The preseason hype is building for the Washington Huskies football team, and some of this hype can be credited to the NFL potential surrounding several players on the Huskies’ roster. This past spring, former Huskies Travis Feeney and Dwayne Washington were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft's sixth and seventh rounds respectively. In contrast, after this season, the Huskies could have up to five players drafted in 2017.
Most experts who are projecting the Huskies to be successful this season point to the team’s talent in the secondary. Highlighting the pass defense are returning starters, junior safety Budda Baker and junior defensive back Sidney Jones. While both do not currently appear on a handful of preliminary 2017 NFL first-round mock drafts, the consensus among media types and fans have pinned the duo as the Huskies’ best pro prospects.
Which player on the current roster has the potential to be the best player in the NFL? Let’s take a look at our options.
Option 1: Budda Baker, Junior, Safety, 5’10", 192 lbs
Baker garnered All-Pac-12 First Team honors after starting 12 games, totaling 49 tackles, two interceptions, and nine pass breakups. The Bellevue High School product reportedly added 18 pounds, going from last year’s 174 to 192 lbs. The added weight will make Baker a stronger and sturdier force in the secondary for the Huskies, though the impact on his closing speed has yet to be determined. Baker is currently ranked as the No. 2 free safety among juniors in the country, according to NFLDraftScout.com/CBS Sports. Despite this high ranking, Baker does not appear in the first round of most 2017 NFL Mock Drafts, but he has an entire season to improve his stock.
Option 2: Sidney Jones, Junior, Defensive Back, 6’0", 181 lbs
The 2015 First-Team All Pac-12 defensive back returns to the Huskies as the most likely to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. On paper, Jones was statistically one of the best defensive players in the Pac-12, leading the league in pass breakups and finishing in the top ten in interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3).
Off the field, Jones is already known for his obsession with watching film, which is a never a bad thing. Jones’ talent enables his secondary counterparts to make plays. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones only allowed 44.3% of targets into his coverage to be caught. Right now, Jones ranks as the No. 3 cornerback among juniors per NFLDraftScout/CBS Sports.
Option 3: Elijah Qualls, Junior, Defensive Line, 6’1", 321 lbs
While teams will certainly be concerned with the Huskies’ secondary this season, Qualls is one of the most important returning players on Washington’s defense. Qualls will be looking to improve upon his sophomore campaign, in which he missed three games due to injury. If Qualls can stay healthy this season, it may benefit his draft stock by the end of the year. Qualls finished the season with 26 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss. In terms of intangibles, Qualls has emerged as one of the team’s vocal leaders.
Others in consideration: LB Keishawn Bierria (Jr), TE Darrell Daniels (Sr), DB Kevin King (Jr), WR John Ross (Jr), OL Coleman Shleton (Jr), LB Azeem Victor (Jr).
Jones is entering this season with the most hype, and rightfully so. He is arguably the most NFL-ready on the entire UW roster, backed up by his statistical record as a playmaker. In conversations with other fans, King’s length, Victor’s playmaking ability and Daniels’ athleticism put those three players into the conversation as well.