For the University of Washington, the 2020 NFL draft — all three days, 16 hours and 255 picks of it — can be conveniently condensed into a four-word tweet.
“What’s goin on man ??!?”
So said Husky cornerback Keith Taylor at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, when it became increasingly clear that only two of his teammates would be taken. The first, redshirt-junior quarterback Jacob Eason fell all the way to the fourth round before the Indianapolis Colts scooped him up. Senior center Nick Harris went to the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round, 38 picks later.
And that was it. For the first time since 2016, just two Huskies were taken. Tight end Hunter Bryant and running back Salvon Ahmed — both true juniors — were left on the board. Same with wide receiver Aaron Fuller, defensive back Myles Bryant and offensive linemen Trey Adams and Jared Hilbers. Hunter Bryant (Detroit Lions), Ahmed (San Francisco 49ers), Fuller (Seattle Seahawks), Myles Bryant (New England Patriots) and Hilbers (New York Jets) eventually signed with teams as undrafted free agents. As of Saturday evening, Adams’ signing had yet to be announced.
This, for a program that prides itself on player development, was an uncharacteristically disappointing draft.
But Harris, at least, stands as an example of how a Husky can improve.
“Honestly, I went in there (in 2016) expecting to redshirt,” Harris said on Saturday, after Cleveland grabbed him with the 160th overall pick. “I was 17 years old. I was 275 pounds at the time. I wanted that year to try to get bigger and learn the offense. When I got in, I learned the offense pretty fast, and it allowed me to play really fast and violent like I like playing.”
Surprisingly, Harris played in 12 games — and started four — during a freshman season that ended in the College Football Playoff. He appeared in 25 games at guard in his first two seasons in Seattle, then started 25 more games at center as a junior and a senior. He was named to the All-Pac-12 first team both in 2018 and 2019, and was dubbed a Sports Illustrated second-team All-American following his senior season as well.
Before he signed with Washington, Harris’ only other offers were from New Hampshire and Cal Poly.
But by his sophomore season, he knew that he’d eventually be able to compete in the NFL.
“After I put some weight on, it made my life a lot easier. I got up to 295 and I was playing really well as a sophomore at guard,” Harris said. “At the end of that season, when they told me they were moving me to center, I knew had a chance because that was my natural position. That spring ball and with all those reps, I started to realize I can definitely play at the next level and compete. It all dawned on me during that time.”
Apparently, it dawned on the Cleveland Browns as well.
“You’re talking about unbelievable quickness,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Harris on Saturday. “That first step as well as first hand quickness, with this off hand, he gets that hand on you immediately. You see what he can do climbing up to linebackers. He can cut them off. You want to use him in any type of zone scheme where he can show off his athleticism, both laterally as well as working up a level.
“The challenge is going to come when he gets big, power and size right over his nose. He’s going to give some ground, and that’s just going to happen because of his size and lack of length there. But this is somebody that in the run game, he’s going to be an asset because of that athleticism.”
The concern, both now and when he was lightly recruited out of Inglewood (Calif.) JSerra High School, is Harris’ lack of size. The 2019 Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award winner is 6 feet 1 and 302 pounds, with a modest frame and a massive personality.
Still, that knock is nothing Harris hasn’t heard before.
“It used to bother me back then, but I have learned to embrace it and just use that to fuel how I play and keep that chip on my shoulder, because a lot of people do not think I can play at a high level at this height,” Harris said. “It helps me play with better leverage. That is what I always tell people. I get under guys a little better, and I try to play with sound technique. I think at the end of the day, it helps me.”
Like Harris, a lot of former Huskies probably have a chip on their shoulder after an uneventful NFL draft. Hunter Bryant and Ahmed both could have returned for their senior seasons, and went undrafted instead. Eason was selected at least one day, and several rounds, later than he expected. And Adams — once a sure-fire first-round offensive tackle — was buried under an avalanche of injury concerns.
What’s goin on man ??!?
That’s a sensible question without a satisfying answer.