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Transfer Portal Priority List- Defense

Which defensive positions should the coaching staff prioritize in the portal this offseason?

Washington v Oregon State Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Welcome back after yesterday we took a look at which positions should be the biggest priorities in the transfer portal on offense. Today we switch sides of the ball to the defense. The transfer portal opens Monday, December 4th and unfortunately the coaching staff is having to weight game planning for Oregon on Friday with ensuring they are ready to engage in portal kombat come Monday to put together a quality roster for 2024.

A reminder that I was extremely conservative assuming draft departures. If anyone was even fringe, I assumed for now they are leaving and getting them back would count as a portal addition.

Make sure to bookmark my transfer portal rankings at the link here as I continue to update them throughout the next several weeks.

Defensive Line

Out of Eligibility: Tuli Letuligasenoa, Ulumoo Ale

Projected Draft Departure: None

Projected 2024 Depth Chart: Faatui Tuitele (Rs Sr), Jacob Bandes (Rs Sr), Jayvon Parker (Jr), Armon Parker (Rs So), Anthony James (Rs Fr)

We start out with one of the position groups that is losing the most this offseason. Both starters are out of eligibility although Tuli played the 3rd most snaps of any DL because of injuries.

There is still a lot of returning experience. Faatui Tuitele started all of last season and has over 1,100 career defensive snaps. Bandes isn’t quite on that level but has played over 700 defensive snaps during his time at Washington. Both were high 4-star recruits coming out of high school. You would hope that the Huskies would feel they’re set at the position.

But the facts are that neither has been an impact player at any point of their college careers so far. They’ve combined for 5 sacks and 39 pressures across nearly 900 pass rush snaps. Tuitele has never had an above average PFF grade for a season while Bandes has hovered around average every season. Washington wouldn’t have the worst defensive line in the Big Ten next year if they didn’t sign reinforcements but it certainly wouldn’t be a top half unit.

The best case scenario for Washington here is that they’re able to sign an experienced starting nose tackle and that Jayvon Parker makes a leap to be able to challenge Tuitele/Bandes. But if the Huskies added two more bodies to this room through the portal, it would help. The Dawgs have already offered Penn transfer Joey Slackman who has 15 career sacks at 300 pounds playing in the FCS in the Ivy League.

Need for Instant Starter: 10 of 10

Need for Backup: 7 of 10

Edge Rusher

Out of Eligibility: Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Sekai Asoau-Afua

Projected Draft Departure: Bralen Trice

Projected 2024 Depth Chart: Voi Tunuufi (Sr), Zach Durfee (Rs Jr), Lance Holtclaw (Rs Jr), Jacob Lane (So)

Washington is going to have to completely revamp their edge rush rotation next season after they lose their top-three players at the position. Bralen Trice still has a year of eligibility but he is likely to be either a 1st or 2nd round pick and it would be a shock if he came back again. Trice plus ZTF and SAA all rank in UW’s top-9 in defensive snaps played this year.

The cupboard isn’t completely bare behind them with the switch of Voi Tunuufi primarily to the edge (although he has played a lot inside the last few games with Tuli banged up). He finished 3rd on the team in QB pressures this year and should be a capable starter next season.

The coaching staff brought in Zach Durfee to supplement the rotation this year but he was ruled ineligible despite what logic would seemingly dictate. Given how hard the staff fought to get him able to play, it seems clear they think he would’ve made an impact this season and so should be at least a heavy rotation option next year. Jacob Lane forced his way onto the field late in the year as a true freshman which speaks well about him being a meaningful contributor next year. Lane ended the regular season tied for 5th on the team in QB hits despite having the 10th most pass rush snaps.

It would still be really nice though if they were able to add one more surefire starter opposite Tunuufi or Durfee. It’s not realistic to think they can just replace Bralen Trice but getting a proven 4th or 5th year player to make an impact while the young edge rushers develop would be very helpful.

Need for Instant Starter: 8 of 10

Need for Backup: 3 of 10

Linebacker

Out of Eligibility: Edefuan Ulofoshio, Ralen Goforth

Projected Draft Departure: None

Projected 2024 Depth Chart: Alphonzo Tuputala (Rs Sr), Carson Bruener (Sr), Drew Fowler (Rs So), Deven Bryant (Rs Fr), Jordan Whitney (Rs Fr)

Washington hasn’t necessarily gotten elite all-around play from the middle linebackers this season but it has generally been good enough with Ulofoshio a semifinalist for the Butkus award. Tuputala obviously made the bonehead mistake against Utah but has been an above average contributor. Carson Bruener has come on strong at the end of the year with Tuputala missing a game and provides hope he can stop into Ulofoshio’s shoes seamlessly. That starting duo should be solid at the very least next season even after Ede and Goforth run out of eligibility.

The problem is the depth behind them. The Huskies have run with a four-man rotation all season at the position and so there’s no experienced depth besides Tuputala and Bruener. The 5th most snaps have gone to walk-on Drew Fowler who could be due for being put on scholarship. It seems like a risk though to have Fowler or one of the redshirt freshmen be one injury away from starting. They need another Ralen Goforth type of signing but ideally one that has 2 years of eligibility remaining to help stabilize the position once Tuputala graduates.

Need for Instant Starter: 2 of 10

Need for Backup: 9 of 10

Cornerback

Out of Eligibility: None

Projected Draft Departure: Jabbar Muhammad

Projected 2024 Depth Chart: Mishael Powell (Rs Sr), Elijah Jackson (Rs Jr), Davon Banks (Rs Jr), Thad Dixon (Sr), Jaivion Green (Jr), Leroy Bryant (Rs Fr)

I tried to be conservative with the draft decisions, meaning I erred on the side of assuming the 50/50 cases depart. Jabbar Muhammad was spectacular in a highly watched game against Oregon State but then struggled against Washington State. I’ll project right now that it was enough for him to declare for the draft and hope to be a late round pick.

If that’s the case then the Huskies need to bring in the next Muhammad to replace him. It was a coup getting an all-conference Big 12 corner to slot right into the starting lineup and it will be tough to feel good about UW’s secondary if they can’t do it again. Mishael Powell was solid at the Husky position this year. Davon Banks looked fantastic before getting hurt in the 2nd game of the year. But neither Elijah Jackson nor Thad Dixon showed enough to make anyone feel super confident if they have to start next year after playing the 5th and 16th most defensive snaps respectively.

Washington brought in a highly touted group of freshman corners who redshirted this season. Maybe one of them makes a giant leap into an above average starter next year. But if Muhammad does indeed leave then it’s tough to look at the roster and assume you can find multiple very good starting corners as it currently stands. Should Muhammad return then I feel a lot better about the idea of standing pat and hoping either for a healthy season from Banks or growth from Jackson, Dixon, or someone else.

Need for Instant Starter: 9 of 10

Need for Backup: 2 of 10

Safety

Out of Eligibility: Dominique Hampton

Projected Draft Departure: Asa Turner

Projected 2024 Depth Chart: Kamren Fabiculanan (Rs Sr), Makell Esteen (Rs Jr), Tristan Dunn (Rs So), Vincent Holmes (Rs Fr)

This is another one where my answer changes greatly based on some decision making. Asa Turner technically has one year of eligibility remaining since he only appeared in 4 games due to injury. Does he want to try to come back after missing 12 games due to injury over the last 2 seasons? It likely depends on whether he thinks he has a chance at a pro career but for now I’m going to assume he calls it quits especially since he walked on senior day. But Coach DeBoer said the door is still open.

Injuries also limited the playing time of KamFab but he was one of UW’s best defenders when he was able to get on the field this year. Washington should feel good about him taking over at one starting spot. The other safety position is much more questionable. There have been rumors about the long-term status of Vince Nunley and the coaching staff hasn’t directly addressed his unavailability. He started the year as a backup but then appeared in just 6 games. Makell Esteen started the last 2 games and struggled this year but did come up with a diving interception in the Apple Cup. As things currently stand, he’s the guy but if Nunley isn’t back then they have to get another impact player.

Need for Instant Starter: 8 of 10

Need for Backup: 6 of 10

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Biggest Defensive Transfer Needs In Order:

Starting Defensive Lineman (10)

Starting Cornerback (9)

Backup Linebacker (9)

Starting Safety (8)

Starting Edge Rusher (8)

Backup Defensive Lineman (7)

Backup Safety (6)

Backup Edge Rusher (3)

Backup Cornerback (2)

Starting Linebacker (2)