The 2015 Huskies were characterized by anything but their experience and senior leadership. They were very young in key positions, but did rely upon some seniors to deliver big seasons. Travis Feeney, Cory Littleton, Tani Tupou, Jaydon Mickens, Brian Clay, and Josh Perkins come to mind as the biggest senior contributors.
There were also a few lesser known 4th- and 5th-year players out there: Scott Lawyer never broke through completely, but he proved to be a valuable and experienced backup. He even won the 2015 Don James Perseverance Award.
Marvin Hall was finally a real contributor on the field, coming up with some key plays like that beautiful double pass he threw against USC, which was one of the plays of the season in my opinion. Then there's Jarrett Finau. He never made an impact on the field, but showed his heart and that he's all Husky by sticking with the program for 5 years, and winning the defensive scout team MVP award in his final season.
But who leaves the biggest hole? Whose production will be the most challenging to replace? I thought a lot about Brian Clay, because he brought a lot of experience to a pretty dominant secondary. However, there are so many talented DBs all over the roster his shoes (cleats?) will be easiest to fill. Ultimately, I settled on two offensive and two defensive players: Travis Feeney, Cory Littleton, Jaydon Mickens, and Josh Perkins. Let's take a closer look.
2015 stats: 56 tackles, 17.5 for loss, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Every good defense needs a pass rush to make it all click. A good, consistent, pass rush does absolute wonders for a defense, and it's pretty hard to field a good defense without one. Travis Feeney brought that to the 2015 defense, playing the integral BUCK position. His stats speak to the year he had, but fail to show the intensity, passion, and downright ferociousness of his game.
When it comes to replacing him, Joe Mathis looks to be the BUCK of the future, and in his senior year, should finally deliver on his full potential and promise. It would be crazy to say that he'll have the kind of year Feeney had, especially since Mathis has not been a consistent starter, though in his limited time he has made his fair share of "splash" plays. Plus, with Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls helping him eat quarterbacks for lunch, he can't be keyed on by offensive lines.
Feeney on paper leaves the biggest hole, but also has a lot of talented players ready to take over his spot and those around him.
2015 stats: 63 tackles, 11 for loss, 6 sacks
Cory LIttleton was Feeney's partner in crime on the other side of the defense. He never got the praise and hype of Feeney, but Littleton was a very underrated pass rusher for the Dawgs. He was an honorable mention All Pac-12 player, who won the team's Chuck Niemi Big Hit Award.
His replacement is less clear cut. Psalm Wooching sits atop the depth chart but a lot of fans, myself included, don't feel that position is the most secure. He's tough and athletic, but I wouldn't be surprised if a younger player emerges midway through the season and slowly takes over that position (lookin' at you, Tevis Bartlett).
2015 stats: 50 catches, 597 yards, 2 TDs
Mickens is a pretty decisive figure for a lot of Husky fans. Coming into his senior year, he was expected to build upon a good junior campaign, but ultimately caught less passes, for less yards, and fewer touchdowns. He also didn't seem to show a lot of willingness to run downfield after the catch, and was pretty hit and miss on game days. That said, I haven't forgotten your clutch 3rd-down catch to seal the USC win, Jaydon!
He had some big plays, including a nifty TD run in the bowl game, but his longest catch was only 43 yards. He was always lauded by coaches and players for his effort and leadership in practice, but it didn't always show in games. What does the WR group look like without him? Well, still not great, though a lot of signs point to overall improvement from last year (a new position coach being a big one). Count me in the "Andre Baccellia will emerge this season as a reliable target" camp. Between him and Chico McClatcher, I think Mickens's production is replicated.
2015 stats: 36 catches, 539 yards, 3 TDs
Call him the silent assassin. He was steady, improving his numbers little by little each year, though a few more touchdowns would have been nice. He carved out a nice role for himself catching passes over the middle, though there were a lot of catches left out on the field it feels like. Ultimately a 35+ catch season with a true freshman QB is a great year, but who will step up?
The entire TE position group is pretty deep but Darrell Daniels is the headliner and could be in for the in-fashion Chris Petersen senior year boost. He's improved his catch numbers every year, and just continues to ooze potential and superior athleticism. This is his year to shine, and he'll be helped by Drew Sample, Jeff Lindquist, Will Dissly, and David Ajamu. Sample only had a handful of catches last year but 2 of them were touchdowns. Lindquist is intriguing moving over from QB, but continues to come up with nice catches in spring practice.
Josh Perkins provided a very steady and productive presence, but the ceiling and overall depth of the unit feel much higher heading into 2016.
Okay, bear with me on this one. I'm going with Cory Littleton. Sure with Travis Feeney the most "stats" are lost on defense, and the same could be said for Perkins on offense. But the TEs have enough talent and depth to mitigate Perkins, and I just have a good feeling about Joe Mathis at BUCK. But with Littleton, I see a very underrated and important presence on the defense that I don't see easily replaced by Psalm Wooching, Bryce Sterk, or Tevis Bartlett. Yes, I think Bartlett could likely emerge mid-season and take over for your likely game 1 starter in Wooching, but in the end, there's no obvious standout to take his place.
Remember, Littleton was technically an OLB so he had some coverage responsibilities, which I don't feel as good about with his potential replacements. Cory Littleton leaves a smaller hole than some other players considered, but ultimately doesn't have the talent and depth in his replacements the others do.