I would say it’s time to fire up the hype machine for the 2016 Husky football team, but that machine is already greased and rolling. Way-too-early top 25 polls are featuring Washington as a force in the Pac 12 North, and Husky football fans' hopes are higher than they have been in over a decade.
One of the reasons for such optimism: the Dawgs aren't losing very many players to graduation. In the first of a two-part series on replacing key players, we look at the departing players on offense and who is likely to step into their roles in 2016.
WR Jaydon Mickens, WR 5'11" 175 (2015: 58 receptions/692 yards)
While Mickens was never an All-Conference caliber player, the numbers he put up as a senior are consistent with what he produced over his last 3 years at Washington: numbers that were better than anyone else on the 2015 team by a pretty wide margin. A versatile receiver who lined up wide as well as in the slot, Mickens is a very good route runner with nice hands and some serious wiggle. Replacing him will not be one man's job. By that I don't mean that one guy can’t catch 60+ balls for 700 yards, but stepping in for him means being the leading WR in terms of catches, yards, and wiggle. I am excluding guys like Isaiah Renfro and Brayden Lenius as they fall more into the big-receiver mold.
Chico McClatcher 5'7" 175, So (2015: 8 receptions/78 yards)
Well, here's your wiggle. But McClatcher was a running back in high school and only caught 8 balls during his freshman season. I could definitely see his role increased in the passing game, but it is likely that Chico remains Chico and continues to do what he does well: run the fly sweep and perhaps catch a few more screen passes. I'd love for him to surprise me and show that he is a true WR, but at this point he is not a logical pick for Jaydon 2.0.
Dante Pettis 6'0" 185, Jr (2015: 30 receptions /414 yards)
Many thought Pettis would emerge as one of Jake Browning's top targets in 2015, but he got off to a slow start and seemed to be on a different wavelength than Browning on too many plays. Perhaps we can blame the QB competition in spring and fall camp that slowed the development of chemistry with Browning, as Pettis did become more productive as the season went on. After only 9 catches for 103 yards in the first 5 games, he eventually did become one of Jake’s go-to guys. Pettis hauled in 21 passes for 311 yards over the final 8 games. While he didn't have a single catch over 20 yards in the first third of the season, he had 6 such plays down the stretch. Pettis is my pick to lead the team in receptions and possibly yards as well, but he was such a key WR for the team in 2015 that if he is the replacement for Mickens, then someone has to step up and replace him as the #2 among the diminutive WRs.
Quinten Pounds 5'11" 170, RFr (2015: no catches in 4 games)
Pounds saw the field early as a true freshman before injuring his knee in practice and missing the rest of the season. Watching his high school reel, I love what I see. He is not the fastest guy, nor the shiftiest, but has surprising strength for his size and shows innate WR ability. Great hands: check. Body control: check. Route running: check. But what jumped out to me the most was that time and time again he would come back to the football and keep the defender on his hip. And when the play broke down, he looked to help his quarterback immediately. The latter is of extra importance with a QB like Jake Browning who loves to move in the pocket and keep the play alive. Pounds won’t likely catch as many balls as Pettis next season, but I look for him to be the guy to fill the void left by Mickens as a productive, reliable target packed into a small frame.
WR Marvin Hall 5'10" 190 (2015: 9 rec, 206 yards)
Marvin Hall? You are actually worried about replacing Marvin Hall? Believe it or not, Hall was the primary target on more go-routes that just about anyone on the team in 2015. And Coach Pete loses his #1 trick play guy. So yeah, we gotta replace Marvin Hall.
Candidates: The Guy:
John Ross 5'11" 192, Jr (2014: 17 rec 371 yards)
I suppose a lot of Husky fans are expecting Ross to be the obvious choice to replace Mickens. I thought about that, and just can’t realistically foresee replacing a guy who caught 60 passes a year three seasons in a row with someone who has never even caught 20. Don't get me wrong, Ross will have a huge role in the Husky offense if he returns to form, but I see it more as a massive upgrade from Hall as the deep threat than as a volume receiver. We should all be super excited to have him back and I can’t wait to see if Browning can overthrow JR III.
As for double-pass candidates, both Pounds and McClatcher boast multiple throwing plays on their high school film reel. Pounds ran a lot of wildcat in HS and throws a pretty nice lefty ball.
TE Joshua Perkins 6'4" 225 (2015: 36 rec 539 yards)
Perkins served as a security blanket for Jake Browning in 2015. A big target in the middle of the field with reliable hands, Perkins was a matchup problem for defenses. Unfortunately, he also blocked about as well as a security blanket. The Huskies are deep at tight end, so replacing Perkins' production is doable.
Darrell Daniels 6'4" 240, Sr (2015: 19 rec 250 yards)
Everyone was expecting a big season from Daniels after showing flashes of what he can do during his sophomore campaign. But early on he was MIA from the stat sheet and I wondered if he would be a player with potential that never developed. After being held without a catch in 5 of the first 7 games, Daniels came alive and finished strong, recording 10 catches the final 4 games. While I do expect him to fill some of the statistical void left by Perkins' departure, Daniels was already an important part of the offense and did something that Perkins never did: block like a beast. I see Daniels more as an upgrade to his 2015 self than as a replacement for Perkins.
Drew Sample (6’4" 245, So. / 5 rec 45 yards) is more of a possession/blocking TE, and while a capable receiver, he won’t be expected to make the kind of WR plays Perkins made. Ditto David Ajamu (6’5" 250, Jr).
Mike Neal 6’4" 225, RSFr (2015: Redshirt)
The 18th-ranked TE in the class of 2015 per ESPN, Neal looks a whole lot like Perkins on the field. He has fantastic hands, a big catch radius, and runs very well. Early in the season I could see Neal making plays and sending Husky fans to their programs as they whisper to themselves "Who is number 84?" Neal is my darkhorse pick to take on Perkins' role in 2016.
RB Dwayne Washington 6'2" 225 (2015: 47 ru 282 yards / 25 rec 315 yards)
What a love/hate affair Husky fans had with DW. On one hand, you just don’t find a lot of 225-pound guys that run a 4.42 40-yard dash. But the fumbles, the running into his own lineman’s ass, and unfortunately at the end of 2015, the injury in warm-ups that he never recovered from. No one can argue Washington’s value as a receiver and blocker. So replacing him means finding a back who can not only catch the ball, but also stay in to help protect Browning.
Deontae Cooper 5'11", 200, Sr (2015: 16 ru 98 yards / 2 rec 4 yards)
Oh, Coop. Are you coming back for your 7th year? After a nice 2014 (440 yards from scrimmage) Cooper was a bit of a non-factor last season. Most notable was his drop of a perfectly thrown wheel route in the Oregon game. That hurt. That was a DW play and he had it clang off his hands. We all love this guy. If he comes back he will be a key player on special teams and have some carries, but not likely taking Washington's place.
Sean McGrew 5'7" 176 (True Freshman)
Watching McGrew is fun. I can't wait to see him on the field and I think that happens in 2016. He's built like Barry Sanders and changes direction almost as well. I don't know if I'm really buying the 4.37 40-speed when I watch his tape, but he's pretty fast. Will he replace DW? Well, he might bust off some long runs, so in that sense, yes. But asking an 18-year-old 5'7" frosh to read blitzes and pass protect might be a stretch. So, no I don't think he's the 3rd down back in 2016.
Jomon Dotson 5'10", 174, So (2015: 18 ru 42 yards / 2 rec 19 yards)
Dotson doesn't have Washington's size, but he's got his speed. At the team combine last year he ran a near-identical 4.43 40-yard time to Washington's 4.42. Dotson created some buzz in the spring and concluded a solid April with some nice catch-and-run plays in the Spring Preview. Watching his high school reel, he makes nice adjustments to balls thrown behind him and sets up blocks really well. Can he block? Well, no high school stud running back is ever asked to block, but he made some plays on defense where he had his hand in the ground as a DE and bulldozed the tackle for a QB sack. That's a start. Entering his 3rd season in Peterson's offense, I like Dotson to be the the guy here.
C Siosifa Tufunga 6’3" 314
Okay, I'm not going to pretend to be able to scout offensive linemen the way I pretend to scout skill players, so lets make this simple; Tufunga started every game of the season at center and did a pretty good job.
Shane Brostek 6’4" 305, Sr
After redshirting his junior year in 2014, Brostek started 2 games at Guard and played in 9. He was the #2 center behind Tufunga and is the obvious heir apparent.
Jesse Sosebee 6’5" 311, So
Sosebee played in the last 12 games of the year and is the other leading candidate for this job based on the fact that he started the Cal and Utah State games at right guard. Guards sometimes move to center. That's all I got.
UW seems pretty loaded with depth on the offensive line, so I'm sure there are other good candidates or even one of the returning starters could move to center. Please, Coach Strausser, just make sure to pick a guy who snaps the ball accurately.