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Consulting the Chart: 2019 UW Defensive Backs Review

Let’s look at the latest standout performances of DBU

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry for the delay folks but sometimes the day job strikes back. Here we are with the final installment in our Consulting the Chart review of every position from the 2019 Washington Huskies football team. And the back end of the series means we focus on the back end of the defense.

Check out previous installments here: QB/OL, Wide Receivers, Running Backs, Tight Ends, Defensive Line, Outside Linebackers, and Inside Linebackers.

2019 UW Defensive Backs Statistics

Player Snaps Coverage Snaps Targets Yards per Target Passer Rating Success Rate on Targets Defeat % Penalties Missed Tackles
Player Snaps Coverage Snaps Targets Yards per Target Passer Rating Success Rate on Targets Defeat % Penalties Missed Tackles
Bryant 909 461 29 6.38 128.07 44.83% 1.54% 1 10
Molden 896 476 84 6.74 119.22 40.48% 2.46% 2 8
Taylor 878 477 61 6.84 130.54 45.90% 0.80% 3 10
McDuffie 763 426 55 6.29 123.03 43.64% 1.05% 1 0
Williams 597 342 19 9.89 170.48 54.63% 0.84% 2 10
Gordon 381 265 30 6.43 117.37 46.57% 1.05% 4 2
Turner 322 175 13 2.23 41.82 7.69% 0.93% 1 6
McKinney 90 64 4 6.5 79.6 25.00% 0% 1 1
Hampton 68 42 9 11.33 161.87 66.67% 0% 0 0
Cook 19 10 0 0 0 0.00% 0% 0 0

Myles Bryant

Bryant began his Husky career as a walk-on when the team ran out of scholarship spots for cornerbacks in his class. He ends it having fully validated that he had the talent to be offered a scholarship in the first place. After playing primarily at nickel corner in his first 3 seasons on Montlake, Bryant was moved to safety given the gaping hole Washington had at the position and the reliable backup they had at the nickel spot in Elijah Molden. At season’s end though Bryant was able to add 2nd team all-conference safety to his resume.

It shouldn’t be surprising for a converted corner but Bryant was most effective in coverage this season. He was the closest defender while in coverage on just 6.3% of dropbacks and helped the defense to allow a Pac-12 leading 13 plays of 30-yards or more all season. While Bryant wasn’t quite Taylor Rapp he was still effective as an occasional pass rusher. He finished the season with 8 pressures for a pressure rate of 17.5%.

Missed tackles were an issue which isn’t a shock given Bryant’s size. He particularly struggled in run support with 7 misses on running plays and all of those plays ultimately gained at least 14 yards. That’s what happens when the safety misses a tackle. The ball carrier is almost certainly guaranteed a first down.

One of Bryant’s strengths in the previous two seasons was his ability to cause chaos as a freelancer from the nickel spot. He had fewer opportunities to do so as a safety but still routinely came up with big plays. Bryant’s sacks and pass break ups went down but he had 4.5 tackles for loss and career highs of 68 tackles and 3 interceptions.

It will be a tough assignment for Washington to replace Myles from the defense but with Bryant being the only loss in the secondary it should make it a little easier. Bryant will go down as a testament that hard work will be rewarded in Seattle and a sign of the coaching staff’s incomparable ability to develop defensive backs.

Elijah Molden

Bryant’s move to safety likely wouldn’t have happened if Molden weren’t sitting behind him on the depth chart at nickel. It was evident that he had the tools necessary for a breakout season but with an open starting spot he thrived on the way to a 1st team all Pac-12 season. Molden, along with the names above and below him in this article, played essentially every snap this season and was an elite playmaker for the Huskies.

His 2.5% defeat percentage was 3rd on the team behind just Edefuan Ulofoshio and Joe Tryon and Molden played more snaps than the two combined. Teams weren’t afraid to throw at Molden as he saw a target on about 18% of coverage snaps. But maybe they should’ve been since opposing offenses had a success rate of barely over 40% going after Molden and had a college passer rating on par with South Florida’s Jordan McCloud (94th nationally) on those attempts this year.

There are still flaws in Molden’s game. He’s a little undersized even for a slot corner and opposing teams that stick tall receivers against him can win over the top of Elijah. In particular he was torched against Stanford’s size giving up 4 completions of 15 yards or greater. That size also contributed to 8 missed tackles.

However, the positives far outweigh the negatives when it came to Molden and Husky fans have to hope that opposing QBs continue to test him in 2020.

Keith Taylor

It wasn’t a crazy opinion at the beginning of the season to think that Keith Taylor would wind up leaving early as a high draft pick. He put up impressive numbers as a sophomore and was expected to become the star of the new look UW secondary as the next standout press corner along the lines of Kevin King. That didn’t quite materialize as Taylor had a bit of a down year given the lofty expectations being heaped upon him in the preseason.

The biggest thing that stands out when it comes to Taylor is his subpar tackling. Washington fans have been spoiled by years of seeing Jordan Miller, Sidney Jones, Kevin King, and Byron Murphy absolutely shut down quick throws to the sideline for 3 yard gains. Taylor shows inconsistent technique and doesn’t wrap up consistently contributing to a missed tackle % of nearly 15%. That figure is higher than you would expect from a 6’3 outside corner in Washington’s system and is area number one for improvement.

Taylor also struggled to get his hands on balls at the frequency of other UW corners. He finished with just 6 pass break ups and 0 interceptions on his 61 targets. Teams only completed 63% of passes in his direction but I charted the majority of those misses as drops or inaccurate throws rather than a direct result of Taylor’s coverage. The 3 drops by his receivers were the most of any Husky and helped his numbers.

I don’t want to be too harsh on Taylor. Teams only averaged 0.1 more yards per play throwing at him rather than Elijah Molden and his success rate when targeted was still in the general range of 40-45% it was for all UW corners. Still, if Taylor wants to join the recent pantheon of UW corners selected in the first 2 days of the NFL draft he’s going to have to start creating more turnovers and improve his tackling.

Trent McDuffie

I was a little harsh on Keith Taylor above but we’re in complete love-fest territory now. Had McDuffie started the first few games for Washington rather than Kyler Gordon then he likely would’ve been all-conference as a true freshman. This kid is special and I’m going to step out for a moment so I can shout my love for him from the rooftops.

Ok, I’m back. You may have noticed that the 3 upperclassman leaders of the secondary all finished the season with 8-10 missed tackles apiece. Not ideal. McDuffie? That’s a big fat goose egg. I would generally expect you could have a super talented true freshman come in and have the coverage chops from day one but it’s incredibly rare to also have one that can tackle this well. His two forced fumbles showed that not only was he able to get his man to the ground regularly but he also had the technique to punch the ball out. While his 3 fumble recoveries showed his ability to not give up on plays.

The coverage stats are also impressive. Washington’s 4 main corners all gave up between 6 and 7 yards per play when targeted so there wasn’t a ton of separation between them. McDuffie’s targets though came more than a yard further downfield than any of the others so opponents consistently tried to attack him deep (9.82 yard average depth of target). The opposing success rate was 2nd for the corners behind Molden and the opponent passer rating was 3rd.

McDuffie wasn’t completely perfect. Every true freshman makes mistakes and 2 come to mind immediately. Against Oregon on 4th and 3, McDuffie didn’t notice his man doubling back in motion which resulted in a nearly wide open touchdown in what ended up as a one possession game. Against Colorado McDuffie was seemingly in position to pick off a pass in the end zone (or at least bat it down) that slipped through his hands to Laviska Shenault for a touchdown in a 6 point loss. It’s not guaranteed that making those two plays results in an extra pair of wins for Washington but it would have been nice.

You’d also like to see him get his hands on more balls. I only credited McDuffie with 3 pass breakups to go with his 1 interception which was less than half the rate of Elijah Molden. Over 1/4th of passes in McDuffie’s direction were inaccurate which you could say was potentially the result of Trent disrupting the route but also could have simply been luck of opposing QB’s missing throws.

As a true freshman I feel confident to say that Trent McDuffie was one of the 5 best corners in the Pac-12. If he continues to get better over time at the rate you’d expect for your average player then you’re looking at a potential 1st team all-conference selection as a sophomore, an All-American as a junior, and an early entry as a 1st round draft pick. McDuffie has that kind of talent and I can’t wait to see it for another 2 seasons.

Cameron Williams

Williams was viewed as an almost certain redshirt candidate until the team got to spring practices and he took advantage by earning the inside track on a starting position. It was a bumpy first year for Williams as he was benched partway through the year before slowly regaining playing time. After 55+ snaps in each of UW’s first 6 games Williams played just a combined 8 against Arizona and Oregon. After that he received rotation playing time the rest of the season in addition to another start against Washington State.

Washington’s free safeties play consistently deeper than the average team. The Husky defense is predicated on preventing the 30+ yard play and being okay with occasionally conceding a 15 yard one here or there. With Williams in there at the beginning of the season there were way too many defensive breakdowns. USC and Stanford both hit wide open 40+ yard touchdown passes where it appeared Williams missed his assignment. He was much better in his limited playing time following the benching but who knows if it was a coincidence that he played less against teams with credible deep threats.

Maybe that would have been acceptable if Williams were an impact defender in the run game but he struggled there as well. He missed 5 tackles on run plays all of which gained at least 18 yards. Too often Williams tried to bring a ball carrier down by hitting them hard rather than wrapping up which caused Williams to simply bounce off of them. In high school those attempts likely brought a guy down. Hopefully with another year under Jimmy Lake’s tutelage we see Williams’ technique improve.

The coaches clearly saw something in Williams since he went from high 3-star recruit to day one starter even taking into account the depleted depth chart. His performance improved over the back end of the season as you would hope for a true freshman and it’s reasonable to think Williams will have the inside track to one of the starting safety spots in year 2 despite some early bumps in the road.

Kyler Gordon

There were plenty of national breakout player lists that thought Gordon would be the next Byron Murphy as a UW redshirt freshman corner who emerges as an instant star. He got the chance as the starter opposite Keith Taylor for the first 3 games but McDuffie’s talent and some early struggles by Gordon caused the coaches to switch things up. He averaged about 15 snaps per game primarily coming in as the dime back on 3rd and longs but also started against Washington State when UW went base dime.

The early issues for Gordon came from being a little too boom or bust for a Washington defense. Gordon had 3 penalties called against him in the first 2 games when only one other member of the secondary had that many called over the entire season. The last of them was most costly as it gave California an automatic first down on the edge of field goal range with Washington clinging to a 2-point lead and just a minute and a half left.

Gordon’s propensity for taking risks combined with his otherworldly athleticism allowed him to get his hands on balls. He had more pass breakups than Trent McDuffie on the year despite playing almost exactly half as many snaps. If you ignore the penalties then his numbers were in line with the rest of the corners. His passer rating against was lower than Elijah Molden’s as he never gave up a TD even if his opposing success rate against was the highest of the 4 main guys.

With all of the corners returning this season it’s likely we see Gordon in the same role in 2020. In clear passing situations versus 4 WR sets he will likely be the first DB off the bench with Keith Taylor shifting inside. With the graduation of Keith Taylor and Elijah Molden following this next season we can expect an outside duo of Gordon and McDuffie that looks to have tremendous promise.

Asa Turner

It’s not surprising that Asa Turner and Cam Williams essentially had the inverse season. While Williams started alongside Myles Bryant, Turner played just 39 snaps in the first 6 games of the season. He became the primary starter against Arizona, Oregon, and Utah before seeing his playing time scaled back a little over the final 4 games of the seasons.

Turner wasn’t immune to the tackling issues that plagued much of Cameron Williams’s true freshman campaign. He also had a missed tackle percentage approaching 33% which is way above acceptable levels for a Washington safety receiving serious playing time. He particularly had issues tackling in space. Half of the misses came on throws behind the line of scrimmage. However, none of them resulted in gains of more than 5 yards so Turner normally at least got enough of his guy to slow their momentum and let a fellow defender catch up to make the tackle soon after.

Outside of the tackling concerns Turner was a revelation in coverage. 13 targets isn’t exactly a large sample size but I only credited one completion of longer than 4 yards with Turner as the primary defender. There were still deep completions allowed while Turner was on the field but at least to my eye I didn’t view him as directly responsible as I did with several of the ones early in the year with Williams out there.

Husky fans got spoiled this year by the performance of Trent McDuffie. Turner and Williams were both good for your normal true freshman but have a long way to go to reach UW’s lofty standards at that position. Still, I was mostly encouraged by what I saw from Turner this season and expect him to get a lot of playing time next season.

Everyone Else

Brandon McKinney and Dominique Hampton were the only other members of the secondary to receive what could be considered regular playing time. McKinney came in as a 3rd safety at times in dime looks while Hampton was seen in spot duty at corner. Coming out of last year it seemed McKinney would be all but guaranteed a starting spot but instead he was beaten out by a pair of true freshmen and a corner switching positions. Hampton fatefully played just one snap against Utah but it resulted in a 41 yard gain on 3rd and 12 in the 4th quarter with UW clinging to a 2-point lead. His last 5 targets of the seasons all resulted in 1st downs for the opponent. Hampton didn’t play enough to shut the door on the idea of him developing into a starter but there was a reason he was the 5th corner on the depth chart in 2019.

Alex Cook saw a tiny bit of time playing with the 3rd string defense in blowouts after transitioning from wide receiver in the offseason. There was some though that Isaiah Gilchrist could crack the rotation as a redshirt junior but he was nowhere to be seen and looks like he will never meaningfully get on the field after coming in as a highly touted local prospect. Redshirt freshman Julius Irvin dealt with injuries for the second straight season and eventually got on the field on special teams late in the year. We’ll see if there’s any chance for him to come up with playing time after what is hopefully a fully healthy offseason for once.