The tradition will continue at Jimmy Lake’s Bellevue home Thursday night. There, the members of Washington’s defensive secondary will gather for an annual feast of Wingstop chicken wings and watch the NFL draft.
The tradition for those Huskies, more often in recent years, has been to celebrate the selections of former teammates, and as many as four defensive backs from UW could hear their names called during the three-day draft this week.
The gathering at Lake’s home serves another purpose. Lake, the Huskies’ co-defensive coordinator, wants his players to take note of the height, weight and speed of each drafted player and compare them against their own measurements. Lake wants his players to see what a first-round prospect looks like, and he wants his players to envision themselves walking up that stage, shaking commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand and holding an NFL jersey.
“To see kids they know get drafted … they get to really see it come alive and other guys’ dreams come true,” Lake said. “All those guys have been over to my house, and those guys that have actually been drafted also. It’s really cool.”
Many analysts are projecting former UW star Byron Murphy to be the first cornerback selected Thursday night — and Murphy this week posted a Photoshopped picture of himself on social media wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. The Steelers hold the No. 20 pick in the first round.
The Huskies have never had two defensive backs selected in the first round of the same draft, but that could change if Murphy and safety Taylor Rapp are picked Thursday night. Could Rapp be an intriguing option for the Seahawks, who acquired the No. 29 pick from Kansas City in Tuesday’s trade for Frank Clark?
Rapp is known to have met with the Seahawks multiple times, including a second meeting with coach Pete Carroll in Renton this month.
At last year’s Pac-12 Media Days, UW safety JoJo McIntosh said the “DBU” moniker (Defensive Backs University) belongs to the Huskies. But it wasn’t always that way.
Until 2013, the Huskies had had only one defensive back — Dana Hall in 1992 — selected in the first round of the draft. Six years ago, cornerback Desmond Trufant was taken in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons, and two years after that cornerback Marcus Peters went to Kansas City in the first round.
From afar, Trufant has been watching as UW’s secondary has developed into one of the best units in the country.
“It’s been dope to see, obviously,” Trufant said this week. “Me and Marcus Peters, we kind of started it off, going from that DB room, and then just seeing these guys to continue to ball out and lead the team at a national level and then coming into the league and making an impact — it’s been cool.”
What Trufant sees from UW’s defensive backs these days are rangy, NFL bodies with top-flight ball skills.
That’s no accident. Lake wants defensive backs who he believes can fit his NFL-inspired schemes.
Or, as UW’s assistant defensive backs coach, Will Harris, put it: “We recruit NFL guys.”
Said Lake: “I think what the NFL scouts like — the general managers, the coaches — they can easily see our guys transition over into the NFL because they are seeing our guys do NFL techniques and NFL schemes. And you combine that with some really top talent, and we have those draft picks coming every single year.”
The success began for Lake and the Huskies five years ago, when Budda Baker decided to stay home and play at UW. Baker was, and remains, arguably UW’s most important recruit under coach Chris Petersen, and he was the fire-starter for the defensive-backs room. (In Baker’s three seasons at UW, Petersen recently recalled that he saw the free safety lose only one footrace during hundreds of team conditioning drills.)
Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones all were selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, and the production from UW’s secondary has remained at an elite level in the two seasons since.
This week, four defensive backs could be selected from UW for the first time in the same draft — Murphy, Rapp, Jordan Miller and McIntosh.
Miller could be an early Day 3 selection, and Lake said he’s increasingly been hearing more buzz about the 6-foot-1 cornerback. When Miller arrived at UW in 2015 — in a room already teeming with future NFL talent — he was introduced to an intensely competitive atmosphere, with a twist.
“One of the biggest things I noticed coming in is, everyone in there is competing for a starting spot, but instead of guys trying to win that battle by themselves and compete against younger guys — everyone was helping each other, and everyone was trying make everyone else better,” Miller said. “Yeah, we’re all trying win our spot, but we’re a family in there.”
It’s become a family tradition, then, in Lake’s defensive-backs room, and one that will continue Thursday night at his house — and, it appears, beyond.
“It’s just free-wheeling now. It’s on fire now with guys continually trying to raise the bar, raise the standard,” Lake said. “And all those vets, they’ll come back with arms folded like ‘OK, what’s the next group of guys going to do?’ It’s a little pressure on the guys here. They want to be that next guy. They want to be that next Budda Baker, that next Kevin King.”
HUSKIES’ NFL HOPEFULS
Ten is the record, set in 1998, for the number of UW players selected in one NFL draft (in its current seven-round format, established in 1994). Could this crop of Huskies challenge that record? A look at the former UW players hoping to hear their names called during the three-day draft this week:
Byron Murphy, CB
Murphy played in just 20 games at UW — missing half of the 2017 season because of a broken foot — but that was enough for him to make a case as one of the most dynamic cornerbacks the Huskies have ever had. The Steelers, with the 20th pick, are thought to covet Murphy, but will he last that long Thursday night?
Projected round: 1
Kaleb McGary, OT
The 6-foot-8, 320-pound Fife High School product was as steady as they come as the Huskies’ right tackle the past four years. The Morris Trophy winner (as the Pac-12’s top offensive lineman) could be a fit for the Seahawks, who hold the 21st and 29th picks, or Houston, which holds the 23rd, Thursday’s first round.
Projected round: 1-2
Taylor Rapp, S
Something doesn’t add up here. Rapp, a Bellingham native, ran the fastest time among safeties in the 20-yard shuttle at the NFL combine, but stunned many when he ran a 4.74-second 40-yard dash a month later at UW’s Pro Day. “The film shows he plays much faster than that,” one scout said. Rapp could be another intriguing option for the Seahawks late in Round 1.
Projected round: 1-2
Greg Gaines, DT
A month ago, Gaines and his wife welcomed their new baby boy, Colt. Expect another life-changing moment for Gaines and his young family this week.
Projected round: 3-4
Ben Burr-Kirven, LB
The Pac-12 defensive player of the year, the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year and the nation’s leading tackler in 2018, BBK has become a favorite among some NFL personnel for his instincts, his speed and his smarts. His size (6 feet, 230 pounds) will knock him down some draft board, but he should be productive wherever he lands.
Projected round: 4-5
Drew Sample, TE
A year ago, Will Dissly went in the fourth round to the Seahawks, and the 6-foot-5 Sample is a well-rounded tight end much in the same mold. The Newport High grad had 25 catches for 252 yards and 3 TDs as a senior at UW, but his real value comes as a blocker.
Projected round: 4-5
Jordan Miller, CB
Injuries derailed much of Miller’s final two seasons at UW, but the 6-foot-1 cornerback has the size and length NFL teams covet at the position. “I’m hearing his name floating around a ton,” UW’s Jimmy Lake said. “It’s hard to turn down a 6-foot-1, 4.4 (second) 40 corner. He played really good football around here. I think a few teams are falling in love with him.”
Projected round: 4-5
Myles Gaskin, RB
The Lynnwood native is durable, productive and patient, and a fan favorite the past four years on his way to become the Huskies’ rushing king. He’s not generally viewed as a top running back prospect in this draft, but would it surprise anyone around here if makes an immediate impression in the NFL?
Projected round: 5-7
Jake Browning, QB
In January, when Browning’s agent fielded calls from NFL execs, the general consensus pegged the QB as an undrafted free agent. Now? After overhauling his throwing mechanics, there is buzz about Browning going as high as the fifth round.
Projected round: 5-7
McIntosh was the Huskies’ punisher in the secondary the past few years and could provide immediate help on special teams.
Projected round: 7-UDFA