When Chris Petersen arrived at Washington on December 6th the Huskies had just six verbal commitments, and before the end of the month they were down to just four commitments, and one of them was very shaky. With a number of early graduations, retirements and draft declarations, a class that had for a long time been presumed to be a smaller one (in the 15-17 range) was now looking like it could be much closer to a full one (22-25) - clearly the new coaching staff had their work cut out for them.
Well, they went to work in a big way. Predictably, they mined heavily their commitment list from Boise State - these were the kids they had developed strong relationships with, and most of them were very open to following the staff to Washington. These recruits helped flesh out the commitment list, but the staff wasn't satisfied just plundering the Boise State list - they flipped commitments from UCLA, Arizona, Oregon State, WSU, Colorado and Utah. And when the highest-rated recruit in the state - Budda Baker - decommitted from Oregon, the staff got him in on an official visit right away and was able to fend off a fierce battle from UCLA to secure him, along with the state's other top recruit Kaleb McGary.
This wasn't a particularly highly-ranked class even with the late 4-star commitments - it finished as the #36 class (7th in the Pac-12) by Scout.com and Rivals.com, and #37 by 247Sports - but when you consider the circumstances, you have to be pretty impressed.
Looking over the commitment list, one thing that really stands out is the balance of the class. Each position group is accounted for, there's a highly rated QB, there are four OL and six DL, and the position group in most need - the DB's- got seven guys.
On offense, Petersen got a physically gifted and well-regarded QB prospect in K.J. Carta-Samuels. It looked like the Huskies might come up empty in this area after initially flipped Jalen Greene from Boise State but then losing him to USC when they were looking to fill their early-enrollment allotment. But fate took a turn, and when James Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State, KJCS opened things up and Petersen was able to quickly close on him. He's well-built with a strong arm, but still a bit raw, having played in a run-heavy offense in high school, but still flashing enough potential to be part of the Elite 11 regional competition (is he starting to remind you of a recent Husky QB yet?)
Jomon Dotson isn't the big-name RB like Sark was pursuing, but he's got good speed and was highly productive. His film reminds me a lot of former Husky RB Erich Wilson. In Dante Pettis, they get what might be the most underrated WR prospect on the West Coast - a kid with good size, good speed, great hands and impressive body control. In Brayden Lenius, they get a really intriguing prospect - a big kid at 6'5", 220lbs who is still learning the game. He's originally from North Vancouver B.C. and moved to Southern California this past school year to increase his recruiting exposure. He has good speed for his size, and his size makes him a matchup problem for defenses. Drew Sample gives the Dawgs a nice-looking TE prospect - he's more noted for his blocking at this point, but he was explosive when thrown to, going for 265 yards on his 8 catches.
The big uglies got a strong infusion of numbers. None of them are elite prospects according to the recruiting services, but OL are notoriously harder to project - the size and strength needed to succeed at the college level takes more time to build up. Matt James and Devin Burleson look to be tackles; James has good size and feet and could be a future LT; Burleson is another intriguing prospect, a tall kid - nearly 6'8" - who is relatively new to football after concentrating mainly on basketball his first couple of years in high school. He may take a few years to develop, but the raw material suggests a very high ceiling. Jesse Sosebee is a big mauler that will probably end up at guard, though he also has the size to play RT. John Turner is a late-riser, partly due to his growth - he had played QB earlier in his career - and Petersen has described him as someone that could play a number of positions, but will probably be a center or guard.
The defensive line got a big infusion of numbers as well. Greg Gaines looks to be the anchor in the middle, a wide-body at 6'1", 305lbs. Petersen was particular effusive about him, saying that prior to committing very early to Boise State, had "everybody in the country calling him". Jaimie Bryant is a bigger kid at 6'5", 300lbs, though the staff would like to see him drop a bit of that weight, which suggests they might see him as more of a 3-tech DT or a DE. Kaleb McGary is a really big get, literally and figuratively. At nearly 6'8" and 270 lbs, he will get a shot at DL first as that's his preference. If that doesn't pan out, Petersen thinks he might be "an unbelievable left tackle". Jaylen Johnson was a highly-recruited end, with offers from Oregon, USC, Notre Dame, Arizona State, TCU and many others. He's more of a pass-rushing end at 6'3", 245lbs. Shane Bowman is the "lunchpail" guy of the group, a DE out of Bellevue H.S. and the kind of guy Oregon State has done well with in the past, so it's no surprise he was a commit to the Beavers before Petersen offered him. Will Dissly is one of my favorite commits in the class. Just a 2-star recruit, I think that's a function of playing in Montana in a small league. He's a very athletic kid and could potentially play TE, but will get his first shot at DE. I love his work ethic and think he could be a major sleeper.
Drew Lewis ends up as the only LB in the class after late runs at Fred Warner (BYU) and Kalen Ballage (ASU) came up short. Lewis himself flirted with USC for a while, but ultimately an offer never came from the Trojans so he's a Husky. He's a rangy kid at 6'2", 200lbs so he'll need to fill out a bit, but he has the kind of athleticism you like at LB to combat spread offenses.
Washington loaded up on defensive backs - not surprising with three of four starters graduated plus their top backup, and another underclassmen lost to transfer. Naijiel Hale was a late addition, flipping from Arizona on the last recruiting weekend, but he'd been long considering the Huskies. He's a well-rounded CB that plays sound and with a lot of physicality. Sidney Jones is a taller CB at 6'1", 170lbs and brings impressive athleticism to the position - he may prove to be another seriously underrated prospect. CB Brendan Lewis was a long-time Boise State commit that the coaching staff is really high on, and Darren Gardenhire was a kid that loved the Huskies and jumped immediately on the offer from the new staff, flipping from WSU. He's another physical kid that could also play safety, but will start off at CB. Jojo McIntosh is a kid that Petersen raves about, calling him one of his "favorite guys", describing him as a safety that can cover like a corner. Lavon Washington is one of the few holdover commitments from the prior staff and will also play safety. Last, but most definitely not least is Budda Baker. Landing Baker was a huge statement for Petersen; while it's true that location played a significant role in securing him, it was far from a lock - Petersen really impressed Baker with his personality and approach and did a good job selling Baker on the benefits of staying home. Budda is a tremendously dynamic player, one that could probably star at RB or WR, but his heart is on defense and while he's a bit undersized at 5'10", 180lbs he'll be primarily a safety. He plays much bigger than his size, and you can see flashes of an Earl Thomas in him. He'll also likely get some package plays on offense because he's simply too good not to, and he will probably get a lot of reps as a returner.
Finally, another area of huge need is kicker/punter - with Travis Coons graduated, Cameron Van Winkle uncertain due to back issues and Korey Durkee yet to earn the trust of coaches, a guy that can handle all the kicking duties was a dire need, and Tristan Vizcaino appears to be a kid that can handle that heavy responsibility.
Grading a class before they've ever had a practice rep of college football is next to impossible; check back in five years and we can accurately grade it. But what isn't in doubt is that Petersen and his staff did a really good job fleshing out what needed to be a large class, filling needs, providing balance and adding in some star power to help answer the question about whether they could step up their recruiting as they moved up to the Pac-12 conference. It's hard to imagine they realistically could have done much better given the situation.