NFL Draft analyst John Vogel previews the Washington Huskies ahead of the 2021 season. Predictions, pre-season grades, and more:
The Washington Huskies can call the 2020 season a success considering everything that took place over the offseason in 2020. First, head coach Chris Petersen retired, giving way to his assistant, Jimmy Lake, to be named headman. Lake took over the program with Washington’s appearance in the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl. Then, the PAC-12 canceled the 2020 season due to Covid-19 before reinstating with a fresh schedule in October. Washington took the field and mostly dominated, despite some key opt outs. The 3-1 record speaks volumes for the direction that Lake can take the program, even though a Covid-19 outbreak erased their chance to compete for a PAC-12 Championship.
Jimmy Lake has so far followed most of what Petersen did at Washington, mostly because the players there Lake mostly helped recruit. Washington wanted to keep consistency with their program and so far that appears to have been an effective strategy.
The Washington Huskies have an opportunity to prove themselves early in the season with a trip to face Michigan (Sept. 11th). Later in the season, Washington will face Stanford (Oct. 30th) on the road, and then will host Oregon (Nov. 6th) and Arizona State (Nov. 13th) in Seattle.
Washington Huskies offense highlighted by TE Cade Otton (R-Sr)
#87 | HT: 6’4″ | WT: 245 | High School: Tumwater (Tumwater, WA)
Cade Otton is already a nationally renowned tight end for his ability as a receiver, earning spots on top 50 and top 100 prospect boards across the media. In 2020, he was first-team All-Pac 12 and a John Mackey Award semifinalist. He is among the most experienced on this team, entering his fourth season as a starter with 27 starts on his resume. When you turn on the tape, it’s clear that there is a lot to like.
Otton isn’t just a receiver. He is an outstanding inline blocker. As a receiver, he was asked to perform at all three levels of the field and was effective. He can stretch the field vertically as well as attack defenses underneath and rip yard after the catch. He displays good athletic ability and strength and brings a lot of versatility to an offense. I think he will be highly regarded, especially if he has another special season.
Pre Season Grade: 2nd/3rd Round.
Z WR Terrell Bynum (R-Sr)
#4 | HT: 6’0″ | WT: 190 | High School: St. John Bosco (Long Beach, CA)
Terrell Bynum was the Washington Huskies “Z” receiver, otherwise known as the number-two option. He has slowly worked into a starting role over the last few years, becoming the full-time starter in 2020. Despite this, he’s struggled to show much separation as a receiver in that role. His speed and athletic ability are average at best, and he’s not flashed much ability to make difficult catches through contact.
However, there is an intriguing element to his game, somehow. He seems to show up at key moments, providing game-changing plays with electric catches at just the right times. I’d like to see a lot of improvement in his route running ability in and out of his breaks. He could have a big season in 2021, putting everything together. Right now, there’s not too much of a chance that he hears his name called.
Pre Season Grade: 7th/PDFA.
OT Jaxson Kirkland (R-Sr)
#51 | HT: 6’6″ | WT: 300 | High School: Jesuit (Portland, OR)
Jaxson Kirkland is a joy to watch on tape. He enters the 2021 season with 29 starts on his belt, his fourth season as a starter, and is a technical pass protector in every sense. Kirkland began his career at right guard, where he started 25 games. However, when head coach Chris Pederson retired, the new head coach, Jimmy Lake, felt it would be better to move to left tackle. Kirkland thrived in 2020 at left tackle, showing excellent ability as a pass blocker with strength, quickness, and an excellent anchor.
Another full season at left tackle should help work out the kinks with his run blocking from the tackle spot. It seemed last season that the quickness of defensive ends often took him by surprise, and he struggled to lock in defenders when pushing forward. His hand technique is a little bit raw as well and could use some refining. Regardless, with the premium on left tackles currently in the league, it’s easy to see his name get called early, even with these deficiencies that he will be working on in 2021.
Pre Season Grade: 1st/2nd Round.
C Luke Wattenberg (6-Sr)
#76 | HT: 6’4″ | WT: 290 | High School: Juniper Serra Catholic (Trabuco Canyon, CA)
Luke Wattenberg is the most experienced player returning to the Washington Huskies in 2021. This will be Wattenberg’s fifth season as a starter, his fourth full-time position. He has logged 36 starts over the last four seasons in Seattle. The part that really stands out on his resume is the fact that he’s started at three different positions – left tackle in 2017 (5 starts), left guard from 2018-19 (27 starts), and center in 2020 (4 starts). Wattenberg offers some good versatility to any team who may draft him.
The move to center looked natural for Wattenberg, who thrived in the position. His snap and set are quick and efficient and allow him to get downhill and engaged in the block very quickly. He was the man they wanted to run behind in short-yardage situations and was most effective in doing it. He displays good bend and quickness as well as upper body strength. The downside is that Wattenberg struggled last year against big 0-tech defenders, oftentimes being overpowered from the snap. If he can work against that in 2021 and build his lower body, he might go higher than I have him projected.
Pre Season Grade: 3rd/4th Round.
Washington Huskies Defense highlighted by CB Trent McDuffie
#22 | HT: 5’10” | WT: 190 | High School: St. John Bosco (Westminister, CA)
Trent McDuffie is exactly who most analysts have their eyes on as the next Washington cornerback to enter the NFL. In recent memory, Washington has pumped a lot of defensive backs into the NFL. McDuffie, a true junior this season, appears primed to be the next one to go. He’s shown immense ability as a trail technique cornerback in man coverage and has the athletic ability that should pop some eyes when he goes to test. He’s been a starter since he was a true freshman and worked well into the Washington defense.
I think he’s shown he can be a good tackler, but he’s inconsistent. When plays stretched to the boundary, he was typically not there to be found. Some teams want their cornerbacks to be as active in run support as in pass coverage. Lastly, he doesn’t have the prototypical size, which means that he won’t be on several team boards. However, in the defenses that he does fit into, he will be highly rated. I like him, and I think he’s probably a top 100 guy entering the season.
Pre Season Grade: 2nd/3rd Round.
EDGE Ryan Bowman (6-Sr)
#55 | HT: 6’0″ | WT: 275 | High School: IMG Academy (Bellevue, WA)
Ryan Bowman was an interesting prospect to study on tape. The Washington Huskies used Bowman as a defensive end/outside linebacker, mostly in a pass-rushing role. He’s a very hot-and-cold prospect, sometimes flashing some excellent ability and other times being a non-factor. He flashed an excellent arsenal of pass-rushing moves and took over in the Arizona game early.
The issue a lot of the time is that while he has a good first step, he doesn’t really go into the play with a plan. Plus, his finesse and handwork are somewhat raw and non-existent. Bowman relies on his bend, which is slightly better than average, and a nasty spin moves inside to win repetitions and can generate pressure in the pocket. His size isn’t ideal as he’s on the small side and doesn’t really have speed. He’s intriguing, but I struggle to find him a role in the NFL that he can perform.
Pre Season Grade: 6th/PDFA.
S Alex Cook (R-Sr)
$5 | HT: 6’0″ | WT: 190 | High School: Sheldon (Sacramento, CA)
Alex Cook is among the inexperienced Washington Huskies players despite entering his fifth season with the team. 2020 was his first season as a starter. He started the first three games of the season and appeared in all four. He enters 2020 with four starts, showing some ability as a downhill tackler and good pursuit defender.
The problem with Cook’s game right now is inexperience. A full season as a starter can really help develop him. Many times, Cook would break off of his assignment and leave his zone open for big plays. I noticed this mostly as a run defender, where he would play the wrong assignment to his playing coverage. This was especially problematic when he was in cover one. Hopefully, in 2021, he can be better at reading plays and grow more into his position.
Pre Season Grade: PDFA.