Edefuan Ulofoshio might just be the best linebacker in the country.
Sound like a stretch? Not according to the film. This week, Pro Football Focus ranked Washington’s 6-foot-1, 240-pound junior as the top returning linebacker in the nation.
“He may have only seven career starts to his name, but the 2018 two-star walk-on has done enough to cement his place as one of the top off-ball linebackers in all of college football,” wrote PFF senior college analyst Anthony Treash. “Ulofoshio has yet to have a bad outing in his two years of game action at Washington, proving to be a consistent playmaker in every facet of play.”
It’s not just that the Anchorage, Alaska, native led the Huskies with 47 tackles and four pass breakups — plus two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one sack — in four games last fall. He has also posted a PFF grade above 82 in run defense, pass rush and coverage in 452 snaps since 2019, the only Power Five linebacker to accomplish that feat. Ulofoshio’s 5.4% missed tackle rate (five misses in 93 career attempts) ranks third among Power Five linebackers as well.
“Don’t sleep on Ulofoshio; he’s legit,” Treash wrote.
But what about everyone else? What about Jackson Sirmon and M.J. Tafisi and Alphonzo Tuputala and Daniel Heimuli and Miki Ah You and Drew Fowler?
Let’s take a deeper dive into UW’s post-spring depth chart at inside linebacker.
Edefuan Ulofoshio, junior, 6-1, 240, Anchorage, Alaska
M.J. Tafisi, junior, 6-0, 245, West Jordan, Utah
Miki Ah You, sophomore, 6-1, 225, Laie, Hawaii
Jackson Sirmon, junior, 6-3, 240, Brentwood, Tenn.
Alphonzo Tuputala, sophomore, 6-2, 230, Federal Way
Daniel Heimuli, sophomore, 6-0, 225, East Palo Alto, Calif.
Drew Fowler, sophomore, 6-1, 220, Bellevue
Washington’s other starter at inside linebacker is Jackson Sirmon.
That fact may cause some consternation for Husky football fans, some of whom have questioned the 240-pound junior’s tackling angles and athleticism at the position. But defensive coordinator Bob Gregory and Co. value Sirmon’s knowledge of the defense, his physicality and his reliability alongside Ulofoshio. Barring an injury, it’s difficult to imagine Sirmon — one of Washington’s more impactful playmakers this spring — being supplanted before September.
Which is not to say the Huskies don’t have other options. Junior M.J. Tafisi — who began to emerge in 2019 before a severe stinger suffered against Arizona ended his season — may be next in line.
“You talk about a guy that’s just pulling the trigger and going and making plays,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said of Tafisi midway through April. “It’s nice to see him back to what he was two years ago when we saw those early flashes before his unfortunate injury.
“I’m extremely excited about M.J. He is pushing. If something happened and he had to be the starter or he eventually took over as a starter, that would not surprise me one bit. This is the best he’s known the defense, the details of the defense, lining up, less miscues. He flashes. He’s physical.”
Outside of those three, a quartet of sophomores — Alphonzo Tuputala, Daniel Heimuli, Miki Ah You and walk-on Drew Fowler — are attempting to scale the depth chart as well. A Federal Way product, Tuputala played in all four games last fall and appeared poised to contribute in a reserve role again, but missed the second half of the spring with an injury. His absence (at least temporarily) cleared the way for Heimuli, a former four-star prospect with perhaps the highest athletic ceiling at the position.
“He’s getting close (to being ready to contribute),” Gregory said of Heimuli in the last week of April. “He still needs to learn more of the defense. It still needs to be second nature to him, where it is not quite yet. But he is making really good progress and has had a good spring so far.”
A fifth redshirt sophomore, Josh Calvert, announced this week he’ll enter the transfer portal after practicing primarily with the third and fourth teams throughout the spring. Calvert appeared primed to contribute as a true freshman in 2019 before tearing his ACL in fall camp, and never regained that lost momentum.
Still, Ulofoshio sees plenty to like in the inside linebacker room.
“They’re just competitors,” he said of the sophomores after the Purple vs. Gold game May 1. “From last year to this year, they’re so much smarter and more instinctual. So they’re at the point where they’re not really thinking about what their responsibility is. They’re just going out there and playing.”
It may take some time for Will Latu to reach that point. The 6-2, 230-pound inside linebacker from Tacoma and former four-star recruit is expected to enroll this summer, and will likely utilize a redshirt year.
These Huskies, after all, should not need him. But they do need someone to excel outside of Ulofoshio.
“That whole linebacker room, it’s deep. It’s deep,” Lake said. “Coach Gregory’s done a great job of stocking that room with talented guys. That group is again going to be one of our deepest position groups on the team, with a lot of talent.”
Added Ulofoshio: “I like where we’re at right now, but we’ve got to use these four months to get a whole lot better.”
Coming next: outside linebackers