Washington returns every scholarship offensive lineman, tight end and running back this fall, as well as its starting quarterback in sophomore Dylan Morris.
The wide receiver position, meanwhile, is unquestionably the question mark.
A whopping five Washington wideouts — Puka Nacua (BYU), Ty Jones (Fresno State), Austin Osborne (Bowling Green), Jordan Chin (Sacramento State) and Marquis Spiker (undecided) — paraded through the transfer portal this offseason, leaving the Huskies with five returning scholarship players at the position. UW subsequently added a spring transfer in Texas Tech sophomore Ja’Lynn Polk, and another transfer (Michigan’s Giles Jackson) and a four-star freshman (Kennedy Catholic’s Jabez Tinae) will enroll in Seattle this summer.
But, after assessing 15 spring practices, who has the upper hand?
Before Jackson and Tinae add yet another layer of intrigue, let’s dissect Washington’s post-spring depth chart at wide receiver.
Terrell Bynum, senior, 6-1, 195, Long Beach, Calif.
Sawyer Racanelli, redshirt freshman, 6-2, 210, Brush Prairie
Rome Odunze, redshirt freshman, 6-3, 200, Las Vegas
Ja’Lynn Polk, sophomore, 6-2, 200, Lufkin, Texas
Jalen McMillan, redshirt freshman, 6-1, 190, Fresno, Calif.
Taj Davis, sophomore, 6-1, 200, Chino, Calif.
At its core, this is a search for consistency.
Not talent. Because Rome Odunze is talented. Jalen McMillan is talented. Terrell Bynum, Ja’Lynn Polk, Sawyer Racanelli, Taj Davis: they’re are all talented. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.
The question is, which Washington wide receivers will earn their coaches and teammates’ trust?
“Even last year, we had some really dynamic players, but we still left a lot of plays on the field,” said Bynum, UW’s lone remaining senior. “I still think we’re working for consistency, but I think we’re taking the next step with (wide receivers coach) Junior Adams always keeping us accountable for it.”
Speaking of Bynum, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior is certainly Washington’s steadiest wide receiver — having produced 39 catches, 498 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his past two seasons and 16 games. The Long Beach, Calif., product has showcased a penchant for tight-window catches, and can be used on jet sweeps and end-arounds as well. He even threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to fellow wideout Rome Odunze in the Huskies’ 13th practice of the spring.
But Bynum is not a No. 1 wide receiver.
Do the Huskies even have one of those?
Statistically, they haven’t in several seasons. Since 2017, 119 wide receivers nationally — and zero from UW — have topped 1,000 receiving yards in a season. It doesn’t help that UW played just four games last fall, and ranked 10th in the Pac-12 and 99th nationally with 27.8 pass attempts per game. And when Morris did throw, his favorite target by a large margin was trusty tight end Cade Otton.
The most likely candidates to emerge out wide may be a pair of redshirt freshmen in Odunze and McMillan. Both, along with Bynum, received starting reps in all 15 practices this spring. Both have athletic traits that could translate into transcendent success. But both have yet to turn in legitimate Power Five production.
Which, of course, is where Polk comes in. As a true freshman in 2020, the 6-2, 200-pounder — who brought four seasons of eligibility to UW — registered 28 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns, catching at least one pass in all 10 games. And he did it without posting a drop as well.
While Polk practiced with the second team in his first spring in Seattle, don’t be surprised if (when?) he pushes for playing time.
“Obviously in today’s day and age with the portal and all that stuff you’re able to get a kid that has played college football reps, that has played live football games on Saturday in front of people,” Adams said of Polk’s addition. “He’s a big, physical kid, strong hands, catches the ball well. The sky’s the limit. He’s still growing. JP brings some good energy to that room, too.”
The same can be said of Davis and Racanelli, both of whom ascended at times this spring. The 6-1, 200-pound Davis did so somewhat surprisingly, after opting out of the 2020 season and redshirting as a freshman in 2019.
“Taj is definitely somebody I would say in the last four or five practices has made these tough catches, has made these plays in big-time situations that we’re putting our offense in,” Lake said on April 28. “When guys are able to do that with grit, with toughness, they’re going to get rewarded with more playing time.”
As for Racanelli, the 210-pound redshirt freshman and former two-way star at Hockinson High School brings a more physical frame than his fellow wide receivers, and he also separates himself in one key category:
As simple as it sounds, he catches the ball.
“Right now he’s looking like the most consistent guy in terms of balls being thrown to him and him catching it,” Bynum said of Racanelli last month. “He’s for sure earning a role in the offense, and he’s understanding everything he has to do inside and out as far as other guys around him and how to run his routes. He’s just emerging, because I feel like he’s finally comfortable and playing faster.”
Added Adams halfway through April: “Sawyer’s been awesome. Actually I talked to him last night on the phone, and the one thing he brought up is, he knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s doing within our scheme. So that allows him to play faster and win with technique. Obviously what Sawyer has displayed through the first eight practices is just consistency in making plays and not only just catching the football but making the difficult catches for us.”
There’s that word again: consistency.
In Adams’ first two seasons in Seattle, this has been an underperforming and inconsistent group. And, regardless of depth chart rankings, all six scholarship wide receivers on the roster have a legitimate opportunity to find the field this fall.
In fact, the playing field at this position is probably more even than any other on the team. Jackson and Tinae will join a wide-open competition this summer.
Then, they’ll have a month of fall practices to prove they deserve their quarterbacks’ and coaches’ trust.
Coming tomorrow: tight ends