UW's Jake Browning and WSU's Luke Falk are among the Pac-12's best, according to Pro Football Focus, which notes that UW's Greg Gaines was one of the most underrated players in the nation last season.
Let Apple Cup fever begin again.
After playing for the Pac-12 North title last November, the Huskies and Cougars are expected to challenge for the conference title again in 2017. Having two of the nation’s most prolific quarterbacks is a good place to start, and both Washington and Washington State have top-end talent beyond the backfield.
Pro Football Focus, in fact, lists three Huskies and three Cougars among its top 10 highest-graded players from 2016 who will return next fall. USC had two players make the list, including QB Sam Darnold (No. 1) and LB Cameron Smith (No. 9)
Here’s where the UW and WSU players ranked and some of what PFF said about each player:
Most Read Sports Stories
- Russell Wilson's performance has people wondering if Seahawks were right to trade him
- Mariners playoff times announced for wild-card series in Toronto
- What are the Mariners' odds to win the World Series?
- How the Mariners can make a deep postseason run this season
- Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto ‘so proud’ of Jarred Kelenic’s breakthrough entering playoffs
2. UW QB Jake Browning
What PFF said: “Browning’s steady play since his freshman year is big-part of the Huskies’ recent return to national prominence. Browning doesn’t have a huge arm but he is accurate; his 70.6 accuracy percentage ranks No. 11 among Power-5 quarterbacks. Browning spends time working on his craft and improving his game each offseason with last offseason seeing him work on his deep ball accuracy. He saw the results on the field as his deep accuracy percentage of 48.6 ranks No. 4 among returning Power-5 quarterbacks. The 2017 version of Browning should be even more polished that previous versions and ready to take the Huskies back to the playoff.”
3. WSU G Cody O’Connell
What PFF said: “The Cougars’ offensive scheme spreads the opposing defense out across the field and aids the offensive linemen with very large splits to help identify rushers. However, O’Connell was still one of the most dominant offensive linemen in the nation last year. O’Connell only allowed 1 sack, 1 hit and 4 hurries on 649 pass-blocking snaps and his 92.9 pass-block grade ranks No. 1 among all returning FBS offensive linemen.”
4. UW DL Vita Vea
What PFF said: “Vita Vea is a favorite of the PFF College analyst team as few returning interior defensive linemen have his combination of run-stopping ability and pass-rush prowess. As a result, Vea found ways to stand out to our analysts on a weekly basis in 2016. Vea’s run-stop percentage of 9.1 ranks No. 8 among returning Pac-12 defensive tackles. As a pass-rusher, Vea generated 5 sacks, 3 hits and 22 hurries on 221 pass-rush snaps and his pass-rushing productivity rating of 10.7 ranks No. 5 among returning Power-5 defensive tackles.”
5. WSU QB Luke Falk
What PFF said: “Luke Falk has put up gaudy numbers the last two seasons in Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense. Falk doesn’t have above-average arm strength but has he does have above-average ball location. Falk is very accurate, can throw with touch and can make layered throws that drop over second-level defenders. Falk’s 78.0 accuracy percentage ranks No. 2 among returning Power-5 quarterbacks after only Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (80.1).”
6. UW DT Greg Gaines
What PFF said: “Gaines was one of the most underrated players in the nation last year. He is a stout run-stopping force in the middle of the Huskies’ defense and the conference’s best returning run defender as his 87.9 run-defense grade ranks No. 1 among all returning Pac-12 defenders.”
10. WSU DL Hercules Mata’afa
What PFF said: “Hercules Mata’afa is an undersized interior defensive lineman who has done nothing but out-produce his size for two straight seasons. Mata’afa’s size and playing style are very reminiscent of Tedy Bruschi when he was at the University of Arizona. Mata’afa relies on quickness, instincts and last-second pre-snap shifts to consistently beat the blocker across from him.”
PFF also ranks the Huskies No. 8 and the Cougars No. 20 in its (very early) 2017 preseason rankings.