With a majority of their snaps returning for the 2020 season, the Washington defensive line will look to improve on an inconsistent 2019 season. While occasionally dominant, the Huskies finished 87th nationally in TFL per game (5.46), 58th in sacks per game (2.23), 39th in opponent yards per carry (3.81), and 28th in rushing defense (126.38 yards per game). It’s true that the Huskies linebacking corps (which was... mediocre) contributed significantly to these numbers, but regardless, they should be easy to improve upon in 2020.
2019 UW Defensive Line Stats
The Huskies only lose one significant contributor along the defensive line, as redshirt senior Benning Potoa’e graduated and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his career, Potoa’e mostly played as an outside linebacker who occasionally put his hand in the dirt. However, his final season he played exclusively as a defensive lineman. During the 2019 season he collected 30 tackles and had a position-group high 4.5 sacks (OLBs Joe Tryon and Ryan Bowman had more). Husky fans had high expectations for the former local four star recruit out of Lakes HS, but not until the tail end of his career at the UW did he begin to produce near the numbers that many expected from him. He finished his Washington career with 117 total tackles, along with 20.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks.
The Huskies failed to sign a single scholarship defensive linemen in their 2020 recruiting class, but there will still be plenty of new and exciting talent along the defensive line this coming season. The Dawgs signed four defensive linemen in their 2019 recruiting class, including four star defensive tackles Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes, and Sama Paama, as well as three star DT Noa Ngalu. While some speculated that players like Tuitele and Bandes might be college ready their true freshmen year, all four players redshirted last season. Tuitele and Bandes were the two highest rated players that Washington signed in their 2019 class, so big things will be expected from both of the redshirt freshmen. On a final note here, and this may be an unfair comparison, but at 6’4” and 347 lbs. the physical similarities between Paama and Husky great Vita Vea are hard to ignore...
Washington returns that vast majority of their production from the defensive line this season, including about 77% of their snaps played from 2019. Of course, Levi Onwuzurike headlines the returners. The fifth year senior was named to the All-Pac-12 defensive line in 2019 and is on several major publications’ preseason All-American lists for 2020. He led Washington defensive linemen with 45 tackles during the 2019 season and added on two sacks and 15 QB pressures for good measure.
The depth behind Onwuzurike will be the strongest Washington has had along the line in years. Sr. Josiah Bronson will start next to Onwuzurike again this year after being granted his sixth year of eligibility. He started in 11 games last season and should be motivated to finish his career at Washington on a high note. The next two biggest contributors will likely be third-year sophomores Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani. Both are massive humans (around 320 lbs.). Letuligasenoa had an especially strong stretch of play last year, notching five tackles against both Stanford and Oregon, including one TFL against the Ducks.
Position Battle to Watch
Which of the redshirt freshmen will be able to secure regular playing time? Given that Washington primarily plays in a 2-4-5 front (nickel base) with just two down linemen, and because there are four veteran returners at the position, any remaining snaps could prove to be a valuable commodity. Washington likes to rotate their D-line like a hockey line (frequently) to keep players fresh, so it’s safe to assume at least one to two more players will see regular playing time this season. The wild card here is third-year sophomore Draco Bynum. Listed at 6’4” and 268 lbs., the former four star recruit out of Oregon had limited snaps in three games last season (Eastern Washington, Hawaii, Boise State). Will this be the year we see more of Bynum? Or will he be buried in the depth chart behind the highly touted redshirt freshmen?
Projected Depth Chart
DT - Levi Onwuzurike, Tuli Letuligasenoa, Jacob Bandes / Faatui Tuitele
DT - Josiah Bronson, Sam Taimani, Faatui Tuitele / Jacob Bandes