Signing day is always an interesting event in college football. Recruiting analysts laud the matching of high school studs with programs that meet their needs and pan coaches who “lost out” on those key in-state or highly-rated recruits.
These days often conclude with instant analyses and rankings that are normally compiled based on some sort of metric tied to the number or average star-rating of the recruits in the class. It is not often the case that these analysts match the program’s needs to the talent landed in offering up their “grades”.
This is somewhat curious given that NFL draft experts routinely do their assessments with team needs in mind. Still, it can be more difficult to make such an assessment for a college football team. Any specific gap that a program might have in a position group may not manifest itself for a few seasons past whenever a particular player is signed into a class.
UW head coach Chris Petersen has provided us with some glimpses of his philosophies in how he thinks about filling needs through recruiting. We saw with his first signing class at UW a significant effort to rebalance the roster - particularly on the defensive side of the ball. We also learned that his ideal situation is to be signing classes in the 17 to 18 man range with as close to a 1:1 ratio of graduates to incoming freshmen as possible.
In other words, it's all about balance. Think of it as Chris Petersen’s own Tai Chi philosophy.
With the 2017 class now in the books, we are able to start looking at what gaps Chris Petersen might need to be address in the class ahead. The assessment that follows is purely my own and has not been influenced by any insider information that sources at Dawgman or Rivals may have access to. They don’t pay me enough to be so well connected. Thus, take this all with a grain of salt.
UW graduates 16 scholarship players after this season:
Offense (10): QB Tony Rodriguez, RB Lavon Coleman, WR Dante Pettis, WR KJ Young, WR Nik Little, TE David Ajamu, TE Will Dissly, OL Andrew Kirkland, K Tristan Vizcaino and OL Coleman Shelton
Defense (6): LB Keishawn Bierria, LB Sean Constantine, LB Connor O’Brien, LB Azeem Victor, S Ezekiel Turner, and S Trevor Walker
It should be noted that UW’s current football roster post-signing day 2017 counts 88 players (this assumes that DB Myles Bryant is put on scholarship and that recruit Jordan Lolohela goes on a Mormon mission). Since UW is theoretically over the 85-man roster, it is possible that not all 16 of these players will actually end up on the 2017 football roster. It is also possible that some players that I think are on scholarship by the time the season comes around (AJ Carty, Bryant) are not and that others (Jared Pulu? John Clark?) might be. For now, let’s assume that all 16 seniors are on the team by the time classes enroll.
UW will have a few players that are near certainties to forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft. For the purposes of this analysis, let’s not analyze everybody that could possibly go but only those that are “very likely” and those that are “feasible”
Very Likely (2): DT Vita Vea, QB Jake Browning
Feasible (4): RB Myles Gaskin, OL Trey Adams, OL Kaleb McGary, S JoJo McIntosh
This is a fluid assessment that could change wildly depending on how next season goes. For instance, a guy like DE Jaylen Johnson might have a crazy breakout season and put himself right into the mix. Alternatively, an injury could compel a more likely candidate to stay. Still, history tells us that a program like UW will have three to four players. For this analysis, let’s assume that the early declarees are Vea, Browning and one of the OL.
Positions to Balance
For the most part, the roster that you saw in 2016 seems to represent the kind of balance that Chris Petersen presumably prefers. His roster counts are typically heavy on defensive backs, defensive linemen and offensive linemen and little bit leaner at offensive skill positions. Below is the breakdown of roster balance for 2017 compared to what we expect in 2018 after we account for 2017 graduates:
Offensive Skill - 29 | 22
Offensive Bigs - 15 | 13 (excludes snapper AJ Carty)
Defensive Front Seven - 26 | 22
Defensive Backs - 14 | 12
The other aspect to balance is boluses that might exist by grade level within each position group. Surprisingly, UW has no real concerns with boluses after you adjust for Vea, Browning and one OT declaring early. There is a little bit of an issue among both linebackers and offensive linemen in this season’s sophomore class, but otherwise, nothing much for us to adjust for in this regard.
So now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. What is UW’s plan for its 2018 class?
My best guess is that this class will be roughly 19 players and will be broken down as follows:
Offensively, the Huskies will need to continue to focus on the offensive line. They certainly will want to take two, but will likely have to cover the risk of losing both of their junior tackles after the season. If they get commits from three high priority targets early in the season, they would undoubtedly take them all.
In the skill positions, watch what they do with wide receiver. While UW loses three, only one figures to be a major contributor. WR is one of those positions that is probably out of balance, but also one prone to injury. My best guess is UW takes two receivers and just one TE.
They’ll take one RB to replace Coleman and they already have their QB commit in 4* Jacob Sirmon. They’ll keep recruiting that position just in case, but I’d be surprised if they did decide to take two QBs given the smaller size of the class.
On the Defensive side, the sense of urgency is all around the defensive line. The interior is where the real need exists, but keep in mind that Pete Kwiatkowski has a hockey mentality when it comes to the DL - it's all about rotations. UW will recruit this position hard and could take up to four. I could see that number even going up to five if they have early success with their top targets.
They will also need to refresh the LB / Buck positions. UW has done a nice job getting balanced at the LB position with their recruiting each of the last few years, so a 1 for 1 on the graduates seems likely. 3* LB Jackson Sirmon is already committed and looks like a clear MLB candidate.
Defensive back is always a position of need. Look for the Huskies to take three. There are several talented players (Byron Murphy, JoJo McIntosh, Taylor Rapp, and Austin Joyner come to mind) that have “NFL” written all over them. I’m sure UW will be ready to take an extra commit to help compensate for possible early exits after this season or, possibly, next.
Special teams is the one area that I’m hazy on. UW jumped the gun by taking a kicker this year despite not having a graduate. It does free them up to skip a year and to save that roster spot for another lineman. If UW does take another kicker, it will undoubtedly be at the expense of an extra big man.
There are some caveats to this analysis. The biggest was already mentioned - that UW is currently at 87 or 88 players on the scholarship roster. There will have to be some attrition from the current roster. My bet is that it comes from among the OL and LB groupings, but who really knows? How that situation evolves could affect class size.
Injuries and / or player factors are also an unknown. If UW suffers unexpected attrition, it could modify Petersen’s strategy. Plans for positions like WR and DB - those that true freshmen can often have more success in - could definitely be altered based on things that happen during the season.
Some of you might also want to discuss specific roles within positions groups. I know that Defensive Tackle is a major concern and rightly so. The only problem with getting too granular is that you never really know exactly how some players are going go develop. If a player like Benning Potoa’e or Jason Scrempos grows into a new position, it can change the dynamic of how we look at each class. The same is true among offensive linemen (tackles and guards) and linebackers (OLBs vs Bucks vs DEs).
Regardless, it does seem clear that UW will be targeting a class of about 19 players and that they will be putting a strong emphasis on the lines. I’ll leave it to the recruitniks among you to speculate on names of targets.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you see UW’s needs shaping up and what you think the 2018 class breakdown might look like. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.