Its year 2 of the Portal Era, and DeBoer & Co. hit the portal again in the hopes that lighting strikes twice.
Last year’s class, highlighted by Heisman hopeful Michael Penix, was a program changer despite muted fanfare when the season started. Outside of Penix, who set a number of UW passing records in his first season on Montlake after an up-and down career at Indiana, last years transfer class also yielded three starters (Taulapapa, Bright, and Perryman) and another significant contributor (Moll). That’s a better than 50/50 hit rate for immediate contributors, and another transfer class like that could very well push us over the top.
Looking back at last year’s class, the staff leaned towards experience over youth to shore up a roster that was in transition. In year two, the staff is leaning more towards youth to plug gaps in the roster’s developmental cycle. While this might limit the number of opportunities for immediate impact, this is still a transfer class that could make a big difference.
Let’s take a look at the candidates to make the biggest impact in 2023:
Dillon Johnson, RB
Much like last year, the RB room is lacking an established incumbent with a lot of off season churn. Last year, Wayne Taulapapa joined the team as a grad transfer and immediately stabilized the room as RB1 over several talented returning RBs. While he wasn’t as dynamic of an offensive weapon as many hoped to see, he still topped 1000 yards from scrimmage and was a key contributor in the passing game as a backfield protector.
Dillon Johnson has an opportunity to do the same, but with a more receiving-centric role in the passing game. Johnson arrives on Montlake having recorded nearly 150 receptions and over 800 yards receiving. His potential contributions shouldn’t be limited to his receiving skills. At nearly 220 lbs with open field agility and speed, Johnson was able to rack up 1198 rushing yards over his 3 years in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Mississippi State, proving that he isn’t a one trick pony. Coach Grubb’s offense placed a large focus on that type of backfield versatility when he was at Fresno State, and Johnson could be the beneficiary of that offensive strategy.
That doesn’t mean that Johnson is a sure fire selection though. With the return of the versatile and experienced Cam Davis, the hard running Richard Newton, and the addition of Danyiel Ngata, there are a lot of mouths to feed in the RB room. That doesn’t even consider other backs like Sam Adams, Will Nixon, and Tybo Rogers. Johnson’s ability to be an impact player this year isn’t about his talent or skill set, but instead its about his ability to get the opportunities necessary to make an impact.
Jabbar Muhammad, CB
As every Husky fan knew last year, the defense was the side of the ball where we had the most room for improvement heading into 2023. After a long run of conference leading passing defenses, all driven by NFL-caliber DBs, the 2022 secondary took a major step back, in large part due to poor depth. 2022 grad transfer Jordan Perryman was brought in to shore up the depth while Coach Brown and Coach Morrell reloaded the defensive backfield. Unfortunately, an early injury knocked Perryman out of the line up, and while he was able to return, he clearly wasn’t playing at full strength. To further compound the depth issues, injuries to Mishael Powell and other members of the starting group during mid-season slide, and it was clear that something needed to change during this offseason.
Enter Jabbar Muhammad. The former Oklahoma State CB looks to fill the role that Perryman was slated to fill on last season’s squad. Over his three years in Stillwater, Muhammad appeared in 31 games for the Cowboys, started 13 games, and earned All-Big-12 honorable mention last season. At 5’10” and 183, he doesn’t fit the longer press corner prototype that our staff has sought out on the HS recruiting trail, but he has the skills to significantly elevate the floor of his position group. He’s a light-footed demon underneath who brings the intensity and tenacity that made our DB room so fearsome during the Petersen Era. He isn’t afraid to fly downhill against WR screens and in run support, and he’ll play WRs physically downfield step for step.
If Muhammad can be the keystone of our secondary by providing a stead enough presence out on the perimeter to let our safeties to play as aggressively as Morrell & Brown want them to, then we may have a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” situation.
Germie Bernard, WR
I know that WR should be the least of our worries heading into the 2023 season given that we have at least 3 entrenched starters with All-Conference talent, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t see Germie Bernard show out this season.
Bernard, the one-time UW commit under the last regime, has circled back to Montlake where he belongs. Back when we were recruiting him, I wrote the following in a recruiting profile of him back in 2020:
Bernard’s well-built 6-2 frame, gliding speed, strong hands, and technically sound route running fundamentals compare well to those that made Puka Nacua an early impact perimeter WR. He isn’t a track burner, or a twitched-up jitterbug, but he’s still a mover that is by no means limited by any physical trait. The ability to create separation in isolation at all three levels is what really separates perimeter and slot receivers. Size and speed can help with that, but Bernard’s route running and body control allow him to create separation on both in and out breaking routes at all three levels as well. There were even times when I was watching his tape that I had to remind myself that I was watching his sophomore tape, and that he has two full years ahead of before he’s supposed to arrive on campus. I’d argue that his on-field production would be intriguing even if he was in the 2021 class.
In my opinion, my breakdown of Bernard’s early skills and traits still stands as true. He was able to contribute in every game last year during his brief Michigan State stint, and while he wasn’t able to fill the box score, he was able to develop a reputation as a go-to option in high leverage scenarios.
Like Johnson, Bernard’s impact will be contingent upon his ability to rise through a crowded position room and make it onto the field. Odunze, McMillan, and Polk are locked in at the top of the depth chart, but we distributed the ball pretty well to our other options. After the top three targets, we had six different players get 19-31 receptions last year, and two of those six have moved on. That leaves 45 receptions (and even more targets) open for Bernard to take. Bernard is also projected to fill one of the slot roles alongside Giles Jackson (one of the six secondary targets last season), and there could be situations where Bernard’s size in the slot could give him opportunities to take snaps from Jackson. The big question is if Bernard can find his footing quick enough to break into the rotation right off the bat.
Zach Durfee, EDGE
Last up from the frontrunners is Zach Durfee. This may be a dark horse pick, but much like the staff, I’d gamble on Durfee’s tremendous athletic upside making an impact this season. The EDGE transfer from D-II Sioux Falls doesn’t have the pedigree like the other transfers we’ve previewed, but he might have the best shot at making an impact this season.
Despite making the jump from two levels below the D-I FBS, Durfee has had the look of a prototypical EDGE from the second his transfer was announced. Standing at 6’5” and 250lb, the QB-turned-EDGE already has the size to play at this level, and his speed, power, and bend around the edge is already on-par with the other members of his position group. It’s tough to say for certain if his technique is up to Coach Schmidt’s standard, but that’s because he was so dominant on his Sioux Falls tape. He was a man amongst boys at the D-II level, and although that isn’t necessarily an indicator of future success, it is a good sign.
Assuming Durfee hits the ground running from a S&C perspective, and assuming he can get up to speed relatively quickly on the scheme and assignments, the opportunity for playing time is right in front of him. Coach Schmidt likes to run four deep at EDGE to keep fresh legs on the field. Trice and ZTF may be the best first unit combo in the conference, but the cupboards are bare when it comes to experienced depth behind them. Sav’ell Smalls was slated to be the #3 guy in the rotation, but his transfer to Colorado leaves both second unit spots wide open. Guys like Maurice Heims and Lance Holtzclaw have been names thrown around as the next guys up, but the depth chart is still murky. Heims may or may not be 100% healthy after an injury sidelined him for much of Spring Practice. Holtzclaw still seems too light to see the field based on the body types that Schmidt’s brought in. A senior like Sekai Asoau-Afoa may see an opportunity, but he’s completely unproven at UW after transferring in last year from JUCO. The same could be said for the freshmen. At a bare minimum, Durfee is competing against group of players with very similar level of experience on their resume, and his athletic upside may win out.
My guess is that Durfee gets thrown into the mix when the season starts via sub packages, and if he finds his footing quickly, then he’ll cement his place in the rotation.
2023 Transfers to UW
|Dillon Johnson||RB||6-0||218||JR||Mississippi State|
|Jabbar Muhammad||CB||5-10||183||JR||Oklahoma State|
|Germie Bernard||WR||6-1||203||SO||Michigan State|
|Zach Durfee||EDGE||6-5||255||SO||Sioux Falls|
|Daniyel Ngata||RB||5-9||192||JR||Arizona State|
|Josh Cuevas||TE||6-3||239||SO||Cal Poly|
|Jalen Klemm||OL||6-5||281||RS-FR||Kansas State|
Coach B’s Pick: Jabbar Muhammad, CB
Which transfer will make the biggest impact?
This poll is closed