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NFL Draft Preview: Washington’s talent will be a factor

The NFL Draft will be feeling purple this year.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The superlatives are boundless:

  • the fastest WR
  • the most athletic defensive back
  • the strongest DT
  • the most explosive and the best blitzing safety
  • the most complete shut-down corner

These are but just a few of the actual quotes that have been pulled from different mock draft analyses and player profiles that are littered around the Internet and across traditional media. While some of these kinds of assessments might be overly gratuitous, they remain indicative of the fact that the Washington Huskies are set to make some noise in the NFL Draft starting in round one on Thursday night.

In total, the Huskies boast eight former players with realistic chances of getting drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. This includes at least three players considered first round “locks” from a talent perspective (though other factors might affect their actual draft status). This list includes:

WR John Ross III

DL Elijah Qualls

DB Kevin King

DB Sidney Jones

DB Budda Baker

TE Darrell Daniels

OL Jake Eldrenkamp

LB Joe Mathis

Each of these players are notable in that they either started out as Steve Sarkisian recruits or came to UW in the Chris Petersen’s first transition class. As such, they essentially represent the initial fruits born from the program that Petersen installed when he came to UW starting in the 2014 season.

The storylines surrounding this class are too many to do justice for in this brief preview. However, there are some interesting tidbits worth commenting on that put some perspective into the upcoming draft.

Most obvious is the fact that there are eight players eligible with five almost certain to be drafted. That is a whole lot of talent coming out of one class, even for a PAC 12 team. For UW, it is almost unheard of. In fact, UW hasn’t had this many truly draftable players in a single draft since their 1997 team produced 10 drafted players (in a class that produced guys like Jerome Pathon, Cam Cleeland, Olin Kreutz and Tony Parrish). Since then, UW has never had more than four go in any single draft. A grand total of zero Huskies were drafted in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 drafts.

That UW is putting four of the 103 college players who had remaining eligibility into the draft is also an interesting development. Again, this is a first in UW history. It is also a lot for any school. While there are the occasional schools that put four or five into the draft every year, they usually are associated with football royalty such as Alabama (three this year), Ohio State (five), Florida (five) and USC (three). This year, UW is putting out more underclassmen than any other PAC 12 program - USC has three and Stanford two.

Related to the previous story line is the fact that UW’s draft class is inclusive of both Sark recruits (Qualls, Daniels, Eldrenkamp, Mathis, King, Ross) and Petersen recruits (Baker, Jones). Despite having come from different staffs with different priorities, each of these players moves on with a reputation for being fundamentally sound - a Petersen characteristic. In addition, most of them also have “elite physical skills” for their positions highlighting their scouting reports. King, Baker, Ross, Qualls, and Jones, in particular, will go to the next level with a bevy of elite measurables padding their resumes. UW’s strength and conditioning program, led by coach Tim Socha, is largely responsible for such accomplishment.

How all this plays out on draft night remains to be seen. There are many questions and analyses floating around that are giving UW fans reason to tune in. Some of those include:

  • Will injury concerns cause the draft’s fastest man - John Ross - to slide down draft boards?
  • Could Sidney Jones overcome a torn achilles and jump back into the first round?
  • Is it possible that Kevin King will be the first Husky selected?
  • Is there a market for Joe Mathis?
  • Could Elijah Qualls sneak into the second round?
  • Are Daniels’s athletic skills or Eldrenkamp’s fundamental skills enough to get either drafted?

That Washington is producing first round talent isn’t necessarily novel. UW certainly has enjoyed the success of early round draftees over the last several years. Three Huskies were first rounders just two years ago. The difference between 2015 and this year is that there is much less certainty on just to who and where the highest rated of UW’s players will end up going.

Regardless, the successes that UW had in the drafts in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 have always felt more a result of the individual talents of the players then a product of the system. The arrival of this class feels more like a real tipping point than aberration. This reflects the consistency that comes from multiple years in the same program, the ability of UW’s staff to instill fundamentals and the product of several cycles of high-level conditioning and physical skills development. As UW looks out into the future, it feels like the program will be a more reliable producer of NFL stock talent than it has in the past. Indeed, players like Vita Vea, Azeem Victor, Keishawn Bierria, Trey Adams and Dante Pettis look like highly draftable players. Several others including Kaleb McGary, Jake Browning , Myles Gaskin and Greg Gaines could also find themselves as potential factors depending on how the season ahead turns out.

That UW seems to have returned to prominence both on the field and in the scouting departments of NFL teams is a welcome sight for fans everywhere. We all know, however, that such moments in time can “go” just as quickly as they come around. Enjoy the moment, Dawg fans. It is going to be a special night full of purple highlights and dubs up.