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Fall Camp Preview: Defensive Backs

The Huskies bring back an absolutely loaded secondary

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We have arrived at the back end of the defense and while it may be the furthest back on the field it’s definitely towards the front of our minds. In 2016, the Huskies started a secondary that included a trio of second round picks with Sidney Jones, Kevin King, and Budda Baker. That seems pretty impossible to top. But this year’s group has the potential, if everything goes right, to be as good. Or, dare I say? (Dare, dare). Better? Thank God for Jimmy Lake.


Byron Murphy, 5’11, 184 lbs, Redshirt Sophomore

It’s hard to believe but it’s not impossible that Husky fans only get 1.5 healthy seasons of Byron Murphy before he heads to the NFL. But that’s an acceptable downside of recruiting an elite prospect with such clear NFL potential (a top-100 national recruit). Murphy showed from day one last year that he was ready for prime time when he had two interceptions in the season opener against Rutgers. Unfortunately, he suffered a leg injury in practice which caused him to miss seven games in the middle of the season. Murphy returned for the final three contests and finally looked healthy by the Fiesta Bowl when he had seven tackles, one sack, and one interception.

Two decades ago it’s probable that Murphy would still be a national unknown, but six-game stretches like he had last year don’t go unnoticed anymore. Murphy has been hyped in numerous off-season pieces and it seems as if he’s up to the challenge. Expect QBs to be too scared to throw it to his side of the field very often.

Jordan Miller, 6’1, 180 lbs, Senior

As good as Byron Murphy was last season, Jordan Miller was even better. Miller may not have Murphy’s pedigree but he has the experience and was phenomenal when healthy last season. Miller broke his ankle on the worst play of the Husky season when ASU converted a first down to clinch a Husky defeat and Miller went down for the year. The biggest question for the secondary entering 2018 is whether Miller can return to his exceptional form coming off that injury. If he does, then the Huskies likely have the best outside corner duo in the country. If not, then luckily this is an incredibly deep position.

Myles Bryant, 5’8, 179 lbs, Junior. 2017 Honorable Mention All Pac-12.

Bryant’s path certainly wasn’t typical. He walked on at Washington over offers from Colorado and UCLA because he knew he’d earn a scholarship eventually although there wasn’t room at the time. Bryant played in eleven games as a true freshman walk-on and earned that scholarship before last season. He played most of his time as the nickel back and was effective causing havoc from that spot confusing the opposing QB. Unsurprisingly, Bryant struggled against bigger receivers, most notably in the loss at Stanford with both Miller and Murphy out, and against Penn State where he got beaten for a pair of touchdowns. Still, he finished the season with 57 tackles, 5 TFL, 9 passes defended, and 1 INT returned for a score.

Expect Bryant to again primarily play as the nickel back this season. However, doubt Myles at your own peril. He’s jumped over every hurdle placed in front of him so far. Oh, yeah, and Bill Connelly listed him as the best defensive player in the conference last month. So there’s that.

Austin Joyner, 5’10, 193 lbs, Redshirt Junior

The former Washington State Gatorade Player of the Year had to play a lot more than expected last season with the injuries to both Murphy and Miller. Joyner ended up with 40 tackles, 2 passes defended, 2 sacks, and 1 INT with 10 starts. He’s unlikely to start this year unless the duo of Murphy and Miller struggle with injuries yet again, but Joyner is an extremely valuable depth piece who has both the raw talent and experience to step in at a moment’s notice and make sure the Huskies don’t miss a beat.

Elijah Molden, 5’10, 191 lbs, Sophomore.

The 2017 recruiting class included a trio of 4-star defensive backs and Molden ended up with the most playing time of any of them, although all saw the field. He finished the season with 19 tackles and 1 pass defended. While he started the year playing isolated drives he saw more action as the year went on after the injuries to Murphy and Miller. Expect Molden to see time at both the nickel and outside with his size and agility. Beware of the Killer Ms (Murphy, Miller, Myles, and Molden).

Keith Taylor, 6’2, 193 lbs, Sophomore.

Taylor has the best size of any of the returning corners at 6’2 and seems like a prototypical press corner. He mostly played on special teams last season, appearing in 12 games, and finished with eight tackles plus a pass defended. Taylor certainly has talent, but again, barring injury he probably will continue to get most of his PT on special teams.


Taylor Rapp, 6’0, 207 lbs, Junior. 2017 All Pac-12 1st Team.

The corners may have a little more flash but Rapp is still probably both the best player and best pro prospect in the Washington secondary right now. Rapp made a name for himself as a freshman in the Pac-12 title game when he intercepted two passes and ran one back for a score on the way to Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. The coaching staff used Rapp as a Swiss army knife in 2017 and he found himself playing all over the field throughout the season. That led to 59 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 INT. He also finished first on the team at the Husky combine this spring in both the three-cone drill and the pro agility drill. Expect Rapp to continue to be exceptional in 2018 and for him to be rewarded at the end of the year as a first-round draft pick and one of the first safeties off the board if he decides to leave early.

JoJo McIntosh, 6’1, 211 lbs, Redshirt Senior. 2017 All Pac-12 2nd Team.

As a strong safety it’s hard to have a better reputation than to be known as the enforcer, and that’s exactly the first thought that comes to most people’s minds about McIntosh. His explosiveness translated to a 40-inch vertical jump during the Husky Combine, which was good for second on the team. McIntosh is the less well known of the UW safety duo but still finished last season with 50 tackles, 2 passes defended, and 1 INT. With some mainstays gone from the linebacking corps it won’t be a surprise to see McIntosh playing up in the box a fair bit to smack opposing running backs or slot receivers trying to go over the middle.

Brandon McKinney, 6’0, 201 lbs, Sophomore.

McKinney came in as the 22nd ranked safety prospect nationally and ended up appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman. Most of that time was for isolated drives but he was still able to get his feet wet with 12 tackles, many of which came on special teams. With Zeke Turner gone there is room for a third safety to get more playing time and McKinney seems to be the most likely candidate.

Isaiah Gilchrist, 5’11, 205 lbs, Redshirt Sophomore.

The Bellevue High product entered the UW as a 4-star corner but saw most of his time last season at safety. Gilchrist appeared in just eight games and finished with only seven tackles. We’ll see if Isaiah can leap anyone on the depth chart, or if he’ll have to wait until next year when both Rapp and McIntosh will likely be gone before getting a better shot at extensive playing time.

The True Freshmen

Julius Irvin, 6’1, 177 lbs, Freshman. #156 overall, #12 S recruit.

Kyler Gordon, 5’11, 175 lbs, Freshman. #187 overall, #19 CB recruit.

Dominique Hampton, 6’2, 197 lbs, Freshman. #857 overall, #76 CB recruit.

Jimmy Lake continued to stack the secondary this offseason with the additions of Irvin, Gordon, and Hampton. The first of those two were elite national recruits for whom Washington won incredibly tight recruiting battles over Notre Dame. It appears Gordon and Irvin will start out at corner but have the flexibility to play safety if needed as well. Hampton may not have the same accolades from the recruiting services, but he has the prototypical size for an outside corner in the UW system along the lines of Kevin King.

Last season none of the three true freshman DBs ended up redshirting. With the new rule changes allowing players to appear in up to four games and still redshirt, I can’t see any way Irvin and Gordon don’t appear in at least that many contests. Gordon was also an elite return man in high school and with the departure of Dante Pettis I’d expect him to at least get a look as a possible punt returner in fall camp. It’s similarly going to be hard to keep Irvin off the field as the highest-rated Husky DB recruit since Byron Murphy and Budda Baker before him. Given UW’s depth I don’t know that anybody in this grouping gets playing time over the trio of Taylor, McKinney, and Molden from last year. But if they do, then watch out. Whether sooner or later, all of these guys will be making a major impact eventually.

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