Twenty-two days are left before Husky football, and today will be the third year we present The Jake Eldrenkamp Award.
The official title is The Jake Eldrenkamp Award For Excellence in “Oh S*** he was Actually Way Better Than we Realized Until he Left and Now We’re Feelin’ It.” It’s been described in the past as “a cross between the Piesman, the Heisman, the Oscars, and the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good (but Wanna do Other Stuff Good, Too).”
This will be it’s third year running, as its first year the award was given to none other than, shockingly, Jake Eldrenkamp.
For posterity’s sake, former The Jake Eldrenkamp Award winners by year:
2018: Lavon Coleman (Nominees: Will Dissly, Coleman Shelton, Keishawn Bierria)
2017: Jake Eldrenkamp
This is an interesting year for The Jake Eldrenkamp Award since, of contributors that graduated or were drafted, the vast majority were realized by We The Fans to have been killers. Or, at least, in a certain someone’s case, had a lot of attention due to position and arm, both good and bad. There’s simply very few candidates for people we won’t appreciate until now that they’re gone; this was the year the core group that returned Washington to relevance left — and over and over in human history, who is more celebrated than ragtag groups of overachievers bringing glory to a unifying establishment? Hello, Minutemen, Night Witches... Boys in the Boat. (Sidenote: Suck our gold medal, Hitler.)
Yet still, even when everyone seems to have the right amount of appreciation bestowed upon them, there’s still those who haven’t been universally appreciated enough. In the ancient history of The Jake Eldrenkamp Award, it has pretty much definitionally gone to someone who fans never “got.” Perhaps this year it’ll be someone who fans got, but just... not enough.
Now, the nominees:
Drew Sample — TE
Sample was the second in a row of Washington tight ends drafted way higher than their college stats would suggest, after Will Dissly in 2018. This, naturally, meant that Cincinnati taking Sample in the 2nd round resulted in keyboard warriors from Bengals Twitter losing their minds over how presumably terrible of a pick it was. (Narrator: It wasn’t.)
As no surprise to Washington fans, Sample’s pretty quickly shown in Cincinnati that he does, indeed, kick ass. But, if you think about it, the reason many Bengals fans were initially ticked about his draft pick could be the reason many Washington fans probably don’t think much about losing him other than “Aw, I’ll miss him, but we’re fine without him;” other than as a safety valve for Jake Browning, Sample was more often than not working relatively behind the scenes.
On one hand, it’s true that UW’s tight end group is in quite a good position this season. Hunter Bryant is a dynamic athlete that the group hasn’t seen since ASJ, Cade Otton is the latest in the line of Dissly/Sample-style tight ends — and is on trajectory to be better than both — Jacob Kizer contributes frequently in the same vein, JuCo transfer Corey Luciano is moving from the line to TE, and redshirt freshman Devin Culp, while inexperienced, has bulked up a lot and is probably the most dynamic ball-carrier and target of the guys not named Hunter Bryant.
That being said, the glass half-empty view: Bryant is a freak receiving tight end but isn’t going to demolish opponents in the trenches, Kizer’s currently unavailable with a back injury that’s probably minor but who are we to say so, Culp is a redshirt freshman which means you can’t reliably predict his contribution level, and we don’t even know if Luciano stays at that position long-term... So that leaves Otton as the lone NFL-prototype tench bulldozer. For a team that would trot out an offense of 10 tight ends and a quarterback if they could, that’s not super reassuring.
Do I personally take that pessimistic a view on the tight ends? Of course not — it’s reasonable to think they’ll be one of the strongest units on the team this year. But, even looking at the evidence for optimism, the mere fact that it’s so easy to write a Stuart Little perspective on the tight ends means the possibility’s there.
And if that were to happen, Washington fans would no doubt retroactively appreciate Sample now that he’s gone.
Jaylen Johnson — DL
On a defensive line that’s had a monster tackle or two each year, Johnson always felt like the sidekick who helped make things happen but was overshadowed by those around him. In that way, he’s the perfect Jake Eldrenkamp Award nominee.
Especially given the inexperience on the interior defensive line this year, Johnson would’ve been an extremely helpful presence to take pressure off the redshirt (and maybe even true) freshmen and ease the transition of Washington’s interior line going straight from 2013 and 2014 guys to 2018 and 2019 guys (Levi Onwuzurike notwithstanding). While the talent level has risen, youth almost always leads to a few mistakes. When those happen, Johnson’s experience and consistency means his presence would, in a hypothetical world, minimize the consequences.
As it stands going into 2019, the defensive line is likely gonna be pretty good. But Jaylen Johnson would’ve been someone who could mitigate the effects of young players while providing a consistent level of play.
Jordan Miller — CB
On to the secondary, where the rest of the CFB Twitterverse is convinced Washington is screwed after losing three starters to the NFL draft and one to graduation as a UDFA. Never mind that those people are, simply, wrong (“Oh no, they lose Kevin King and Sidney Jones and Budda Baker, however will they recover?”), but their arguments usually seem to hit on the two defensive backs taken in the second round in Byron Murphy and Taylor Rapp. Of course, those two were killers but, relative to how good he was, Jordan Miller never got the recognition he deserved*.
While the Dawgs’ secondary is still going to kill it this year, I wonder if there will be a play or two that just gets the better of a DB where Miller’s experience, build, athleticism, and intelligence could’ve prevented it. For example, his interception on the go route against Utah (right after he had been burned on the same thing) — does Kyler Gordon, Dom Hampton, Julius Irvin, Trent Mcduffie, etc. make that play?
In the end, I think the defensive backs are in good enough shape where the stars like Miller from this past unit are beloved but their absence isn’t, in the aggregate, a huge deal. But, again, sometimes it just takes one play.
*Sidenote: Although at a 5th round pick, it sounds like he’s wrecking it at Atlanta to prove how high of a value he was.
DJ Beavers — ILB
This is the only nominee who didn’t leave do to graduating off the team or being drafted. DJ Beavers would’ve, under normal circumstances, been a redshirt senior presumably starting at inside linebacker next to Brandon Wellington this year. As it turned out, his bad injury luck struck again in 2018, this time for the last time, and he’s now medically retired.
He started or at least rotated in liberally for years when he was healthy and pretty consistently looked like the dynamic athlete with good instincts that the linebackers were lacking at times, but “when healthy” was the huge caveat. As it would happen, “when healthy” was the exception.
But, as an illustration of his value and bad luck: Redshirted as a freshman, then played in every game as a redshirt freshman in 2016, where he capped it off with a start against WSU with four tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. In 2017 he was injured in fall camp and subsequently only played in five games. Then in 2018, he started for Auburn, recorded eight solo tackles, and then was soon injured once more for nine games.
But regardless of his stats, his significance was more apparent with the eye test, where he often had the hard-hitting strength that many players lacked — including, often, the now rightfully beloved Ben Burr-Kirven. In a year where the inside linebackers might be the thinnest and least sure unit of the defense, having a player like him to ensure a certain floor while driving ball carriers backward would be a huge asset. The fact is that, even with some young players who’s potential is exciting, behind Brandon Wellington, pretty much nobody is a proven commodity. With that in mind and despite his unconventional status for being included here, DJ Beavers becomes someone who’s premature exit is lamented by Dawg fans.
Who will be the winner of The Third Annual Jake Eldrenkamp Award?
This poll is closed
Answer: Jaylen Johnson — DL
This one was pretty tricky. At first I thought I was just including Drew Sample as a nominee who wasn’t really in consideration, but then writing the glass half-empty view of the tight ends had me paranoid enough to consider him for a sec. Jordan Miller remains an underrated player even considering that people finally started to show him the love he deserved in his senior year. DJ Beavers’ ability to win in contact and drive opponents backwards would be particularly useful in a young unit full of unprovens.
But, like Beavers, Jaylen Johnson would’ve provided experience and explosiveness in a unit that’s young and at a position where the affects of youth can be especially precarious. In a perfect world, all linemen would redshirt, and all redshirt freshmen would be eased into their role. As it is, Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani will receive trial by fire this season starting day one, and Jacob Bandes will maybe have to join them. While Greg Gaines will likely be the first name mentioned in this regard, he was an instant favorite, and the memory of Jaylen Johnson’s consistent contributions won’t be too far behind.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.