Washington finished the year at 7-6 after a tough bowl loss to Boise State. The team suffered through three straight losses in the middle of their schedule with Oregon, USC and Arizona. Before that streak Washington had scored an upset win over Stanford and they also defeated a very sound Oregon State team.
Steve Sarkisian was brought in to bring Washington back to prominence and last season seemed to be the turning point showing the Huskies have the ability. This is the season they should put it all together with terrific individual talent on both offense and defense.
There is no question the Huskies have NFL talent all over the football field but quarterback may be the most interesting position to watch this season for a number of reasons. Keith Price does not project highly as an NFL prospect as he is a 7th rounder or undrafted free agent at best but he has shown glimpses where he can be special and take over a game. The 2012 numbers for Price don’t paint a pretty picture with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, 2,728 yards and a 122.8 rating, very pedestrian numbers for a starting quarterback in a major conference. 2011 was a different story as Price had 33 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions and 3,063 yards and a quarterback rating of 161.9 Price achieved those numbers with 70 fewer attempts than he had during 2012. Have teams figured out Price or is he just too predictable? Washington is moving to an up tempo no-huddle offense with a new coordinator and a new mentor for Price in former Huskie quarterback Marquis Tuiasosopo. If Price continues to struggle they could move to highly touted freshman Cyler Miles who looks to be the heir apparent once the season is over and Price graduates. Regardless of how Price performs the focus of the offense should be junior running back Bishop Sankey who came out of nowhere last year to post 1,439 yards rushing with 16 TD’s in his first year as a starter. I have Sankey listed as a 3rd rounder for 2015 but he could come out a year early if he has another campaign similar to last season.
Best Draft Prospect: Bishop Sankey RB 3rd Round 2015 (slight chance he could declare for 2014 with another huge year).
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Another part of Price’s struggles that leaves you scratching your head is the fact that he has two very good NFL prospects at his disposal in the passing game. Austin Seferian-Jenkins had 69 catches for 850 yards and 7 touchdowns a season ago and has established himself as the best tight end in the country, a fact you will get very little if any argument from any sports analyst in the country. Wide receiver Kasen Williams posted 77 catches for 878 yards and 6 trips to the end zone. Price has the weapons at his disposal to light up stat sheets and scoreboards. Unfortunately both players lit something else up during the offseason, police lights, as both had off the field run-ins with law enforcement. Seferian-Jenkins was arrested for a DUI and will spend one day in jail on July 31st, five days before the Huskies start practice. Kasen Williams was pulled over for speeding and administered a breathalyzer that he passed but was cited for alcohol consumption and marijuana possession and is on two years probation. Both players were disciplined by the school and it could hinder their draft status a bit but they have a whole season to let their play on the field do the talking. Jaydon Mickens and DiAndre Campbell are the other top receivers on the roster and they combined for nearly 40 catches and three touchdowns a season ago. As long as both targets are on the field for Washington this is going to be a passing game you have to respect.
Best Draft Prospect: Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE 1st Round 2015 (should declare for 2014 because he is far and away the best tight end in the country. Off the field issues could push him into the 2nd or even 3rd round but he will declare).
As many different weapons as the Huskies have at receiver and running back it is disheartening to see the state of the offensive line, a trend that is a bit disturbing for most of the PAC-12, offensive lines that seem to weaknesses of football teams. We have already documented Washington State, they gave up more sacks than any other team at the FBS level and USC also has a line that isn’t as good as we normally see. I don’t see a prospect for the NFL along the line, we have a few players who are close and may get some camp invites but no player that jumps out as being a sure thing to make an NFL roster. To be fair to the Huskies they had a number of players pressed into action last year due to injury and this year none of the starters are seniors so there is time to have these athletes improve. Dexter Charles at left guard and center Erik Kohler look to be the best prospects along the line. Another issue may be the size as Washington has one of the smallest lines in the conference. This is a group that is mobile and will look to pave the way for Bishop Sankey to have another stellar season.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A
The defensive line has a few key performers and individuals that should make their way to the NFL but as a group the defensive line is not much stronger than the offensive line. Danny Shelton is a true nose guard who when you look at the stat sheet you will think nothing of him or the impact he has on the game. To get a true appreciation of Shelton you need to watch film and see how he controls his areas of the line and it opens up gaps for other players, he just makes everyone around him more effective. Shelton’s game is very reminiscent of Casey Hampton and the fine job he did year after year for Texas before moving to the NFL in Pittsburgh. Shelton looks like a 3rd round pick for 2015 and he could declare early, it will depend son some of the players ranked in front of him and the seasons they have. Andrew Hudson is the other returning starter on the line and he will line up beside Shelton. Hudson tied for the team lead with 6.5 sacks a season ago and made 9 stops total for a loss. The player Hudson tied for the team lead was Josh Shirley and he will be playing the other end spot after starting a handful of games in 2012. Hudson looks like he has an outside shot at making a roster and could extend his career at the NFL level although it may be as a linebacker vice a defensive end. Pio Vatuvei will be an important backup as he plays all over the line after seeing action in 9 games as a freshman.
Best Draft Prospect: Danny Shelton DT 3rd Round 2015 (Could declare for 2014).
The Washington linebackers may not be the most technically sound but they are fast and they make of for some of the inconsistencies of the defensive line. The tackle totals are higher than what they should be because not enough plays are made up front but all three starters return and all posted at least 74 tackles with 74,76 and 91 respectively. Tackle totals aren’t; everything because the player with the lowest amount, Shaq Thompson, is the best prospect as he is the fastest and his game is more rounded than teammates Travis Feeney and John Timu. Thompson posted 8.5 tackles for loss but it is his play recognition skills, when he has an opening in the backfield and when to cover a receiver that sets him apart. Thompson is a player I currently have Thompson ranked as a 2nd rounder for 2016 and his teammates are also underclassmen (Timu is a junior and Feeney is also a sophomore). Another big season and we could see these linebackers listed as the best group of starters in the Pac-12 for 2015 and one of the best units in the entire nation. Another important stat is the three players had 8 sacks combined but also 7 interceptions, this shows the all-around skill set they possess. This group of linebackers is fun to watch and if you are a fan of fine linebacker play I suggest you try to catch a Washington game this season as this is the strength of the defense.
Best Draft Prospect: Shaq Thompson 2nd Round 2016.
Washington has a pair of new starters in the secondary with Greg Ducre at cornerback and free safety Will Shamburger. The secondary is the biggest question mark, not because of ineffectiveness but that by the looks of the secondary it could go either way. Marcus Peters is a very underrated cornerback who could be one of the better cover men in the Pac 12 and strong safety Sean Parker has a reputation as a big hitter. Parker is not only a big hitter but a sure tackler as he was second on the team with 77 stops and he forced 3 fumbles. Parker is a 7th round prospect and I have Peters listed as a 5th rounder for 2016. Peters had an outstanding campaign as a freshman but he was not covering the top wideout on the opposing team, he will now be assuming that responsibility now that Desmond Trufant has been drafted into the NFL and he was the top prospect from Washington last season. Ducre and Shamburger both seem like safe players, they are seniors that have a wealth of experience but they are not flashy nor do they excel at making big plays. With the new starters it looks more like it will be about not making mistakes vice making game changing stops on defense. Jermaine Kelly and Trevor Walker look like they will be eventual starters here but are freshman and will be brought along slowly.
Best Draft Prospect: Marcus Peters CB 5th Round 2016.
Kasen Williams is the teams top receiver but he will also be handling punt return duties. This will be a new role for Williams and Jaydon Mickens will be handling kickoffs for the second year. Travis Coons will handle the kicking and punting duties. Coons has plenty of leg on field goals but accuracy has been an issue and Washington ranked near the bottom in kick coverage and net punting. This is an area where the Huskies need to show some improvement or they could drop a close game or two as a result.
Best Draft Prospect: Kasen Williams WR/PR 3rd Round 2015.
Washington gets Boise State at home to open the season, an interesting matchup considering their bowl loss that came down to the wire just eight months prior. Early October looks rough as Washington will get Stanford and Oregon back-to-back and you have to remember they upset Stanford last season so that game will be harder than it already looks. The end of the season is key as UCLA, Oregon State and Washington State closes the season. Last year Washington went on a four game winning streak down the stretch before being upset by rival Washington State, derailing the momentum they had built leading up to the bowl game.
Washington has a few top notch prospects and they look to be on the verge of returning to national prominence. The one problem could be the strength of the conference, next to the SEC the Pac 12 should be the toughest conference in America. This could vault Washington high in the polls with a few wins or sink them deep as they experience some losses due to the competition. Washington is looking for at least 9 wins to make this a memorable season.