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Talent Development Rankings: Early Look at 2017-19 Recruiting Classes

Will the Huskies pump out as many NFL and all-conference selections in the next few years as in the first half of Chris Petersen’s UW tenure?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Eastern Washington at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over the last month I’ve been going back retroactively to assess how well each power conference team in the country has done at developing talent using a numbers driven approach. If you want to read about the methodology head here and if you want to see the analysis for the mostly complete 2014-16 recruiting classes go here.

The class of 2017 are expected to be true seniors or redshirt juniors this upcoming season which means that a handful have already jumped to the NFL or retired for various reasons but the vast majority are still in college. Therefore it’s not entirely fair to assess how they’re doing in comparison to their expected totals based on the recruiting rankings. A large component of the formula is draft status and if most of the class is still in college then they’ll look worse comparing them to a career score intended for just that; an entire career.

However, we can still look at how the classes are performing early in comparison to other programs for the components that are still applicable: AP All-American and All-Conference nominations.

First though let’s look at what the expectations are for Washington’s 2017-19 classes. Going back to the 2014-16 analysis the Huskies finished 24th in total expected career score. They ended up #4 overall and so greatly over-performed in that regard.

Washington is 21st in the 2017-19 classes so a slight improvement but not a tremendous bump. It’s worth noting that this an absolute expected career score meaning it’s a sum of all the recruits in the 3 classes combined. If you viewed things by a per prospect average then expectations would be a little higher for the Huskies since they generally see less attrition than most programs. For those curious, if you add 2020 to the mix it doesn’t actually make a difference in Washington’s ranking as UW jumps some schools but falls behind others.

Add it all up and that’s an expected 183 career score points. The Huskies had 197.5 in just their 2014 class alone so it doesn’t seem like asking for too much for Washington to shatter past that marker. Simply meeting expectations would give the Dawgs 2 AP All-Americans, 7 all-conference selections, and 8 players drafted.

Within the Pac-12 that’s good enough for 4th place, lagging slightly behind Oregon and Stanford and substantially behind USC. The Trojans’ downturn had already begun during this period but up until the 2020 class it didn’t have much of an effect on their recruiting as they were still a top-5 program nationally.

Unsurprisingly the top-10 is made up of a mix of the kings of the college football world and some traditional blue bloods that have stumbled as of late. Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, and Clemson out of that grouping have all made the College Football Playoff in recent years. Meanwhile aforementioned USC and Florida State have struggled while Michigan and Texas have both been generally good but a tier below the class of their respective conferences.

Now let’s look at the results so far. A reminder that the schools that are in the lead right this moment are the ones who have had the most players already drafted. That includes players from the 2017 class that made the jump as true junior or redshirt sophomores but also gives an advantage to schools that rely on JUCO talent. A school such as Mississippi State has been boosted because they’ve had several JUCO players already drafted from 2017 or 2018.

That’s not a super encouraging start for Washington. The Huskies have fallen to 6th in the Pac-12 in the early going among these 3 recruiting classes getting skipped by Utah, Arizona State, and Colorado while leapfrogging Oregon (that last part isn’t so bad at least). Part of that is the aforementioned difference with High School versus JUCO prospects. Arizona State had Brandon Aiyuk come in with the 2018 class who became a 1st round draft pick this year. Utah had Marquise Blair and John Penisini who have already been drafted after coming in from the JUCO ranks while Colorado got a similar bump from Davion Taylor.

If you exclude JUCO players though it still leaves Washington at just 21st (the same as their expected ranking) in cumulative career score so far. TE Hunter Bryant and RB Salvon Ahmed both left after their 3rd year in the UW program for the NFL and neither player was drafted. If Hunter had come back for his senior season he would have almost certainly (barring injury) been an AP All-American. I’m skeptical whether Ahmed would’ve gotten enough carries to become an all-conference running back but having someone leave the program early only to not get drafted really hurts the career score.

Now it’s time to go through each of the classes and see whether the Huskies have a reasonable chance at topping their expected totals.

Class of 2017

Expected Totals for Entire Class:

AP All-Americans- 0.5, All-Conference- 1.9, Drafted- 2.1, Career Score- 41.2

Highest Expected Career Score Recruits:

CB Elijah Molden- 3.9, CB Keith Taylor- 3.5, S Brandon McKinney- 3.5, RB Salvon Ahmed- 3.5, OL Henry Bainivalu- 3.5, TE Hunter Bryant- 3.1

Washington seems very likely to surpass most of the totals for this class even with Ahmed and Bryant failing to get drafted. Bryant’s 2nd team AP All-American selection already puts Washington ahead of schedule in that regard. They’ve already had 4 players make at least 2nd team All-Pac-12 with Bryant, Molden, Tryon, and Peyton Henry (although I give kickers/punters half credit so more like 3.5). And although no one has yet gotten drafted it’d be surprising if it wasn’t more than 2.

Elijah Molden seems to be a virtual lock for 1st team all-conference, a potential All-American, and at worst a 2nd day NFL Draft pick (barring injury caveat applied from here on out). Keith Taylor should get drafted and showed all-conference upside two years ago. Joe Tryon has seen buzz as a sleeper 1st round draft prospect and he should be an all-conference pick and at worst a mid round selection. Cade Otton takes over as the primary tight end this season and it would not be a shocker to see him wind up 2nd team all-conference and also be selected in the middle rounds of the draft. Finally, Jaxson Kirkland is expected to move to left tackle and given the early production we’ve seen from him he seems likely to earn all-conference honors and eventually get selected in the draft.

Now of course a year ago at this time (or even 2 months ago) Hunter Bryant seemed like a lock to get drafted so you never know for sure. But that’s 5 players who I’d give at least a 70% chance of being drafted and I’d be pretty surprised if we don’t see at least 3 make 1st or 2nd team all-conference this upcoming season.

Plus there are still potential late breakout candidates such as Terrell Bynum and Henry Bainivalu. Add it all up and my expectation is that the 2017 class more than doubles its current career score and gives the Huskies a solid foundation for future rankings.

Class of 2018

Expected Totals for Entire Class:

AP All-Americans- 0.8, All-Conference- 2.4, Drafted- 3.0, Career Score- 67.7

Highest Expected Career Score Recruits:

WR Marquis Spiker- 8.1, QB Jacob Sirmon- 8.1, QB Colson Yankoff- 8.1, DT Tuli Letuligasenoa- 5.7, S Julius Irvin- 4.1, CB Kyler Gordon- 3.9

At first glance you may notice that all 6 of these recruits had a higher expected career score than anyone in the 2017 class. This is the moment when Washington's recruiting took a substantial leap up. Expected career score tends to be exponential so the difference between someone with a 0.99 rating and a 0.97 rating is much bigger than the difference between a 0.92 and a 0.90.

Unfortunately, a first glance at that list isn’t overly encouraging. Colson Yankoff has already transferred to UCLA while injuries have kept Julius Irvin from seeing any playing time. Jacob Sirmon is the de facto favorite to start at QB next season but hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself yet while Marquis Spiker has struggled to emerge from the depth chart at wide receiver.

There are still plenty of bright spots. Tuli looks to be the heir apparent to Greg Gaines starting as soon as this season. Kyler Gordon is the only player in the class to have any career score points so far after getting honorable mention for his special teams performance as a gunner. He doesn’t have a path to starting in 2020 but is the presumed favorite to take over for Keith Taylor at RCB in 2021. Expect at least 2 of Matteo Mele, Victor Curne, and MJ Ale to take over as starters on the offensive line this season while Richard Newton has the inside track to lead the running backs in carries and Edefuan Ulofoshio has emerged from walk-on to impact starter.

There are still what appear to be plenty of misses. Trey Lowe has already transferred along with Yankoff and Mosiah Nasili-Kite was dismissed from the program. Austin Osborne and Draco Bynum were 4-star players that seem buried on the depth chart pending a massive breakout season.

It’s still early but at this point it’s hard to imagine anyone getting to AP All-American status from this class while the total of all-conference players and draftees seems achievable but not by that substantial of a margin. Maybe Washington gets up to that career score total of 67.7 by the time it’s all said and done but it’s looking a little dicey right this second.

Class of 2019

Expected Totals for Entire Class:

AP All-Americans- 1.0, All-Conference- 2.9, Drafted- 3.2, Career Score- 73.8

Highest Expected Career Score Recruits:

DT Faatui Tuitele- 8.6, QB Dylan Morris- 7.1, DT Jacob Bandes- 5.7, OLB Laiatu Latu- 5.0, CB Trent McDuffie- 4.3, WR Puka Nacua- 3.9

No one made an all-conference team out of the bunch as a true freshman but that’s a very rare feat and not a surprise even for some very good players. The two brightest superstars of this class appear to be Trent McDuffie and Puka Nacua. McDuffie had one of the more impressive true freshman seasons PFF has ever seen for a corner and my own game charting backs that up. He has future All-American written all over him. Puka Nacua could easily get all-conference honors this season if he stays healthy and UW gets even solid QB play.

On the defensive side of the ball Asa Turner and Cameron Williams earned starts as true freshmen while Laiatu Latu was a meaningful contributor. Meanwhile Cameron Davis looked to be on the verge of forcing the coaches’ hands to play right away at running back and Josh Calvert seemed to have the inside edge to start as a true freshman before tearing his ACL in fall camp.

It may be early but it’s hard for me to envision a class that had that many guys look ready to play as true freshmen not surpass the expectation marks listed at the top even if everyone I didn’t mention fails to emerge coming off their redshirt first years.

Put it all together and the Huskies seem well positioned to again exceed expectations for the 2017-19 classes but not nearly to the extent that they did from 2014-16. I’d estimate that the most likely scenario puts them in the 250-300 career score point range over that 3 year stretch. Compared to expectations of 180 points, that’s a good number.

However, for Washington fans that want to see a return to the College Football Playoff it isn’t nearly good enough. You would expect that the cumulative effect of a 3-year run would pay off in the final year and the year after. For the 2014-16 Huskies that meant the 2016 and 2017 seasons when they finished a combined 22-5 with bowl game losses to Alabama and Penn State. Washington had a combined 417 career score points during that stretch.

The other 5 schools to make the College Football Playoff in those two years were Georgia (352), Oklahoma (375), Clemson (512), Ohio State (595), and Alabama (640). To have a realistic shot at finishing in the top-5 over multiple seasons the end result of a teams’ 3-year career score really needs to be at least in that 350 range (usually somewhere between 12 and 19 players drafted). It will be a tremendous test for Jimmy Lake to see if he can get the current roster into that territory and let’s hope he and the rest of the coaching staff are up to the task.