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Day 18: Strongest Position Group

Returning talent bolsters the offense and defense. Which side wins?

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Day 18 of the 30 day countdown. This is a fun topic that needs very little introduction, just pick the strongest position group on the team, so let’s dive right in!

Wide Receivers

The receivers were the engine of the offense last year, and that looks to continue to be the case in 2023, thanks to the retention of Michael Penix Jr.’s top targets in Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, with each racking up over 1,000 yards receiving, and some big plays along with those numbers. Joining them is fellow big play threat Ja’Lynn Polk who recorded 694 yards and 6 scores including 3 against Michigan State. Giles Jackson and his game-breaking potential follows close behind, and the coaching staff found more creative uses for him that I really enjoyed, like as a second running back in shotgun sets, as a motion man, and of course as a returner, even though he hasn’t taken one back for a touchdown yet in his Husky career. Denzel Boston rounds out the returning receivers, and he looks to be one that has made great progress, having scored a touchdown on the ground last year against Portland State, and having more time to develop in Deboer and Grubb’s system. That development has shone through during camp, as it seems like every day, he’s making big plays, and the coaches can’t stop raving about him and his progress.

The Huskies made wide receiver a priority in both the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail to offset the losses of Lonyatta Alexander, Taj Davis and recently Jabez Tinae. From Michigan State, the Dawgs lured Germie Bernard back to Seattle, and he will surely give Michael Penix Jr. another weapon in the passing game. Maybe he can be that breakout receiver, like we saw with Ja’Lynn Polk a year ago? Like last year, the receivers look to be the catalyst of another great offense, and I’m incredibly excited to see how it will shake out!


The Edge Rusher position looks poised for another strong showing in 2023. Bralen Trice (38 total tackles, 12 TFL, 9 sacks) and ZTF (28 total tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) both return and should make for some exciting plays on the defensive side. Of course, this is a ZTF that’s fully healthy, and some got the sense that 2022 was his “ease in” year after injuries and he would take the next step in 2023, getting back to his 2020 form. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but with Trice leading the way, it’ll be fun to watch them go to work on opposing offenses this season!

Joining the starters are some intriguing depth pieces including Lance “Showtime” Holtzclaw, who put in some snaps on special teams last season, Zach Durfee, the Sioux Falls transfer with tremendous speed off the edge, in addition to great upside, Maurice Heims, Anthony James from Arizona State, Jacob Lane, Jacob Mason and new convert Voi Tunuufi should add extra intrigue as Trice and ZTF play out their last seasons on Montlake.

However, Durfee’s immediate future looks clouded, as his eligibility issues are being worked out, as Coach Deboer reported over the weekend. I believe every one of these players except for Durfee has a chance for playing time and we will see how it shakes out. The Edge should be a small part of what I hope to be an improved defense, and that starts up front!

Running Backs

Last year, the running back room left a little to be desired. The running game was fine, and definitely improved as the season progressed, but now, both with the pieces we have returning and the guys coming in, it’s sure to be interesting to watch how the depth chart changes and produces as we progress through the year. Among those returning are Cam Davis (522 yards, 13 TDs), Richard Newton (213 yards, 1 TD) Will Nixon (89 yards, 2 TDs) and Sam Adams II (40 yards, 2 receiving touchdowns). I would expect Cam Davis to be the number one back, but where it gets really interesting is in the new additions to coach Lee Marks’ running back room.

Coming in from Mississippi State is Dillon Johnson, a 6 foot, 218 pound running back who has shown great versatility, coming from Mike Leach’s Air Raid system. With the ball in his hands, he shows great power and a willingness to move forward in spite of contact, and also is a more than capable pass catcher, something that is a necessity in any air raid offense.

Joining him from the portal is Daniel Ngata from Arizona State who, coincidentally had a touchdown against the Huskies, his only visit to the end zone last year, to go along with 272 yards. He told the UW Daily in an article that he felt underutilized in the passing game, which OC Ryan Grubb sold him on. Ngata also possesses, according to Grubb, breakaway speed which should serve him well in the pass game.

Joining the two transfers are a pair of recruits in Ryder Bumgarner, and Tybo Rogers. I wrote about Rogers’ versatility in the spring during my receivers preview, where I compared him to Chico McClatcher. However, last week, Rogers was handed a suspension due to a violation of team rules, so he looks to be out of the running for touches.

The challenge with the true freshmen, as well as the transfers is this: how do you get all these guys the ball? The answer to that question will be interesting to figure out, and considering the talent in that room, it will no doubt be fun to watch!


The defense’s other strong point from the Spring and into fall, in my opinion was the corner position. This position, if you recall, was decimated by injuries and lineup reshuffling, and as a result was the weakest position on the defense. In response, the staff pulled a couple of huge players in terms of talent. On one side, presumably, is Oklahoma State’s Jabbar Muhammad, an All Big 12 selection last season, and an Honorable Mention All PAC 12 this preseason. He looks to be a stable, experienced option for a group that lacked one last year. On the other side, coach Juice Brown has no shortage of young guys he can turn to, in addition to the incumbents, like Elijah Jackson. There’s Caleb Presley, the number 1 in-state recruit who flipped to the Huskies from Oregon, who possesses both length and great hands. Diesel Gordon, Thaddeus Dixon, and Leroy Bryant round out a solid class of defensive backs, which should make for some awesome depth, and should hopefully mitigate the problems suffered by the secondary last year.

Verdict: I’m going to give this one to the wide receivers. Setting aside my personal favor towards putting the ball in the air, it’s pretty clear that the returning talent and the depth at the position is too great of a gap for any other position on the team to make up. You might have a case with the running backs or the edge rushers with the returning talent, but after that, the depth is shaky on the edge, and with the backs (with them it’s a question of production rather than depth, though). Plus any time you return two 1,000 yard receivers it automatically ups the rest of the talent in the room. We’ll see if the running backs or edge rushers step up but I’m pretty confident in stating that this receiving corps is going to give opposing defenses nightmares in the coming season. Got any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!


Which position group is the strongest?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    Wide Receivers
    (287 votes)
  • 3%
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Running Backs
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Other (leave in comments)
    (11 votes)
315 votes total Vote Now