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Recruiting Roundtable: the Washington Huskies Win on 2016 National Signing Day

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The class is in and the fax machine put back into a Dempsey Center utility closet. It's time for a UWDP recruiting debrief.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Over the holidays, my 11-pound shih-tzu managed to finagle her way into capturing a bowl of Hershey Kisses while the family was unaware.  By the time her insatiable appetite for marginal milk chocolate was fully satisfied, that little shih-tzu was 13 pounds and banished to the garage to...errrr...process her results.

I'm reminded of Scarlet's little chocolaty dalliance as we work through the fallout of NSD 2016.  Let's face it, y'all.  You just can't get enough of your 'crootin news around here.

The UWDP staff is more than happy to feed your insatiable hunger.  Today, we feature a roundtable discussion among the staff that produced this year's UWDP Recruiting Spectacular.

By now, you have heard that Chris Petersen has just signed the most highly regarded class of high school athletes in his illustrious coaching career.  In addition to the 18 scholarship athletes that he signed in what was otherwise a "small" class, he also signed several highly rated preferred walk-ons who will add depth and character to the program in the years ahead.

The Huskies and this class are being warmly received by all the pundits and opposing coaches who understand the depth of foundational talent being developed.  But did it hit on all the needs that the program seems to have prioritized?  Do we appreciate the "Steady Eddy" approach to recruiting that Petersen prefers?  How does the UW staff take the next step in the year ahead?

We discuss it all in our roundtable below.

1.  For the second year in a row, there was no signing day drama for Chris Petersen.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing when it comes to modern-day college recruiting?

Ryan Priest: It's a bad thing. (Yes, someone needs to play the role of Debbie Downer. I'll bite.)

Let me make something clear: By saying that a lack of "signing day drama" is a bad thing, I'm not referring to the fact that the Huskies once again reeled in 100 percent of their committed prospects. That is unquestionably a good thing, and reflects Petersen's admirable attitude that recruits and their families are to be treated with honesty and respect. You'll never see Washington engage in Jim Harbaugh-style scholarship dirty tricks at the 11th hour of the recruiting cycle, and that is a fact of which we can all be immensely proud.

But "signing day drama" doesn't just mean juggling last-minute decommits. Rather, it means having legitimate shots at the type of five- and high-four-star players that every teams needs if it is to contend for conference and national championships. After finishing 2015 with a 7–6 record, it's no surprise that a non-blue-blood program such as Washington was not in the mix for any such players this cycle. But to take the next step toward national relevance, Petersen is going to have to find a way to win those types of signing day battles for the elite-level recruits that elevate teams from being good to great, and great to legendary.

Chris Landon:  Like most things, the answer lies in the eye of the beholder.  Petersen clearly has a resolute philosophy that dictates a vigorous process, the first step of which is an agreement between recruiter and PSA that no mutual commitment will be made to one another without firm resolve on both sides.

It's the old "bird in the hand" argument.

To some, Petersen's ability to deliver on this philosophy strikes at the very heart of his "OKG" approach.  Only the most motivated players end up getting through the sticky UW recruiting funnel.  This delivers future benefits both in terms of motivation (which is an ingredient in player development) and in attrition avoided.

The flip side of this is that quality recruits - both in terms of talent and attitude - might find doors closed to them when their recruiting situation changes, perhaps completely out of their control, at the very end of the cycle.  UW may not be a likely landing spot, for example, for a stud recruit who might have UW #2 when his #1 target (let's call this "Hurbaw University") happens to have his offer yanked in the week preceding signing day.  This kind of tradeoff is inherent in the Petersen strategy.

Drew Loveland: I don't think it's necessarily good or bad - it all depends on what you want out of Signing Day. Some fans enjoy the chaos that comes with surprise commits and last-minute flipping of players to your program who had committed elsewhere. Other fans, like myself, enjoy the calmness and predictability of a Chris Petersen Signing Day. I imagine drama will start creeping back into this day in the near future when UW is in contention for more highly rated prospects, who tend to like making Signing Day decisions.

Kirk DeGrasse: Petersen would tell you it's a good thing.  Yeah, it would have been fun to land Boss Tagaloa or Devin Asiasi (or flip N'Keal Harry), but upside is that Petersen's way of approaching recruiting means he has significant certainty about where he stands, which enables him to better plan how to fill out his class.  He doesn't need to worry about whether these defensive backs are going to flip somewhere else, and he can focus on filling a need elsewhere rather than trying to cover his bases.  The excitement under Neuheisel and Sark often didn't pan out (Lorenzo Booker, Eddie Vanderdoes), or went against the Huskies as much as it did for them (Jordan Payton).

As his recruiting continues to trend up, he may find himself in more Signing Day drama situations, and it will be interesting to see how he handles that - will he be okay waiting until the last minute to see if he lands a particular prospect?

2.  If you could write one salient headline to capture the essence of the 2016 class, what would it be and why?

Kirk:  "Chris Petersen's 2016 Recruiting Class might be under the radar to casual fans, but not opposing coaches"

Ryan:  "Depth and balance again rule the day on the shores of Montlake"

Drew:  "It was a typical low-key Chris Petersen Signing Day, where the biggest story line was 'who broke the office coffee maker?'"

Chris:  "Grass Grows, Paint Dries, and Chris Petersen Signs His 2016 Recruiting Class"

3.  We now have a three-year track record on which to assess Chris Petersen's recruiting strategy.  Are there any trends that you are picking up on that you don't love?

Chris:  For the third year in a row, Petersen and co. have been locked out of the Pacific Islands - specifically Hawaii.  Given the advantages that UW has enjoyed over the years with both the cultivation of their Polynesian culture in the program and the pipelines that have been built through previous staffs, one can't help but to wonder if this staff has squandered a great opportunity.  Note that the one big flip that Petersen suffered in this recruiting cycle happened to be the top offensive lineman in Hawaii.  On the surface, it looks as if Petersen is backing off of the Islands as programs like Utah, USC and Oregon State increase their presence.  In fact, he said as much in his press conference when he made reference to the "footprint" of Texas, Arizona, Washington, California and Oregon looking like it should every year. I don't love the Islands not being part of that.

Drew:  I wouldn't say that I see any bad trends that are continuing under Petersen. He has seemed willing to adapt when certain ways he does things negatively affect UW's recruiting. For example, he learned from the Eason situation that it's best to offer elite QBs early rather than wait until you can get them in camp. As a result of that, Washington has secured the top in-state QB prospect for the 2018 class and are in early for 2019 QB JT Daniels, who will surely be one of the top overall players in that class. I have confidence that he will continue to adapt his methods if need be.

Ryan:  While Pete Kwiatkowski has given ample reason for blue-chip defenders to come play at Washington, the Huskies have not had nearly the same success in luring elite offensive prospects under Petersen's regime. In particular, the Dawgs have not signed a single four-star wide receiver prospect since 2013, when John Ross, Darrell Daniels and Damore'ea Stringfellow—all four-star receivers—signed in 2013 as the crown jewels of Steve Sarkisian's final recruiting class at UW. It seems clear that his lack of success on the recruiting trail as well as on the field played a role in Pete's decision to terminate former wide receiver coach Brent Pease's employment, and shoring up the talent in that position will no doubt be one of the coaching staff's most important goals for the next 12 months.

Kirk:  While I think Petersen has signed some very strong classes and has done a good job in most areas, the position group that sticks out is WR recruiting.  Now, it may well turn out that these guys take a big step forward next year and less heralded players like Andre Baccellia, Quinten Pounds, and Aaron Fuller turn out to be steals, but in a year when the west coast was stacked with high-level WR talent as well as a clear opportunity to play right away at the UW - with a heralded young QB to boot - it was frustrating to miss out on Javon McKinley, N'Keal Harry, Simi Fehoko, Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, Dylan Crawford, Damian Alloway, and more.

4.  Let's talk players here.  Give me your best guess on a "dark horse" signee from this class.

Ryan: It's hard to pick a darkhorse candidate out of a 17-man class with seven four-stars and 10 three-stars, but if I have to choose, I'm going with running back Kamari Pleasant. With Dwayne Washington out of the picture, Pleasant has the chance to add some good bulk between now and August and perhaps fill the role of the taller, bigger-bodied back that Washington played so well in 2015 when he was healthy. Ideally he'll be given the opportunity to redshirt, particularly if the 5-11, 222 lb. junior Lavon Coleman is able to perfect his pass-protection schemes and become that guy for the Huskies. If not, however, Pleasant has a legitimate shot to fill those shoes.

Chris:  It's cliché to go with the QB, so let's go for it.  Daniel Bridge-Gadd is a classic "under-the-radar" guy who falls into that category thanks to being the so-called "late bloomer" in an environment that increasingly applies its labels to players as early as their freshman years in high school.  When you look at DBG's film, it's not hard to see why the coaches love him.  He's got a quality arm, he's athletic, he's more accurate than you might have guessed and, importantly, he has that Russell Wilson/Vernon Adams penchant for keeping a play alive while not breaking the pocket too early.  It isn't difficult to imagine a scenario where the QB situation evolves to the point where DBG is the "next man up" by his sophomore or junior season.

Kirk:  I have a growing feeling that Myles Rice is going to be a guy that three years from now, analysts look back at and say "how did we miss this guy?"  He's fairly new to the sport and he lost most of a year to a knee injury, so he's raw.  But the physical skills are there in a big way - he's big, long, and fast, and he may end up an ideal BUCK after a few years of coaching and physical development.

Drew: I really like what I see from Jacob Kizer. I bet I could count on one hand the amount of times I've heard or seen his name uttered since he committed back in July, but I think he could turn into a solid contributor. He has surprising athleticism and is a true tight end who can hold his own in the trenches as well as go out and catch passes. I don't expect him to blow up stat sheets, but again, I think he can turn into a solid contributor for the Huskies.

5.  Petersen and his staff have taken steps forward with each of their three signing classes.  What is the logical next step in their recruiting prowess as they look ahead to 2017?

Drew: The next step for UW in the 2017 class is landing some of those elite prospects whom they've narrowly missed out on in the last couple classes - guys like Mique Juarez, Jonathan Kongbo, and N'Keal Harry. The best way to do that is to win, and I expect those wins to start increasing this season. Clearly the 'Built For Life' message is resonating with top recruits and their families, but I suspect winning will be the push that UW needs to start closing on some of those guys.

Ryan: As I mentioned earlier, Washington's biggest recruiting shortcoming under Chris Petersen has been on the offensive side of the ball, particularly among receivers. In order to change those fortunes, the Dawgs are going to have to build off their late-season success, in which they averaged 32.5 offensive points per game in the year's final four contests. Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin look like the most promising quarterback/running back duo Washington has had since the Keith Price and Bishop Sankey combo in 2013, and winning 10 games—a difficult but certainly achievable task—will likely afford Chris Petersen access to potential recruits of a caliber he's never before been able to pursue. Washington's "Built for Life" mantra will always appeal to a certain subset of athlete and his family, but without reaching the kind of success that has Washington consistently finishing among the nation's top 10 or 15 teams, it's hard to imagine UW's recruiting classes getting much better than this year's.

Kirk:  I think they keep doing what they're doing, but if the team has the kind of success we're expecting and predicting in 2016, the recruiting results should be even better as Petersen will have an even more compelling product to sell.  He's signed his best recruiting class yet (on a per-star average basis) off of 8-6 and 7-6 records - imagine the pull he'll have with top recruits if he's recruiting to a 10-3 (or better) team? I also think the way he goes about recruiting - his commitment to his commits and his "built for life" pitch - is gaining traction.  High school coaches are taking notice and he's building good relationships both in state and around the west (and increasingly in Texas).

Chris:  I alluded above to the fact that Petersen seems to be retreating from the Pacific Islands.  He does, however, seem to be doubling down on the expansion of his pipelines in both Arizona and Texas.  The latter, in particular, is critical to have bear fruit in the next cycle.  While the in-state crop of players is sure to be a good one, the reality is that there are elite athletes--simply too many to ignore--playing in high-level programs where Petersen now has access.  Petersen has made significant investments into cultivating this pipeline at considerable cost.  Players like Chris Warren and Zach Farrar - the few critical difference-makers on whom this staff has shown an ability to get in - need to be signed in the next cycle in order to demonstrate the return potential on those investments.