The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone but no Washington Huskies heard their names called in the 1st round (or the 2nd or 3rd for that matter). Before the year and even as late as after the BYU game it seemed that Jacob Eason would be the natural next 1st round pick to come out of the program but a late season swoon ended those chances. Prior to 2020 it had been 3 consecutive years that a Husky was chosen on day one with Kaleb McGary in 2019, Vita Vea in 2018, and John Ross in 2017.
So the question is who is most likely next player to return Washington to the 1st round?
Max Vrooman- I could foresee 4 players from Washington being selected in the first 3 rounds of next years’ draft: Levi Onwuzurike, Elijah Molden, Joe Tryon, and Jaxson Kirkland. I expect all to be all-conference level performers at a bare minimum and if any takes a leap it could vault them to the 1st round. I just don’t see any of the 4 quite reaching 1st round status.
That leads me to look at the rising sophomores with eyes on the 2022 draft. Doing my game charting this year I was floored by how good Trent McDuffie was and I think he has a chance to be just as good as any of the defensive backs we’ve seen emerge from the Washington program in recent years. As long as he’s healthy I don’t foresee any way that McDuffie stays more than the required 3 years before bolting for the draft as an All-American.
This wasn’t viewed as a very strong draft for defensive backs and yet 6 corners went in the 1st round. NFL teams value passing the ball and stopping the pass and a sticky glue guy with great tackling form and good hands like McDuffie will be a 1st round pick in short order.
Kirk DeGrasse- (obligatory “I have no idea how COVID restrictions will impact the coming season and the path of player development” caveat)
The guy that really stands out as the kind of physical specimen that gets NFL scouts excited is Tryon. If he can continue to improve his play recognition, stay assignment-sound and keep improving his pass rush technique, he’s probably got the most upside of guys that could be drafted next year.
Onwuzurike is the safest pick - he’s a guy PFF has loved the past two seasons, and even though his numbers don’t pop off the page he does the dirty work that doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet. His biggest issue will be his size and teams trying to figure out if he can succeed as a 3-4 end at the next level.
I think Kirkland is great but I’m dubious about the LT experiment - I think he’s a G at the next level, and getting into the 1st ound as an interior OL is tougher. Molden is a very good player, but I suspect he’s probably going to be a 2nd-3rd round kind of guy as he lacks top-end speed and impressive size.
Keith Taylor is a guy that has the size and potential to really blow up. He probably fell short of expectations this past season, but if things click for him this coming season I could see him making a rapid rise up draft charts.
Depending on the new offense and his own continued development it’s not out of the question that Cade Otton could really grab the attention of NFL scouts. He’s a certain draft pick, and it’s possible he impresses enough to get into 1st round territory if he has a huge season.
Looking beyond that, I agree that McDuffie has a chance to be a 3-and-done guy. He was impressive as a rookie, and while he doesn’t have ideal size, he’s so damn productive. The big question will be his testing numbers since he’s not that 6’ plus prototype. I could also see Tuli Letuligasenoa as a guy that could really move up with two strong seasons.
Gabey Lucas- Yah I think Taylor is much more likely to shoot up to first than Molden. Molden’s measurables arent that elite corner look and since he’s used primarily at nickel that’s not typically what you see from those highly coveted guys. Granted Taylor would need to be much more consistent than last year, but I’d be shocked if Molden ends up first.
But otherwise agree that McDuffie is the most likely of all of them.
(“Them” being DBs.)
Based on the positions/types of players that tend to go first round, I’m thinking of QBs, OTs, physical freak pass rush specialists whether that’s DE or OLB, freak DTs, long corners... sure usually there’s a few receivers or a RB, but you have to do so much more to stand out at that position, plus the NFL is realizing more that picking an offensive skill player that high (other than QB) is typically a poor value given the comparative marginal dropoff of a WR/RB in the 1st vs say 3rd as opposed to l, say, a DT or DE in those same positions.
And sure, there was a lot of WRs drafted last night, but this year’s class was stacked and a relative anomaly.
So next year, that leaves us with the potential candidates (and this isn’t me saying they’re realistic to go this high):
Keith Taylor, Kyler Gordon, Tuli, Taki, Levi, Jaxson Kirkland, Joe Tryon
Obviously Kyler is a freak athlete who could garner 1st round consideration if he progresses technically as we think he could over his career, but that would be a massive jump after last year so that would be shocking. So he’s probably out until 2022.
Taylor has the makings physically of a first round CB and has in the past played like one, but he’s far from consistent enough for that to happen as is. That being said, the jump necessary for him is way smaller and within the realm of imagination between now and next year.
Tuli and Taki are both gonna be great next year (if next year happens) but the productivity needed to go first round probably won’t be there. I’d say Tuli’s probably the most likely to go first round of this list, but it probably won’t happen til 2022’s draft at the earliest.
Levi’s probably our best bet for next draft, but I’d say he’s more likely a second rounder. He grades out super well and is a fantastic player, but if, say, there’s 3 or 4 defensive linemen taken in the first round, I’d wager there’s 3 or 4 linemen in college football who grade about as well while also being more of physical freaks. Levi’s a pretty standard looking player there but isn’t that Vita-level monster, ya know?
Andrew Berg- I agree across the board with Kirk’s analysis of the next crop of players. There’s the upside for someone to take Tryon, Levi, Otton, or Taylor to go as early as the first round. Unless there’s a giant leap forward in production or measurables for any of them, I think the 2-4 range is a safer bet for each than the first. With that said, I think Levi is the best bet of the four to go early. DL is always a position of great need, plus he has versatility and production. I think one key question for his draft stock will be whether teams believe he has the size and strength to hold up as a 4-3 DT. With Tuli and Taki playing more of a 0/1 tech next season, that might make it harder for him to prove his ability to do so.
Beyond that group, I think McDuffie will have a good shot, but might not have the one “carrying skill” (to borrow a baseball scouting term) that separates him from the group of great cover corners. He’s not exceptionally tall and I’d be surprised if he ran a burner 40 time. Guys who are just really good at their jobs tend not to be as sexy as guys who can do one thing better than anyone else can do.
Gabey Lucas- I think that last sentence nails it pretty well Andres. It kinda applies to Levi to me too.
Max Vrooman- Let’s try one more with the question framed slightly differently. Which player (of any of the names that have been brought up) going in the 1st round next would be the best possible outcome for the Washington Football program?
I think it comes down to one of the players along the front. If either Levi or Tryon wind up becoming a 1st round pick at the end of the year it probably says good things about Washington’s ability to get to the quarterback with greater frequency than they have over the last several years. I think it’s possible for Levi to maybe sneak into the 1st round with better than expected testing numbers but not necessarily that much greater production. If Tryon is going to move into the 1st round it likely means he suddenly has a 14 sack type of season and is an all-around wrecking ball off the edge. Given how dominant I expect Washington’s secondary to be next year it’s tough to see teams having any success throwing the ball if Tryon grows into that disruptive force.
And the edge spot is one area where the Huskies really haven’t had “that guy” recruited under Chris Petersen. If the coaching staff can show they were able to develop Tryon into a 1st rounder and then do something similar with Sav’ell Smalls it would really help with recruiting one of the most critical spots on the roster.
Kirk DeGrasse- Agreed. Hau’oli Kikaha was a beast his final two seasons here, including Petersen’s first year, but since then there hasn’t been that same level of pass-rush edge terror. Cory Littleton and Travis Feeney were quite effective but in a different way, Joe Mathis showed flashes but got hurt and there have been moments from Ryan Bowman, but ever since Kikaha graduated there hasn’t been that sack monster from the outside. Tryon has the potential, and if he realizes it well enough to become an early-entry 1st round kind of pick then that means the 2020 defense almost certainly was one of the best in the nation.
Keith Taylor blossoming into a 1st round pick would be a great sign too, but I feel a lot more confident in the ability of the corners that are returning - and the corner play was good enough last year - that him turning into a 1st rounder wouldn’t necessarily suggest the same level of upgrade to the performance of the defense (and the team).
And after all of that debate Dane Brugler at The Athletic thinks we’re not giving enough credit to Elijah Molden and has him going in the 1st round of his way too early 2021 mock draft.
Which Husky player will be the next selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft?
This poll is closed