2015 was an historic NFL Draft for players coming out of the University of Washington. The Huskies had a record three first-rounders - all from the defensive side of the ball - have their names called in primetime on Day 1. By the time it was all said and done, four Huskies would be drafted and a total of 12 players would end up either signing or being invited to an NFL camp. The odds are long for some and sure for others. Regardless, there will be a lot of woofing around the League over the next several months. Let's break it down:
Historic First Round
By now, everybody knows that the best player on the Huskies defense a year ago - and the real defensive player of the year in the Pac 12 based on pure production and impact on the game - was Huskies NT Danny Shelton. He went #12 overall to the Cleveland Browns, the team with the worst run-defense in the NFL a season ago. Shelton will be a day one starter and will pair with 335 lb Phil Taylor to form one of the most intimidating defensive interiors in the league.
CB Marcus Peters, who had been dismissed from the Huskies mid-season by first year head coach Chris Petersen, went #18 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs. Peters, who sports a huge seven foot wingspan, was viewed as the best press coverage corner in the draft by most experts and may have been a top 10 pick had it not been for character concerns. Despite the goodwill shown by the Huskies staff in inviting Peters back into the program to workout and to participate in its Pro Day, Peters still went off the board as the third CB drafted overall. Fitting in with Andy Reid is a good landing spot for Peters who figures to be an instant starter in the pass happy AFC West.
The last of the three Huskies picked in the first round was the most surprising. OLB/S Shaq Thompson was selected #25 overall by the Carolina Panthers. Shaq had been widely considered a first-round talent before questions were raised at the NFL combine relating to his 'tweener body style and his natural position fit. Carolina, who has had some success with hybrid defenders in the past, will likely use Shaq in a weakside linebacker type of role where he can leverage his versatility in the coverage game while providing some playmaking closer to the line of scrimmage.
The all-time leader in sacks at Washington made his own meteoric rise on draft night. OLB Hau'oli Kikaha opened a lot of eyes when he was selected #44 overall by the New Orleans Saints. Kikaha had been ranked by many analysts as a third or fourth round talent based on his history of injury and his "tweener" body dimensions. Tagged as too small to be an every down end and too slow to be an every down linebacker, Kikaha had been labeled by many to be a "pass rush specialist".
Fortunately, pass rush specialists were in short-supply in the 2015 draft class.
Kikaha's selection preceded those of players who were viewed by many of these same analysts as better all-around hybrid players. Athletes like Utah's Nate Orchard, UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa and Nebraska's Randy Gregory were all on the board when the Saints picked Kikaha.
"So Hau’oli Kikaha was a guy that we spent time with, a lot of time with," said Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. "He has great football DNA. He is tough. He is physical. He is someone that we feel like rushes the passer exceptionally well. Occasionally there are players that you hope you have a chance to coach, this guy would be that player for us."
New Orleans is a great fit for Kikaha as he will get a chance to play right away as a strongside line backer in a division that seems to be a good place for a young pass rusher to cut his teeth.
Just Missed the Cut
Several Huskies who were considered "draftable" by the experts ended up not being drafted as the NFL Draft concluded with just the four Dawgs noted above having their names called. LB John Timu, WR Kasen Williams, DE Andrew Hudson and OL Micah Hatchie all fell into that bucket.
The second wave of the draft these days is the undrafted free agent signing period. For each of those players, one or more offers came their way during that period. Each picked a situation that seems to give them a decent chance to catch on with an NFL roster.
Andrew Hudson signed with the Buffalo Bills. Under new head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills will use a four man front with a 5T kind of role similar to what Hudson played at UW. Combining his familiarity with his role with the kind of motor that an emotional coach like Ryan is just going to love leads me to believe that this could turn into something for A-Hud. I've heard some rumblings that people are already penciling him in as a backup to starting end Jerry Hughes. That may be ambitious, but it is certainly a good match.
The Chicago Bears signed John Timu. As I've written previously, Timu is going to have to make his mark as a versatile inside/outside backer and special teamer. Like A-Hud with the Bills, there is a match here between team need and what Timu brings to the table. However, there are a more bodies competing for the same role that Timu is targeting with the Bears. He'll have a tough climb.
Kasen Williams signing by Cincinnatti is a coup and a strong fit. They absolutely need physical perimeter players who can complement what the oft-injured AJ Green brings to the table and who can support that rushing attack. Assuming Kasen is healthy, he'll have a very strong chance to make the Bengals practice squad.
Micah Hatchie was among the most in-demand of all of the Huskies UDFAs, garnering offers from four different teams. Hatchie picked the offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers, an organization that clearly values production over physical potential as a personnel philosophy. Most analysts thought that Pittsburgh had OL holes to fill in the draft, but they did not draft a single lineman. This bodes well for Hatchie's chances, though he'll have to compete with two other UDFA signings in order to break through.
Surprise Signings and Invites
There were other Huskies who were a little bit more unsettled coming into Draft Night who each left the weekend knowing that they were going to get a shot. The most inspiring of those stories is the invite of RB Jesse Callier to Seahawks camp. Callier will get a chance to show that he has recovered from his second ACL injury and to demonstrate the versatility that he possessed before his injury. It's a long shot for Callier, but he's still fighting for his dream.
WR DiAndre Campbell and TE Michael Hartvigson are a couple other names that most fans were not expecting to hear about. Campbell, who really built a reputation as a physical blocker, signed an UDFA deal with the San Francisco 49ers. His offensive counterpart, Hartvigson, is a bigger tight end who never really fit into the offensive schemes of either Steve Sarkisian or Chris Petersen. However, he'll get a mini-camp shot with the Seahawks in an offense that obviously values what bigger tight ends can do to help in the run game and to free up opportunities for their hybrid tight ends like. We'll see whether or not Hartvigson can do anything with that shot.
OL Mike Criste is another somewhat enigmatic story with a positive ending. Criste was a pre-season awards candidate as an offensive center before Chris Petersen and his staff came in with new ideas on how the offensive line should be run. Criste ended up on the bench much of the season before making a splash later in the year. He also earned an invite to Seahawks camp and will compete for a chance to make the roster of a team in desperate need for competition on the offensive line.
The Waiting Game Commences
There a number of other Huskies who may still be holding out hope but for whom no opportunity has yet come to pass. DB Travell Dixon and DL Evan Hudson fall into this category. You may as well add in the name of former Husky QB Keith Price who continues to chase his dream of making it into the league. These are all great Dawgs who could each conceivably get a shot somewhere down the line. One only needs to look at the strange career arc of former Husky DL Caesar Rayford to know that the door is never completely shut. We wish them all good luck.