In his head coaching career, Petersen has developed 15 two- or three-star recruits into first- or second-round NFL draft picks. The Pac-12's next highest is Utah's Kyle Whittingham with nine.
Bellevue linebacker Drew Fowler was a three-star recruit who’d fielded offers from UCLA, Utah and Air Force. He turned down all of them to play as a walk-on at Washington.
Maybe it’s because he wanted to stay close to home or because he felt UW offered him a shot at a national-title run. Or maybe it’s because, scholarship or not, he thought Huskies coach Chris Petersen gave him the best chance to earn real money once he’s gone.
I haven’t spoken with Fowler before or after he made his decision. But I did come across one of the more impressive stats I’ve seen from a Pac-12 coach in some time.
Over his head coaching career, Petersen has developed 15 two- or three-star recruits into first- or second-round NFL draft picks, according to @WestCoastCFB. Among conference coaches after that, it went Utah’s Kyle Whittingham with nine, Stanford’s David Shaw with five, Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin with four, UCLA’s Chip Kelly with three and Washington State’s Mike Leach with two.
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That’s a pretty insane gap given that most of the aforementioned coaches have been at it for a considerable amount of time.
And given that safety Taylor Rapp was a three-star recruit as well, he’ll probably make it 16 for Petersen come late April.
So does this mean that Petersen and his staff have a recruiting eye that goes virtually unmatched in the NCAA? Or does it simply mean they know how to develop players?
Scary answer: it’s probably both.
“That’s preseason rankings. You know how I feel about preseason rankings. They mean nothing,” said Petersen in response to his lower-ranked recruits so often going high in the NFL draft. “Postseason rankings, which you’re talking about, we’re completely into. But that’s a credit to our coaching staff. They recruit the guys that fit us. When you recruit the right guys, you’re able to develop them.”
The angles don’t seem to vary much when it comes to writing about Washington on national signing day. I point out Petersen’s history of hauling in relatively low-ranked recruiting classes and flipping them like real-estate investors.
His Boise State classes were never among the top 50, yet repeatedly finished in the AP top 10. And his Washington classes didn’t crack the top 20 until last season (the Huskies are 17th this year according to 24/7 sports’ composite rankings), yet have won two of the past three Pac-12 championships while earning a Fiesta Bowl berth in between.
But this latest stat shows that Petersen and Co. don’t just make the whole greater than the sum of its parts — they also give each part an individual makeover.
This doesn’t always mean developing guys into top NFL picks. Running back Myles Gaskin was a three-star recruit who finished his career as Washington’s leading rusher and touchdown scorer and a future Pac-12 Hall of Famer. Ben Burr-Kirven was a three-star recruit who was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American.
You won’t find these guys on the top of many draft boards, but it’s hard to think they fell even a millimeter short of their potential.
And when you see this happening with lower-starred guys, what are the four- and five-star players going to think? Surely the success of the less-heralded recruits is compelling testimony to sign with Washington, no?
Maybe, maybe not. Although Petersen doesn’t seem to fret about it too much.
If the UW harpoon doesn’t catch the whale all the recruiting sites rave about, he knows he can do plenty with his net of seemingly smaller fish.
“We don’t worry about the guys that don’t come here. We need to worry about the guys that come here,” Petersen said. “How many guys do people take that don’t pan out? That’s what hurts. So don’t worry about that. The guy that we get has got to pan out for us. That’s how we look at the whole thing.”
It’s worked out so far. The Huskies keep winning. And they’ve shown that anyone can develop into a star — regardless of how many are next to their names.