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Spring Preview: Opportunity abounds at Wide Receiver

A mix of returning upperclassmen and promising new additions makes the WR position an intriguing topic in 2018

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

This shit is important. There’s no messing around in the fall. The Huskies play on the big stage right away. It’s not Rutgers, an FCS school, or any other individually frosted, one-serving snack cake.

It’s the SEC’s Auburn Tigers, in Atlanta, and everyone probably thinks that since the Pac-12 sucks, the Dawgs have no chance.

Washington’s receiving corps is going to have a lot to say about whether or not that’s true. They need to be great. We know they can be good, but that won’t be enough. “Good” is enough to win most of the games on the schedule, but if beating Auburn and winning the Pac-12 title are the goals, this unit might have to be even better than the 2016 group of John Ross, Dante Pettis and Co.

2018 Washington Huskies Wide Receivers

Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Andre Baccellia 5 5'10" 173 lbs JR
Chico McClatcher 6 5'7" 176 lbs JR
Aaron Fuller 12 5'10" 190 lbs JR
Alex Cook 15 6'1" 192 lbs R-FR
Austin Osborne 18 6'2 188 lbs FR
Ty Jones 20 6'4" 215 lbs SO
Quinten Pounds 21 5'11" 183 lbs JR
Terrell Bynum 28 6'1" 190 lbs R-FR
Jordan Chin 82 6'0" 165 lbs SO
Trey Lowe* NA 5'9" 174 lbs FR
Marquis Spiker* NA 6'3" 180 lbs FR
Josh Rasmussen** 29 5'11" 182 lbs JR
Ian Biddle** 47 6'0" 187 lbs SR
Max Richmond** 80 5'9" 181 lbs SR
John Gardner** 89 6'3" 197 lbs SR
* Arriving in Fall **Walk On

Before we dive into this group, some of UW’s top receiving targets are not listed above. TE Hunter Bryant, and RBs Salvon Ahmed & Myles Gaskin had some of the biggest receiving plays and games of the 2017 season. Those three will be a force again. Bryant should be a top producer overall in the passing game, and Ahmed is the go-to WR for the Chris Petersen toss/reverse.

But this is about the list above. What can the wideout position bring to this offense? UW features an accurate and experienced QB, a solid offensive line, and high-level skill players at the RB and TE position. Now, it’s up to the receivers. From getting open, to blocking, to making every catch, can these guys do it?

There aren’t any all-conference names that jump out. In fact, the casual fan might not be able to name a single player on the Washington WR depth chart. How then, you might ask, can we expect this bunch of no-names to mirror or exceed what two of the most productive receivers in school history (Ross & Pettis) did during the 2016 campaign?

Committee, baby. A deep committee led by four players who will have been in the program a combined 15 years when the season ends.

The Juniors

Some of the most misleading stats you will see regarding the UW football team are ones pointing to the completely bare cupboard at the wide receiver position. After all, the Huskies don’t feature a returning wideout who ranked higher than 52nd in the Pac-12 in receiving yards last season (Aaron Fuller led the way with 26 catches for 291 yards). But stats are for losers, especially when there is context to consider.

Rutgers v Washington
In 2016, Chico McClatcher averaged 18.5 yards on 31 receptions and 7.8 yards on 18 carries.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Three of the four returning upperclassmen were injured in 2017, missing a combined 22 games. Andre Baccellia missed all but a few snaps during a seven game stretch in the middle of the season. Chico McClatcher was in crutches by the second Pac-12 game, and Quinten Pounds was out the final five when he injured his knee during practice. Still, this MASH unit amassed 36 receptions in their limited action, McClatcher doing his thing early on, Pounds flashing mid-season, and Baccellia a hero in the Utah comeback victory.

Another veteran to keep our eyes on is Fuller. The true junior from McKinney, TX only exceeded 50 receiving yards three times last season, but each came in the final five games. Fuller’s sophomore season looked eerily similar to the numbers Dante Pettis put up as a soph in 2015 when he caught 30 balls, 15 of which came at the end of the season.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington
Junior Aaron Fuller has not missed a game since arriving at Washington in 2016.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Fuller is crafty, versatile and dependable. He understands how find space against zone, and is aware of where his teammates are in route combinations. Part of what made Pettis great is his ability to deceive the defense and then adjust to what the secondary is doing. How often did you see Jake Browning float a pass —after dicking around in the pocket for five seconds— to a wide open Pettis on the sideline? Like Pettis, Fuller can find those openings. Expect him to be used a variety of ways. They like to match him up on linebackers from an H-Back position. Not a big guy at 5’10”, but he’s shown to be a willing and capable blocker inside. This spring, it would be nice to see Fuller emerge as Browning’s faithful first read, the way Ross splashed before the 2016 season.

Baccellia is an equally strong candidate to be the #1 WR, and certainly the primary deep threat. He’s run a 4.39 40-yard dash at the Husky Combine the last two springs. McClatcher is a known commodity in this offense. That is.. IF he is back to pre-injury Chico. His presence in the WR screen game was sorely missed last year. I’d love to see McClatcher practicing this spring, but even more important is that he is suiting up in purple or white (not red) come fall camp.

The New Guys

Since signing John Ross and Damore’ea Stringfellow in the 2013 class, Washington had not recruited a wide receiver with a 24/7 Sports rating over 90. (2015’s McClatcher and the departed Isaiah Renfro were the highest at 87 & 88 respectively).

That’s changed dramatically over the past two recruiting cycles. The 2017 class welcomed the addition of 4 star WRs Terrell Bynum (91) & Ty Jones (90.8), plus 3-star speedster Alex Cook (88). This year’s incoming class appears even more talented with a trio of 4-star players in Marquis Spiker (97), Austin Osborne (91.8) and Trey Lowe (90.9).

There’s a lot to like with all of these players. Jones was the only receiver from the ‘17 class to see the field last season. The coaches made the decision to play him in the 3rd game, even before the injuries began to pile up. His playing time gradually increased as the season wore on, culminating with a starting nod in the Fiesta Bowl. Jones wasn’t targeted a lot last season, but he caught pretty much everything thrown his way.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington
Ty Jones played in the final 11 games as a true freshman in 2017.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

At his size (6’4” 210) Jones is a natural for taking the ball out of the air, but what was impressive to me was his willingness to be physical with corners. He also has great hands and a giant catch radius which is made even bigger thanks to his ability to adjust to the ball and catch high throws, dive for low throws, and reach behind or out in front with ease.

Bynum and Cook redshirted last season, and both players are candidates to break out for the Husky offense. Bynum is incredibly shifty around the line of scrimmage and could be used the way McClatcher is in the screen game. Cook is a burner (4.5 speed in high school) who effortlessly glides when he runs, a trait that can mislead a DB into being late turning his hips to run. See ya.

Petersen and receivers’ coach Matt Lubick have to feel good about the four veterans returning and the three talented players who joined the program in 2017. There’s no household names like Ross or Pettis, but there is steady experience and newly developed talent. The new blood —from a recruiting perspective anyway— shows greater promise than the program has seen at the wide receiver position in five years. If it was just the seven players mentioned above, plus sophomore Jordan Chin and the walkons, I would feel really good about the position.

But wait, there’s more. Just pay an additional processing fee and we’ll include these true freshmen...

Austin Osborne: The early enrollee will get a jumpstart on the playbook, and this young man is exciting. He runs around people like Deion Sanders on his tape, and appears ready to play at the FBS level. Time will tell, but I’m super excited about Osborne.

Marquis Spiker: If you like highly rated players, then this is the guy to watch. Great size and hands. Not a speed burner (nor is Osborne) but a physically gifted athlete who is extremely physical.

Trey Lowe: Unless McClatcher is not ready to go this year, Lowe likely redshirts. He’s a very similar player. A running back primarily at his Portland high school, he projects as a slot WR in college. He’s built low to the ground with great lateral quickness and deceptive power. He also runs really nice routes, probably more advanced as a receiver than McClatcher was coming out of high school.

It’s hard to get a read on what is actually happening with the miniscule amount of info that leaks out during spring practice. Ty Jones jumped high and caught a ball. Salvon Ahmed is super duper fast, etc. It’s really important that certain players emerge and show great chemistry with Browning this spring. He’s a great quarterback when he knows where he wants to go with the football and has trust in that player. When he doesn’t; well, it’s Jake on roller skates giving ground in the pocket and making us all very, very nervous. Probably the main thing I will be watching for in the Spring Preview is who Browning has the greatest trust in, and how many balls he calmly zips onto that player’s facemask the moment he comes out of his break.

There’s no question this wide receiver group is going to be underrated entering the season. No one knows who any of these guys are for the most part, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be productive. In fact, it’s imperative that they are great. No pressure, guys.

Go Dawgs.