Heading into the 2012 season there was a lot of optimism surrounding the receiving group that Keith Price would be throwing to. Despite the loss to graduation of the #2 all-time leading WR in Jermaine Kearse and the #7 all-time leading WR in Devin Aguilar, there was a lot of confidence in returning true sophomore studs Kasen Williams at WR and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at TE, joined by Sr. James Johnson, Jr. Kevin Smith and an exciting true frosh in Jaydon Mickens at WR and sophomores Michael Hartvigson and Evan Hudson at TE.
Injuries took a bit of a toll though, as Johnson was sidelined with an injured wrist that was bad enough to cause him to take his redshirt season and Smith struggled to recover from his knee injury suffered during practices last year prior to the Alamo Bowl. How did they do?
Kirk: While some Husky fans downplayed the departures of Kearse & Aguilar, I was worried about the ability of the returning guys to take up the slack. I expected big leaps forward by Williams & ASJ, but wasn't sure what we'd get from Smith or if JJ could stay healthy, and the rest of the prospects were unproven. As it turned out JJ couldn't stay healthy, and Smith was not 100%, and the rest of the guys failed to provide Price with a consistent 3rd option in the passing game. Nor did Hartvigson show much progress, eventually getting passed on the depth by former walk-on Hudson who was mostly used for blocking.
With JJ out and Smith basically a non-factor, it fell to So. DiAndre Campbell, RS-Sr Cody Bruns and true Fr. Jaydon Mickens to fill out the depth. None of them was able to really establish themselves; Mickens and Campbell suffered from the dropsies, and while Bruns was steady, he simply wasn't physically gifted enough to be a big threat.
Kasen took a big step forward, upping his catch totals from 36 to 77 and his yardage from 427 to 878. His TD's remained static at 6 though, and while he had games where he dominated, there was some inconsistency from week to week and a feeling that he hasn't yet fully reached his potential. He displayed terrific hands and phenomenal body control, and his size allowed him to take simply quick hitches and turn them from 2 yard gains to 12 yard gains. His running ability was never more evident than when he took a bubble screen the distance against Stanford for the winning TD. But he also had problems with pushing off and getting flagged for it, and he's probably never going to be a true deep threat.
ASJ took an even bigger step forward as he logged a Husky record 69 catches as a TE and is already the career leader in receptions for a TE at the UW with 110. He was one of 3 finalists for the Mackey Award as the nation's outstanding TE, and he'll be the obvious front-runner to win the award next year. While his blocking still isn't quite Mark Bruener or Ernie Conwell level, he was adequate at it. As a pass-catcher though, we've never seen anyone as good at the UW at TE, and this is a school that has a long history of producing NFL talent at the position. Price learned in the 2nd half of the season that he only has to throw the ball high in the vicinity of ASJ, and he has the size, hands and athleticism to get it almost every time. Unfortunately he wasn't given a lot of help by his fellow TE's; neither Hartvigson nor Hudson distinguished themselves, recording 11 catches for 86 yards between them.
In Kasen & ASJ the Huskies had two high level receiving options, but things dropped off sharply from there.
Ryan Priest: It seems strange that this position group is considered one of the weak links of Washington's offense, considering that it includes a Mackey Award finalist and a Parade Magazine High School Player of the Year. The problem for the Dawgs is that outside of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams, Keith Price had precisely zero reliable playmakers to target.
True freshman Jaydon Mickens showed bursts of talent, but was rarely able to string together consistent showcases of his ability. He'll be a potent weapon for Husky QBs to aim at before his career his over, but there's no question that he still requires some additional seasoning, and probably would have benefited from a redshirt year. Third-year sophomore DiAndre Campbell had his moments, but he's unlikely to ever be a feature receiver, while fifth-year senior Cody Bruns, who holds the state record for most receiving touchdowns as a high schooler, finally caught his first collegiate touchdown against Colorado. That was an especially nice moment for anyone familiar with his often-turbulent career at UW, which began with Ty Willingham inexplicably burning his redshirt five games into the already-at-that-point futile 2008 season.
Yet for all the flack that this group gets for not getting open often enough, critics would be remiss to not give them credit for their often-excellent downfield blocking that made Bishop Sankey's breakout year possible. Looking forward, assuming the oft-injured James Johnson is able to make a full recovery from the wrist injury that held him out of the entire 2012 season, he'll be counted upon to provide a reliable third option for Price to target alongside ASJ and Williams. Even if he doesn't, it seems likely that at least one of the three receivers from Washington's stellar recruiting class (Damore'ea Stringfellow, Darrell Daniels and John Ross) will prove capable of competing against Pac-12 competition as a true frosh.
Grade: A- for Kasen and ASJ, D for everyone else
Jack Follman: I would give them a lower grade if I wasn't including Seferian-Jenkins in the group. Kasen Williams and Seferian-Jenkins were great, but there were literally no other options who were ever open and if they were, they would frequently drop the ball anyway.
Jeffrey Gorman: Husky wide receivers and tight ends were a mixed bag this year. On one hand, you've got WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, two of the premier pass catchers in the conference. In the case of ASJ, he was arguably the best at his position in the country, however he did not receive the post-season accolades that other tight ends received. He finished the season with 850 yards and 7 TDs ultimately shattering every career TE record at UW, sealing his place in Husky lore. Kasen Williams had a fine season, albeit below the high expectations set after his promising freshman season. His final statistics were 77 receptions for 878 yards and 6 TDs.
After Williams and ASJ, there were simply not any other reliable receivers on the team. TEs Michael Hartvigson and Evan Hudson chipped in 11 receptions combined, but mainly contributed through their blocking. Another injury to James Johnson put a lot of pressure on the receiving corps to produce, and Kevin Smith never regained his pre injury form. After Williams, the next leading receiver was actually RB Bishop Sankey, beating out freshman Jaydon Mickens and redshirt sophomore DiAndre Campbell in both receptions and yards. Mickens is extremely quick and has big play potential but as a freshman forced into action it is hard to be that reliable, and he dropped a couple sure TDs during the season. Campbell showed some glimpses of being another D'Andre Goodwin type, meaning someone who knows all the receiver spots and provides steady production and reliable pass catching. But again, he never really stepped up and became a real third option behind ASJ and Williams.
Cody Bruns had easily the best season of his Husky career continuing to be a jack-of-all-trades, handling the holding duties, and being the emergency punter. After an extremely up and down career, and the death of his father last year, catching his first two touchdowns as a 5th year senior was a great way to end his time as a Husky.
Receivers this year were definitely a let down. If Kevin Smith and James Johnson were healthy, I'm sure I would be singing a much different song. But the fact is, they were not able to contribute this year catching passes and therefore young players were thrown into action much too early. Kasen Williams had a good year, but still needs work on route running and refining his ability to get open consistently. ASJ was ASJ, and was simply dominant in some games (vs. Cal comes to mind), which is rare for a tight end. The young guys like Jaydon Mickes, Marvin Hall, and DiAndre Campbell all showed promise but still need time.