As part of Hogs Haven’s pre-draft coverage, I am going to preview one team per week (either Friday or Saturday) throughout the college football season. One of the biggest games this week will be a battle between USC and Washington. If watching this Saturday’s showdown, here are a few of the Washington players to watch.
Known primarily for their defensive backs, the Huskies have had a great run in the NFL draft, producing 14 first or second-round selections over the past five years. In 2019, their eight players selected tied them for third best in college football behind only Alabama and Ohio State.
POTENTIAL FIRST ROUND PROSPECTS
#10 Jacob Eason, QB R-Jr., 6-6, 227
One would think that losing a four year starting quarterback, who left as both the school’s all-time passing leader and the the winningest quarterback in Pac-12 history would be leave fans less optimistic about the future of their passing attack. One would think fans would miss Jake Browning’s 39 career wins, 12,028. passing yards, and 107 total touchdowns.
Not when his replacement is Jacob Eason, a former five-star recruit, the top-ranked quarterback in the 2016 class, and the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Eason originally picked Georgia over UW, but the Washington native transferred “back home” last season.
In Athens, he won the starting job as a true freshman and threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns in 13 games, but completed only 55.1 percent of his passes. As a sophomore, Eason started Georgia’s 2017 season opener against Appalachian State, but sustained a left knee injury early in the game. Jake Fromm replaced him and never relinquished the job.
Eason was forced to sit out the 2018 season after transferring to Washington. Finally, after playing just one quarter of live action since 2016, Eason reemerged as a starter in the Huskies’ 2019 opener.
While very impressive against Hawaii and Eastern Washington, Eason seemed indecisive when facing the pressure that California provided.
Through four games this season, he is completing 73.1 percent of his throws with a 10-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
There’s a lot to like about Eason’s pro projection. He has good size and solid mechanics, and he shows the ability to get good velocity on vertical/deep-out throws.
Over the summer, I ranked Eason #5 in my Preseason Quarterback Rankings which was significantly higher than average. Daniel Jeremiah’s 10th ranked QB, Eason was conservatively given just a 6th round grade by Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline.
During the BYU game, Eason started the game 17-of-18 (the 18th throw was an unbelievably tight window throw) before making the smart decision by throwing the ball out of the back of the end zone. He finished the game 20-of-24.
During the telecast, ESPN sideline reporter/draft guru Todd McShay said “the ball just pops off of his hand like no other quarterback we’ve seen this year” as the announcers asked McShay if he was a candidate to go number one overall. Then just this week, Mel Kiper ranked Eason as 25th overall on his latest Big Board.
POSSIBLE DAY TWO (ROUNDS 2-3) PROSPECTS
#1 Hunter Bryant, TE Jr., 6-2, 224
Bryant came to Seattle ranked as the No. 2 tight end recruit in the nation. As a freshman, he was second on the team with 22 receptions, until suffering a left leg injury. Bryant was limited to nine games as a freshman after sustaining an ACL and LCL injury in 2017.
Injuries continued to plague him in 2018, as he only played in five games last year after he tore his meniscus during spring practice.
At his best, his game is similar to Jordan Reed...
Washington Huskies TIght End Hunter Bryant is a mismatch weapon down the field pic.twitter.com/yOpfX4jFj3— Durst (@DurstNFLDraft) September 18, 2019
Both his physical stature and stylistically, Bryant’s tape is reminiscent of Evan Engram’s college tape at Ole Miss.
Finally, more plays from the Ole Miss playbook. Washington TE Hunter Bryant crossing the formation to give Jacob Eason the easy completion. Should be drafted high if 100% healthy. pic.twitter.com/72GEPSIU0G— Durst (@DurstNFLDraft) September 18, 2019
Lastly, here is Bryant making the one-handed catch against Ohio State.
Not all that enamored with the tight ends in this class, I ranked Bryant as my #1 prospect at the position over the summer. For point of reference, he was just the 6th underclassman TE in Dane Brugler’s rankings and stamped with a just 5th round grade by Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline.
If he can stay healthy, I feel Hunter Bryant has star potential.
#72 Trey Adams, OT Red-Shirt Senior, 6-8, 314
If not for injuries, Adams would likely be entering his third season in the NFL. He was a preseason All-American entering the 2017 season and seemed like a potential early entry into the 2018 NFL draft.
Back in 2015, Adams came to Seattle as ESPN’s 32nd ranked offensive tackle, and got onto the field as a true freshman after injuries along the offensive line forced him into action. He started nine games at LT that season, followed by all 14 games as a sophomore.
He was arguably UW’s most impressive player in Washington’s loss to Alabama in the 2016 National Semifinal - a game that included current Redskins Ryan Anderson, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne.
Washington LT Trey Adams allowed just one QB pressure in 46 snaps in pass protection vs Alabama. Solid performance against an elite d-line.— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) January 3, 2017
At the start of the 2017 NCAA football season, some had already begun to project Trey Adams as a top prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranked Adams as the #22 overall prospect on his first Big Board.
Unfortunately, Adams suffered significant injuries in back-to-back seasons. First, he tore his right ACL (October, 2017), then he suffered a bulging disc in his back that also required surgery (August, 2018). Adams missed Washington’s final 7 games in 2017, then first ten games of the 2018 season, before playing in UW’s final four games.
Far from 100% healthy, Adams sat out most of the 2nd quarter, but still got plenty of 1v1 reps vs Ohio State’s top pass rusher, Chase Young.
At this point Adams is likely a long shot to get drafted in the first round, but some, including Rob Rang still grade him as such. Here’s Rang’s preseason Top-32 NFL prospects heading into the 2020 season.
While both Bryant and Adams suffered multiple injuries in 2017-18, I sense Bryant is back to 100% but am less confident about Adams, who I expect to be a Rd3 pick.
In some ways, Adams reminds me of Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth, albeit the 37 year old version.
LIKELY DAY THREE (ROUNDS 4-5) PROSPECTS
#5 Myles Bryant, CB Sr., 5-8, 182
Bryant has the most experience in defensive backfield playing in 37 games over three years. A 13 game starter as a sophomore, he started 12-of-14 last season. More of a slot defender his first three seasons, Bryant is playing more of a traditional safety role in 2019, and leads his team in both solo tackles (17) and total tackles (24).
The Seattle Times does an excellent job explaining Myles Bryant taking on bigger role this season with great results.
Following in the footsteps of former Washington DBs Marcus Trufant, Marcus Peters, Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Kevin King, Byron Murphy, and Taylor Rapp is Myles Bryant. Of that group, Bryant both physically and stylistically compares most to Baker (Pk#36, 2017).
LIsted at just 5’8, 182 (172?), Bryant truly players bigger, but he still may be too small for some teams. Bryant came to UW as a walk-on, but became the team’s starting nickel as a sophomore. He enters his senior season having started 25 of Washington’s last 27 games, and already really flourished after his move from nickel to safety, but his size limitations won’t make him a fit for every team.
#3 Elijah Molden, CB Jr. 5-10, 190
After four games, Molden leads the nation (tied with five others) with seven pass break-ups (PBUs) this season.
Ranked as one of the top 25 cornerbacks in the 2017 class, Molden enters his junior season with only two starts, but won UW’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player award in 2018.
Because Washington has produced so many very good cornerbacks recently, and Molden’s NFL bloodlines (father, Alex Molden played CB in the NFL for 8 seasons), I wanted to like Molden more than I did. Now that he is the teams’ starting nickel, he gave up multiple receptions in every game I watched. I counted three dropped potential interceptions vs BYU. USC’s trio of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, and Michael Pittman Jr. will be a difficult challenge for him.
#26 Salvon Ahmed, RB Jr., 5-11, 195
For the first time since 2014, Washington’s starting running back is someone other than Myles Gaskin. Gaskin was a four year starter who left Washington as their record holding in bunch of major statistics, including as the school’s all-time leading rusher.
In his place is Ahmed, a 196-pound burner who ran a team best 4.32 second 40 yard dash at the “Husky Combine” last Spring. Going into the 2019 season he had rushed for 996 yards (6.0 yards per carry), with 10 touchdowns in two seasons as the backup to Gaskin.
This season, Ahmed new career highs against California, when he had 21 carries for 119 yards. While Ahmed might be more explosive than Gaskin, one of Gaskin’s greatest qualities was his durability. Thus far, it does not appear the UW coaches believe Ahmed can hold up over a full season while carrying the ball 20-25 times per game and are now using a running back by committee approach. He missed the BYU game with a leg injury.
While Gaskin wasn’t selected until the 7th round, I expect Ahmed will get a bump from what will likely be a great workout at the NFL Combine. His speed and quickness are just on another level. Maybe it’s watching the PAC-12 from the east coast, but Ahmed reminds me of former Oregon backs, such as LaMichael James.
#2 Aaron Fuller, WR Sr., 5-11, 186
Fuller started four games each of his first two seasons (remember John Ross was the team’s #1 receiver in 2016 and Dante Pettis in 2017), before breaking out with 8 starts, and a team-leading 58 catches and 874 yards receiving in 2018.
While he Huskies return every scholarship receiver from the 2018 roster, since Ross and Pettis left for the NFL, nobody has truly emerged to take their place. Can Fuller be the guy?
Known for his acrobatic catches, there are some similarities to Pettis in his game.
Fuller is also an accomplished punt returner but had his first career TD on a return vs BYU. This looks like a niche he could fill in the NFL
Fuller looks very small on film, and even smaller in interviews I have seen on the internet. While other small framed receivers like Ross and Hollywood Brown were each drafted in Rd1, I can’t say I see that being within Fuller’s range on possible outcomes.
#56 Nick Harris, Center Sr. 6-1, 300
As a true freshman, Harris played in 12 games while starting four (2 at RG and 2 at LG). He started all 13 games at right guard in 2017, and was named as an All-Pac 12 honorable mention. Last year, his transition to center went smoothly and Harris was named first team All-Pac 12.
Nick Harris returns to Washington having allowed a mere 8 QB pressures on 439 pass-blocking snaps last season. pic.twitter.com/js7O0PsSZJ— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 30, 2019
He is slightly undersized for the position, and had his hands full dealing with Khyiris Tonga, BYU’s 6’5/321 NT. His resume screams Senior Bowl invite, but if he ends up in Mobile, he will likely struggle in 1v1s. At this point, I view him as a 5th round pick.
#8 Benning Potoa’e, DL, Sr. 6-3, 290
Rated by ESPN as the nation’s #37 DT recruit, Potoa’e has 23-of-27 during his sophomore and junior seasons, and after four games, he leads the Huskies in both sacks (3) and tackles for loss (5). Despite his frame, he plays out at end and even stands up at times in Washington’s scheme.
#70 Jared Hilbers, OT RS-Sr. 6-7, 316
With the injury to Trey Adams, Hilbers took over at left tackle in 2018, starting 11 games. This season, he swings over to right tackle, replacing Kaleb McGary, a surprise first round pick in 2019. Now a fifth year senior, Hilbers is expected to have a good season after playing very well in Adams’ absence.
#20 Ty Jones, WR Jr., 6-4, 209
Jones emerged as a starter in 2018, but has not seen the field this season. His size makes him more interesting than senior receivers Andre Baccellia (#5) and Chico McClatcher (#6), but his career stats of just 38 catches with 562 yards receiving are underwhelming.
#95 Levi Onwuzurike, DE RS-Jr., 6-3, 274
Pro Football Focus liked Onwuzurike so much as a breakout candidate heading into the season that he made their top-30 on PFF’s draft board. It sounds as if that is one they would like to have back.
Just ESPN’s 54th DE recruit in the nation coming out of high school, Onwuzurike had received just four starts coming into the 2019 season. A full time starter now, he is someone I need to watch more.
#9 Joe Tryon, Edge RS-Soph. 6-5, 267
Another somewhat unheralded recruit with just a pair of starts prior to the 2019 season, Tryon has flashed some when watching the defense as a whole, but was ejected for a questionable targeting call vs BYU.
#55 Ryan Bowman, Edge RS-Jr. 6-0, 277
Bowman has an unusual frame, which some NFL teams likely will have trouble overlooking, but BYU’s offensive line had no answer for him.
#13 Brandon Wellington, LB, Sr. 6-0, 226
Wellington had just two starts entering his final season, but they were Washington’s final two games last year, and he has started all four games this season.