While the hit to the receiving corps wasn't quite as severe as the losses incurred by the running backs (Bishop Sankey) and quarterbacks (Keith Price), it was significant - gone is the Huskies all-time leader at TE (Austin Seferian-Jenkins) and their leading pass-catcher (in yardage) from 2013 (Kevin Smith). Also gone is their most physically imposing WR and star-in-the-making due to off-the-field shenanigans (Demore'ea Stringfellow).
This is not the ideal situation for breaking in a new starter at QB, but the situation isn't necessarily bleak - there are some very talented pieces returning. Let's take a look at the three guys I consider the best bets the lead the team in receiving yardage for 2014:
Option #1 - Kasen Williams
Few WR recruits have come to Washington with more hype than Kasen. Not only was he Parade Magazine's High School Player of the Year and a 5-star recruit, he also was a legacy, the son of Aaron Williams, a pretty good WR in his own right back in the early years of Don James' time at Washington. He got off to a pretty good start his Freshman year, highlighted by this play in the Apple Cup:
He followed that up with a strong Sophomore campaign, including the game-winning TD catch and run vs. Stanford in the Huskies' 17-13 upset in CenturyLink Field. But with the implementation of the HUNH offense and an emphasis on spreading the ball around and stretching the field horizontally, Williams found himself targeted less often last year, and then he suffered a serious injury in game 8 vs. Cal which cut short his season.
By this point Husky fans have a pretty good idea of what Kasen brings to the table - he's shown terrific leaping ability (no surprise given his triple-jump, high jump and long jump prowess as a track athlete), he's got ideal size and very good hands and is tough to bring down. What he doesn't have is elite speed, though he's certainly not slow. The questions surrounding Kasen are whether he will be back to 100% health before the season starts, and how he's utilized by the new staff.
Reasons for: He's done it before, leading the team in receiving yardage as a So. and he was just a tick behind Smith in yards/game last year; he may feel he has something to prove and busts out with a huge season
Reasons against: He might not be 100%; it remains to be seen how well he clicks with the new QB, whoever that ends up being; he's not as explosive as the other candidates
Option #2 - Jaydon Mickens
Mickens was a 4-star recruit in the 2012 class, boasting terrific quickness and good speed, and he was good enough (and the depth was depleted enough) that he played as a true freshman. It was a bumpy first year as he showed great wheels but inconsistent hands, with a couple of memorable drops on what could have been big plays.
He worked hard on his hands that off-season, and perhaps no receiver benefited more from the move to a full-time HUNH than Mickens as the playbook featured a heavy dose of rocket plays and WR screens ideally suited for his quicks. His hands were much more consistent and became a favorite target for Price on the quick passing plays, good for an easy 5 yards a pop and sometimes a lot more. He enters the 2014 season as the leading returning receiver on team.
Reasons for: He had the most catches and the 2nd most yards last year; with his magnetic personality and his talent, it's not hard to imagine he'll be the favorite target for the new QB
Reasons against: If his role is similar to last year as stretching the field horizontally more than vertically, he might lead the team in catches again but not yards; he might find his role cannibalized too much by Option #3
UW Fall Camp Preview - WR's and TE's
Our Fall Camp preview continues with a look at those who will be catching the passes in 2014. Fall camp kicks off with Chris Petersen's opening press conference on August 23rd.
Option #3 - John Ross
Sark signed one of the top WR classes in the country for 2013, and of the three recruits in that class, Ross was perhaps the least heralded. Now? He's the last man standing with the transfer of Stringfellow to Ole Miss and the move of Darrell Daniels to TE. Ross was touted as being very similar to Mickens but even faster, and he quickly gained a lot of buzz during Fall Camp for his electric speed and play-making ability. Like Mickens he was too good to redshirt; like Mickens, he flashed terrific ability but showed some inconsistency.
Based off the spring combine held by the new S&C staff, Ross is the fastest player on the roster boasting a hand-timed 4.29/40 reading. While he's probably not quite that fast, he's clearly one of the fastest players in the conference and a home-run threat every time he catches the ball. His issues last year were typical for a freshmen - he was still rather raw in his route-running and understanding the playbook, and his slight build meant he wasn't much of a blocker and he shied away from contact.
Reasons for: His game-breaking speed means he could lead the team in yards/catch, both from fly routes getting behind a secondary and taking a bubble screen to the house; coaches will want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and he should be targeted often in the passing game
Reasons against: He shares a lot of similar traits with Mickens and if they split some reps they may lag behind Kasen in the number of offensive snaps they get; if he hasn't gained enough strength, his slight build may also limit his time on the field
The Verdict: Jaydon Mickens
I think this one comes down to Kasen & Mickens. And while I think Kasen will probably get a few more snaps than Mickens, I also think Mickens will get the most targets in the passing game, and I think he may get a few more fly routes this year than last year. As well, I wonder if Kasen will be truly 100% at the start of the season - he may need a few games to shake off the rust.
What say you?