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Spring Position Preview: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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We look at the pass catchers for Washington heading into spring practices

UCLA v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

We’re continuing on today in our spring position preview series combining the pass catchers into one group with both the wide receivers and the tight ends.

Performance in 2021

The offense as a whole drastically underperformed last fall for Washington and it brought down the receivers and tight ends along with it. Tight end Cade Otton was expected to be the biggest standout performer in part because in the John Donovan offense he played every snap he was available. Unfortunately for the first time in his career he wasn’t available very much and played in just 8 of the team’s 12 games. Expected #2 on the tight end depth chart Jack Westover also missed 5 games which led to more Devin Culp than we expected entering the year.

On the receiver side things started out disastrously when Washington was down their top-4 receivers after the first drive of the season. Gradually, all 4 of them were reintroduced to the lineup as they overcame their injuries but no one had the production they wanted. Rome Odunze led the team in targets (69) and receptions (41) while tying for the team lead in TDs (4) but many of those were quick out bubble screens. Jalen McMillan finished first on the team with 470 receiving yards while veteran Terrell Bynum was right behind him at 436 yards pus 4 TDs. Taj Davis was a pleasant surprise stepping in with 329 yards and 1 TD while Ja’Lynn Polk recovered very late in the year from his early injury and finished 7th on the team in receiving yards despite having just 5 catches.

Roster Additions/Subtractions

Subtractions

TE Cade Otton- NFL Early Entry

Otton was 50/50 to return to the team entering the 2021 offseason so it was no surprise to see him depart after the way last year went. He finished his Husky career with 91 catches for 1,026 receiving yards and 9 TDs over 4 seasons and is expected to be a mid-round draft pick after not being able to workout at the NFL Combine while still recovering from the ankle injury that ended his college season.

WR Terrell Bynum- Transfer to USC

Shortly after Kalen DeBoer was hired Bynum publicly stated that he would be returning to Washington. However amid rumors that WR coach Junior Adams was considering jumping ship to Oregon, Bynum reversed course and entered the transfer portal quickly ending up with hometown USC. He finished his Husky career with 65 catches for 934 yards and 6 TDs and we’ll see if there are enough snaps to go around for him to be featured in L.A.

TE Mark Redman- Transfer to San Diego State

Husky fans rightly had high hopes when the 4-star recruit initially committed to Washington given his prototypical size for the position. But he never broke out and caught just 1 pass for 5 yards across 164 snaps for the Huskies.

WR Sawyer Racanelli- Transfer to Montana

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Racanelli saw 2 targets with 0 catches in a UW uniform and decided to drop down to FCS to find more playing time at Husky-killer Montana as he didn’t appear to make up ground on the depth chart despite looking like a sleeper breakout candidate this time last year.

WR Germie Bernard- Signed with Michigan State

This only sort of counts but was a major part of the offseason as Bernard was UW’s highest rated incoming recruit. He stayed true to his statement that he wasn’t wavering as long as Junior Adams was the WR coach and signed his LOI. After Adams bailed however, so did Bernard and he didn’t wait for UW to hire JaMarcus Shephard before heading to Michigan State where he’ll face the Huskies the next 2 years in the non-conference.

Additions

WR Lonyatta “Junior” Alexander- 6’2, 200 lbs

Washington was viewed as a shoo-in for the 4-star recruit who was high school teammates of Huskies Sam Huard and Jabez Tinae to form one of the all-time great passing attacks in state history. Instead UW slow played Alexander going for Emeka Egbuka and lost out on both. After Junior Adams left, Alexander entered the transfer portal and quickly committed to the Huskies after not seeing the field as a true freshman at Arizona State.

TE Ryan Otton- 6’6, 224 lbs

The Huskies are losing one Otton at TE but gaining another as Cade’s younger brother. The 4-star recruit is more highly rated than Cade was coming out of high school and could challenge for playing time right away. Otton won’t be enrolled until the fall.

WR Denzel Boston- 6’3, 191 lbs

The 3-star recruit from Puyallup’s commitment never wavered after the coaching change and he signed his LOI and is fully on board as a Dawg. Boston won’t be enrolled until the fall.

Spring Storylines to Watch

1. The Growth of the Young Receivers

It’s certainly possible to make the argument that Terrell Bynum was Washington’s best receiver last year even if he wasn’t the most purely talented. Yet Husky fans were not as sad to see him go as you might expect. That is largely a function of the Dawgs seemingly having a loaded stable of young receivers who could absolutely flourish with more playing time. Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan have shown flashes of athletic dominance. Ja’Lynn Polk tied for the longest play from scrimmage from the WR group last year in basically 1.5 games. All of them have 3+ more years of eligibility remaining.

Junior Adams as the past WR coach built up the reputation as a great recruiter in part by getting Odunze and McMillan to Washington. However there were plenty of moments when it didn’t look like his charges were executing on the little things as it pertains to route running that separate raw talent from on-field dominance. Now with a very highly regarded teacher in JaMarcus Shephard and an offense that has had a dominant air attack at past stops it will give Husky fans goose bumps if we hear a string of rave reviews about the starters this spring.

2. The Adjustment to More 11 Personnel

Washington has had a strong argument to being one of the 3 best options for tight ends in the country over the last decade. First under Chris Petersen and then with John Donovan the Huskies ran a ton of 12 personnel (particularly this past year while Cade Otton was healthy). The expectation is though under Coach DeBoer that we’ll be seeing less of the tight end this year. Players at that position played about 1.3 snaps per play with Fresno last year so it’s not as if we’ll never see a set with multiple tight ends. But it shouldn’t be the base look.

That means barring any transfers we should expect to see 6 players on the roster competing for what most of the time should be 1 playing spot. Devin Culp is the clear favorite to see the most run but it will be interesting to see given the demands of the new offense who else emerges out of the rest of the group.

3. Who Sees the Writing on the Wall?

On the one hand being loaded with young players is great because it suggests they have so much room for improvement. One downside is that it sometimes causes those not at the top of the depth chart to lose patience. Of the 14 WRs/TEs on the roster 0 are out of eligibility after this year and only 4 are juniors. If a player finds themselves looking up at 3 others on the depth chart then it’s probably going to take a monumental effort on their part or an early departure to the NFL to see significant playing time in the next 2 years. Are guys like Mason West, Caden Jumper, or Jabez Tinae going to be willing to stick it out and put in the work versus entering the transfer portal if they don’t make big moves this spring?

Position Battle of Interest

I think the starting wide receiver spots are pretty much locked in with maybe a small battle between Ja’Lynn Polk and Taj Davis. Regardless, all 4 should play a lot. I also think Devin Culp is going to be the starter at tight end. The most intriguing battle for me then is for the backup tight end spot.

Mark Redman would’ve been my favorite except he transferred to SDSU. Jack Westover has the most experience with 305 career snaps over the last few years. He also often played a hybrid H-back role getting fullback dives and mostly blocking. Is that going to be of primary importance in the new DeBoer offense? Quentin Moore’s athleticism intrigued going into last year but he got banged up and never saw much of the field. And whoever secures that spot on the depth chart will have to defend it come August once true freshman Ryan Otton joins the competition.

Current Projected Depth Chart

WR- Rome Odunze, Junior Alexander

WR- Jalen McMillan, Taj Davis, Denzel Boston

WR- Ja’Lynn Polk, Giles Jackson, Jabez Tinae

TE- Devin Culp, Jack Westover, Quentin Moore, Ryan Otton