As per tradition, I’m spending the offseason working my way through the upcoming recruiting class. I’ll be taking a look at the tape of our current Class of 2024 commitments, getting a feel for their skills and talent, and assessing where they might fit on our roster. You can my find other 2024 UW recruiting profiles here.
Peyton Waters (ATH, 6’2” 170, Birmingham HS, CA)
The highly regarded 4-star ATH from Birmingham High School in California, has recently committed to the UW, and although he starred in all three phases of the game for his HS team, he is projected to play defense for the Huskies. His commitment to UW came after a successful recruiting battle against prominent P5 programs such as Utah, Stanford, and UCLA. With his combination of size, speed, and football IQ, Waters brings a versatile skill set to the Huskies’ defensive backfield as Coach Morrell & the defensive staff overhauls defensive backfield to run their version of the Quarters-based defense. Let’s take a look at what he’ll bring to Montlake and where he fits within the defense.
Standing at 6’2” and weighing 170 lbs, Waters possesses good size for a DB type of athlete, and while not particularly twitchy or rangey (compared to future teammate Vincent Holmes), he still possesses solid long speed and burst. Pair that with a good understand attack angles and good overall instincts, and he has the necessary traits to keep up with almost anyone when using the right technique.
One big plus in my book is Waters’ involvement in all three phases of the game at the HS level. Playing offense, defense, and special teams is typically an indicator of advanced football IQ, or its at least an accelerator of football IQ development with the added reps and a more well-rounded understanding of the game. It is also sign of advanced ball skills for a defensive player, which is another bonus for a DB.
Looking at Waters’ defensive hudl tape, he shows an ability to play multiple positions on defense. While primarily a safety, Waters is also familiar with playing coverage from the slot and outside CB. As I’ve mentioned in past DB breakdowns, coverage can be a completely different experience depending on assignment and alignment. Outside CBs, slot DBs, and safeties have different route trees that they have to cover with different techniques. Waters having a baseline level of experience at different positions will give him a jump on wherever he lands.
As far as his playing style from the safety position, Waters demonstrates good ball skills and the ability to break on passes when playing from deeper alignments. He shows a willingness to take risks to make a play on the ball. On his highlights, he showed that he could anticipate plays and make timely breaks on the ball. However, with the limited number of plays on his tape, you can’t tell what happened when he gambled and lost. It is worth noting that he does not seem to have the elite recovery speed necessary to cover up for his own risk taking, which could pose challenges at the next level.
When it comes to tackling, Waters leans more towards being a solid tackler rather than a thumper. While he may not deliver bone-crushing hits, his tackling technique is generally sound. One area for improvement is keeping his head up when coming downhill to avoid injury and to maintain control through contact.
In my opinion, Waters projects to the safety position at the next level, and more specifically the boundary/strong safety position. This is the position that Alex Cook played in 2022. In Morrell’s defense, this position requires a versatile skill set by necessity, but it is also one that can emphasize a gifted player’s skill set. In our version of a Quarters-based defense, we typically account for offensive shifts, motion, and changes in formational strength by rotating the safeties and Husky. This means that while we will usually come out in a 2-high look with the Husky playing up near the LOS over the field side slot, but if the offense flips their passing strength into the boundary, then the Husky may rotate deep into a safety alignment and the strong safety rolls down over the boundary slot and play slot corner coverage techniques. Because this is a standard check, we need our strong safety to have near-slot corner level coverage skills in addition to being a solid deep coverage defender and regularly making tackles against the run as the force defender in run fits.
Given his safety-sized frame, familiarity in playing multiple DB alignments, and ability to make plays on the ball, Waters should be able to fill Cook’s old role nicely. He might not match Cook’s tackling production early in his career, but he should elevate the slot coverage play from the strong safety position early in his career while also potentially elevating the playmaking with his ball skills (especially when paired with a ball hawking safety partner like Holmes).
Regardless of what position he ends up at, Waters is the type of talent that we need to continue to add to our secondary to play our aggressive style of defense and maintain our reputation as DBU. Husky fans should keep an eye on his rising star.