Upon his arrival to UW now over one year ago, the most asked question about Chris Petersen pertained to his ability to recruit "at a Pac 12 level". Noting that he had only ever landed one consensus four star recruit, much consternation was given to this subject by a fan base who had become accustomed, if not a bit star struck, by the grand recruiting battles - and victories - waged by Steve Sarkisian and his merry band of recruiting aces.
Could Pete reel in a Shaq Thompson? Could he flip a guy like Demore'ea Stringfellow? Could he protect a hometown favorite like Kasen Williams?
Legit questions, all of them.
I don't think that we can say for certain that the book is now written on Chris Petersen and his ability to recruit. We can say, however, that we have a pretty good idea of what his philosophies and priorities are ... at least what they are beyond the "OKG" mantra that we all picked up on in his first days following his transition from Boise State.
To move this dialogue along, I picked out three words that I think best characterize what we have learned about Coach Petersen and his recruiting approach following the completion of the 2015 class.
After you get past the ridiculous success that Petersen had in locking down the top talent in Washington - 6 of the top 7 rated players in the state - the one thing that really jumps out at you are the dimensions of the players that Washington signed. Last year, there were a few notable big bodies like Kaleb McGary, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea. This year, there were a whole lot more spread across multiple position groupings.
On the offensive line, guys like Henry Roberts (6'6" 280 lbs) and Trey Adams (6'8" 280 lbs) come in sporting length and weight dimensions that could translate into immediate playing time if necessary. At the same time, Devin Burleson and Jared Hilbers both come in topping the 6'6" mark with plenty of room to get their weight into the 290-310 lb range if that's where Tim Socha wants to take them. Whereas last year McGary was the aberration, this year he'd be the norm.
It doesn't just stop there. On the defensive side, the Huskies stocked up on long angular players at two of the three levels. Jason Scrempos, at 6'6" and Benning Potoa'e at 6'3" 265 lbs are the models for the kind of athletic, long and versatile DEs that Petersen will be emphasizing - now and into the future. DE Myles Rice (6'4"), DT Ricky McCoy (6'3, 290 lbs), CB Jordan Miller (6'1") and S Ezekiel Turner (6'1") are all of plus size for their position groupings.
There are two notable areas lacking size in this class and they both happen to be areas that the Huskies were desperate to fill due to a lack of balance on the roster: linebacking and receiving. Only Justiss Warren is taller than 6'2" from among the LB group while only one of the four receivers taken - Isaiah Renfro - stands taller than six feet. Credit Petersen and staff for compensating for the lack of ideal size in those groups by attracting guys who have put up ridiculous production in high school. Chico McClatcher, DJ Beavers and Ben Burr-Kirven all fit that mold.
A remarkable attribute of Chris Petersen's first two recruiting cycles was the complete absence of any last-second drama around his committed players. No last second flips out of the commit pool (just ask WSU how painful that can be). No unexpected signing day surprises for or against us. And, unfortunately, no wins amongst the down-to-the-last-day undecideds. Two years in a row.
Sure, I suppose you could say that there was some drama with Chris Warren's coin flip. However, if you believe that he hadn't already decided on Texas before that token gesture (which was really a complement to Chris Petersen and the recruitment he put on Warren), then I have a spring water well in Las Vegas that I think you'd be interested in.
The truth is that Chris Petersen's recruiting style is boring. That isn't to say that he won't - some day - get in the race for truly elite talent that doesn't otherwise have ties to the surrounding area. However, it is to say that his approach is much more likely to weed out the truly uniterested much earlier in the process. In addition, his philosophies on how to make an offer and how to accept a commitment are also designed to ensure that the recruit's decision is well vetted out and that his parents / stakeholders are fully on-board. It's also designed to ensure that any player who gets an offer doesn't have that offer unduly rescinded at the final hour like some other programs (ahem, Bobby Petrino and Steve Sarkisian) are prone to do.
I alluded to it above, but it bears repeating. Sarkisian was constantly struggling to establish a balance of depth across positions groupings on this roster, in part, because his recruiting philosophy focused on assembling all-stars more than well-coordinated pieces. In addition, his emphasis in recruiting SoCal created more risk of roster churn as warm-weather players were more likely - for whatever reason - to become more likely to transfer or fall out of the program.
Petersen has spent considerable effort in the past two recruiting cycles trying to re-establish the kind of depth of numbers that he feels the program needs to have in order to be able to sustain injury and attrition. He's done it first by over stocking desperately short position groupings like he did with the defensive backs last season and he did with linebackers, receivers and defensive linemen this year.
Secondly, he's put up the aforementioned chain link fence around his critical recruiting pipelines in Washington state and a few other key markets. In doing so, he's taken a big step forward in reducing the risk of homesick or distracted players dropping out of the program at a future date and creating critical unplanned holes in depth.
Three words to sum up a recruiting class: Big, Boring, Balanced. Of course, these three words are not any kind of grand conclusion. It is almost a certainty that Petersen and co are looking at the 2015 class as a final step in the rebalancing of the roster before they fully implement their ideal, steady-state approach to positional recruiting and player selection.
What we cannot do is simply conclude that what Petersen achieved with his 2015 class is good enough or, on the flip side, as good as it will ever get. I bet if you asked Pete directly, and if he were inclined to give a forthright answer, he'd flat-out tell you that he's not attracting the kind of athleticism at LB, potential at RB or talent at WR that he is going to need to produce the kind of team that he wants to be.
However, I imagine that he'd also tell you in order to take the step forward into the battles for that kind of regional talent, you need to make sure your existing pipelines, including your home state, is completely locked down. Not only does that starve your regional competition, but it also provides you the reliable (and sustaintable) depth that you need to keep your roster balanced each and every year. This was clearly a step that Sark was comfortable skipping and the price we paid as a program were too much churn of homesick or troubled SoCal talent and too many units suffering from a lack of adequate numbers on a year to year basis.
While I think all of us are very excited by the 24th ranked class that Petersen has assembled here in 2015, I imagine more than a few of you are feeling a bit anxious about the players we missed on - guys that would have filled critical gaps like Jaylinn Hawkins and Chris Warren. I hear you and I feel your angst. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait another year before we'll know for sure if Petersen is destined to be only a regional recruiter or if he has the chops to build on this 2015 class and parlay that into an ability to attract a few more elite-talent types of pieces. But don't stress too much. He's already beaten the expectations of most critics and I wouldn't bet against him in 2016.