The top 10 Washington football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. S Budda Baker, Jr.
There was no letup in Baker, who took his game to a new level after a terrific college debut in 2014. He shot all the way up to the All-Pac-12 First Team in just his second year out of local powerhouse Bellevue (Wash.) High School. The instinctive Baker encapsulates the future of Husky football under Chris Petersen, a complete safety who can blanket receivers in the slot or hang back and patrol from centerfield. Up to a sturdier 5-10 and 184 pounds, Baker is ready to build on last season’s 49 tackles, two picks and nine passes defended.
2. CB Sidney Jones, Jr.
Jones is going to spend his junior year making a case to be among the elite cornerbacks in the country. He already rose to the All-Pac-12 First Team in his second season on campus, collecting 45 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss, four picks, a conference-high 14 passes defended, three forced fumbles and two touchdowns. The 6-0, 180-pound Jones possesses the requisite physical skills to lockdown receivers, but his work ethic in the film room has helped elevate him from good to great.
3. RB Myles Gaskin, Soph.
Without a ton of warning, the Huskies have found a feature back. The rookie from Lynnwood, Wash. was a third-stringer when 2015 began, but he wound up becoming the first true freshman in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. In fact, he went for 1,302 yards and 14 scores on 227 carries, including three straight 100-yard efforts. The 5-10, 193-pound Gaskin is an elusive jackrabbit in space, but he’s also tough enough to lower his shoulders and churn his legs to earn more yards.
4. LB Azeem Victor, Jr.
Now that Victor has begun to approach his potential at middle linebacker, the Huskies are excited about the second half of his career. As the successor to John Timu, he amassed a team-high 95 tackles, nine stops for loss, seven passes defended and two forced fumbles to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. Victor is an explosive 6-3, 227-pound defender, with the range to contribute in all phases. Once he becomes a sharper student of the game, he’ll be one of the league’s premier players at his position.
5. DE Elijah Qualls, Jr.
In Qualls, who’s been moved from the nose to end, the Huskies boast a budding star. He laid the ground floor in 2015 for what could be an All-Pac-12 junior year in Seattle. Not unlike predecessor Danny Shelton, Qualls is compact, 6-1 and 321 pounds, powerful and agile enough to get backfield pressure. After making 26 tackles and 4.5 sacks in an injury-shortened junior year, he’s prepared to erupt into the kind of lineman that draws maximum attention from pro scouts.
6. WR John Ross III, Jr.
Ross was supposed to be Washington’s most dangerous playmaker in 2015, but a spring knee injury kept him from ever playing a down. He’s back and eager to ignite the Husky offense and special teams units. In his first two seasons, Ross caught five touchdown passes, rushed for a score and took back three kickoffs for six. And with his track speed, the 5-11, 196-pounder is a threat to go the distance every time he gets a sliver of daylight to exploit.
7. QB Jake Browning, Soph.
Now that the Huskies have broken the seal on Browning, they’re hoping he can bloom into one of the Pac-12’s premier quarterbacks. He authored a table-setting first season out of Folsom (Calif.) High School, starting all but one game and completing 233-of-368 passes for 2,955 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The 6-2, 205-pound Browning doesn’t have otherworldly physical traits, but he’s tough, competitive and has a very good feel for the game.
8. CB Kevin King, Sr.
King isn’t the biggest name in the stacked Washington secondary. But he acquitted himself rather well as an eight-game starter and honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick in 2015. While average against the run, King’s calling cards are his versatility and coverage skills. He’s a rangy 6-3, 190-pound vet, with starts at corner and safety, who registered 39 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss, three interceptions and eight passes defended.
9. NT Greg Gaines, Soph.
While Gaines didn’t make many headlines a year ago, he’s a Husky to watch in 2016 and beyond. Despite starting only six games, he earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 for his ability to not only stuff running lanes but also generate pressure. For a 6-2, 318-pound interior lineman, Gaines moves surprisingly well down the line, having learned a lot in his one season playing with current Cleveland Browns tackle Danny Shelton.
10. OG Jake Eldrenkamp, Sr.
Eldrenkamp is bucking to become the leader of a young Husky O-line that’s looking for stability and guidance. He was among the program’s steadiest blockers in 2015, starting all but a pair of games he missed with an injury. The 6-5, 284-pound Eldrenkamp is very smart, tough at the point of attack and at his best when U-Dub is running right at the opposition.