd round draft pick after this year.
Shaq Thompson - Class of 2012 - Scout: 5 stars - Rivals: 5 stars
Clearly the most-hyped UW recruit of the recent past and the only legit five-star on this list. He's been a plus starter from the beginning, but you could argue that given the outrageous expectations that followed his commitment, Thompson still needs to "break out" in his junior season to totally "meet expectations." To me the idea that Shaq's play could ever be called disappointing says a lot about the crisis of expectations faced by top-flight recruits.
Marcus Peters - Class of 2011 - Scout: 3 stars - Rivals: 3 stars
It was Peters that sparked my interest this topic in the first place. I tried to remember how highly touted he was out of high school, and couldn't remember his commitment off the top of my head. Turns out that the defense's hottest NFL prospect was a run of the mill three-star recruit out of Oakland. I wonder if we would view Peters/Shaq differently if their recruiting profiles were switched?
Hau'oli Kikaha (formerly Hau'oli Jamora) - Class of 2010 - Rivals: 3 stars - Scout: 3 stars
I don't think anyone should feel that Kikaha was shafted here. He started off as a 6'2" 230-pound defensive end/outside linebacker tweener from Hawaii and has slowly improved his game, put on good weight, and overcome injuries to become an All-Conference level pass-rusher. I think of three-star recruits as solid players that will need a good deal of molding in order to develop into college starters. Kikaha fits that description, even if he has clearly exceeded signing-day expectations.
John Timu - Class of 2010 - Rivals: 3 stars - Scout: 3 stars
Another guy who probably didn't deserve more than three stars. According to Rivals he weighed in at 189 pounds at Long Beach Jordan. He needed to put on weight, which he did (listed at 244 pounds). Timu has improved significantly each year, from being a bit of a fan scapegoat in 2011 to being counted on to captain the defense in his final year. Like Kikaha, he developed, and to rate him more highly would have been to assume that major development would occur years before it happened.
Travis Feeney - Class of 2010 - Rivals: 3 stars - Scout: 2 stars
Maybe I'm breaking my own definition of key player by including Feeney. He only started a handful of games last year, and it's dangerous to assume his role is secure under Petersen. I considered removing him, and then I considered Feeney's gangly bear-hug tackles and impressive nose for the ball and I kept him here anyway. Rivals had him as a corner, which means he was likely getting credit for skills he doesn't even use as an aggressive ‘backer. Scout saw him as a safety, his original position at UW. Just shows how odd Feeney's journey has been. He's still mildly undersized at 6'4" 217-pounds, but his skill-set is maximized the closer he's kept to the ball.
It's a little scary that I could only come up with three players here. Plus, Williams is a question mark returning from injury and Ross is a little bit of a stretch by my own definition of proven player. Losing Price and Sankey robs the offense of two stars, and no one on the offensive line has stood out enough to deserve that label. I would think that by season's end Cyler Miles (Troy Williams?) and Dwayne Washington are likely candidates.
Kasen Williams - Class of 2011 - Rivals: 4 stars - Scout: 5 stars
It's weird to think that the local duo of Williams and ASJ is no longer together. I will always conceive of them as one unit, just like I'll always remember Stringfellow/Daniels/Ross as a trio of Class of 2013 receivers (even with Stringfellow gone and Daniels at TE).
Even Husky fans that choose to avoid the recruiting process (more power to you) probably couldn't help but buy into the hype around Kasen. No one would dare call him a bust, but he hasn't put together a complete and dominant season. He flashed his talent as a freshman by finishing the year strong, put in a very solid sophomore year, and then played well in 2013 before falling to a brutal leg injury.
Lost in that injury narrative is the fact that Kasen was not on pace to make a big statistical leap. The presence of Mickens, Ross, Smith, and Stringfellow demanded Price spread the ball around. Kasen definitely made some great catches in big moments, but he hasn't combined quality and quanitity over a complete season.
With a new quarterback and Smith/Stringfellow both gone, Williams is suddenly the only proven receiver with plus size. If the injury hampers him a bit early on, or if Mickens and Ross demand enough targets to really harm his numbers, he will probably still get drafted no later than the 3rd or 4th round based on athleticism alone. Yet much like Shaq, this year is his chance to truly validate the hype that accompanied his original signing. Whether or not that really matters, to Kasen or to the success of the team, is a different question.
Jaydon Mickens - Class of 2012 - Rivals: 4 stars - Scout: 4 stars
Mickens was a pleasant surprise last year. Maybe the single biggest beneficiary of the no-huddle switch, he caught 65 passes (15 more than any other Husky) for 688 yards (second on the team) and five scores as a true sophomore. Short swing passes were his bread and butter, but he also managed to get open for several deep balls. Not sure how the coaching chance and the development of Ross will influence his 2014 season, but he's a valuable receiver that has already begun validating the four-star evaluations.
John Ross Jr. - Class of 2013 - Rivals: 3 stars - Scout: 4 stars
Even before the 2013 season kicked off, Ross received an amount of buzz from the coaches and beat writers that seemed to suggest he might have been underrated, or perhaps just overlooked in the context of his class, which included more physically imposing receivers Stringfellow and Daniels. Well, not even two years later Stringfellow is gone, Daniels is converted to TE (where I still have high hopes for him), and Ross is the one that has everyone excited.
Ross is by far the fastest player on the roster. His ability to return kicks adds greatly to his value. As a receiver, his numbers (16 catches for 208 yards and 1 score) were not great. He made a fair number of mistakes as a true freshman, and I expect him to perform at a higher level as a sophomore. Given the loss of Stringfellow, Smith, and ASJ, it's also reasonable to expect that the team will be counting on that growth.
Note: Yesterday I put up a Fanpost about Robert Upshaw and then, this morning, took it down. It became clear that the story I wanted to tell couldn't be told properly without going into great detail and quoting sources, something I wasn't comfortable doing. It was pointed out in the comments that if I wasn't willing to do that, I should have kept the post to myself. I realized that the commenter was correct, so I took it down.