Byron Murphy and Taylor Rapp have been stellar for the Huskies, and former walk-on Myles Bryant is the most pleasant surprises from the 2016 class.
On National Signing Day a week ago, Washington signed 21 additions to the roster. On paper, it is the program’s most touted recruiting class. But as a general rule, it takes at least two years to offer a reasonable evaluation of a class. Today, a look back at the Huskies’ 2016 recruiting class. (For a review of coach Chris Petersen’s first two classes at UW, see here and here.)
The strength of the Huskies’ 2016 recruiting class — the defensive secondary — was apparent on signing day two years ago. It remains so now, with one notable addendum.
The Huskies announced the signing of four defensive backs then. Among them was can’t-miss cornerback Byron Murphy, who as Rivals.com’s No. 40 overall prospect in the nation was the highest-ranked recruit Chris Petersen had signed. There was also Bellingham safety Taylor Rapp, a consensus three-star prospect who surprisingly became an immediate hit in a veteran secondary.
At the time, the biggest surprise of the 2016 class wasn’t even part of the 2016 class. Myles Bryant came to UW as a 5-foot-8 walk-on cornerback, and his emergence as the Huskies’ starting nickelback as a second-year sophomore in 2017 is the most unexpected development from the 2016 class.
Pac-12 recruiting rankings
After appearing in 11 games as a freshman in 2016, Bryant earned a scholarship during the 2017 offseason and became one of the most consistent players in a loaded secondary, earning all-Pac-12 honorable-mention recognition.
Update: As many have noted, walk-on Ryan Bowman is very much in the same boat here as Bryant — a walk-on from 2016 who in 2017 became a key contributor. (An unintentional oversight on my part — for some reason I was thinking of Bowman as a 2015 guy.) Bowman certainly deserves strong consideration for a scholarship after leading the team in sacks (with 5.5) and ranking second in tackles for loss (9.5).
On signing day two years ago, the Huskies’ 2016 class was ranked No. 29 nationally and No. 6 in the Pac-12. Now Bryant, Murphy and Rapp are three of the nine defensive starters returning for a 2018 season in which UW should be favored to win the Pac-12.
There are other home runs from that UW class. In all, seven players from the 2016 class started in the Fiesta Bowl, and Murphy, Rapp, Bryant, Bowman, wide receiver Aaron Fuller and offensive linemen Nick Harris and Luke Wattenberg all figure to play even larger roles next fall — with more waiting in the wings.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Of the 17 recruits who signed with UW two years ago, 16 remain on the roster. An updated look at the Huskies’ 2016 class:
Daniel Bridge-Gadd, quarterback: Redshirted in 2016 and earned UW’s scout team offensive player of the year award. Made his first appearance in mop-up duty against Fresno State last September. By the end of the season, appeared to be the No. 4 QB behind Jake Browning, K.J. Carta-Samuels and Jake Haener.
Myles Bryant, defensive back: Surely no one would argue Bryant’s inclusion here as the honorary 18th member of the 2016 class. Took over for Budda Baker as the Huskies’ starting nickelback in 2017 and had 57 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and an interception returned for a touchdown at Colorado.
Ryan Bowman, defensive lineman: Apologizes for the initial oversight here. Surely no one would argue Bowman’s inclusion here as the honorary 19th member of the 2016 class. As a redshirt freshman walk-on, Bowman was a revelation last fall, leading the team with 5.5 sacks.
Jordan Chin, wide receiver: Redshirted in 2016 and appeared in six games in 2017, including his first career start against Fresno State. The 6-foot, 180-pounder is still looking for his first reception.
Camilo Eifler, linebacker: One of the most intriguing athletes in the 2016 class, Eifler redshirted in 2016 and appeared in 13 games in 2017, finishing with six tackles on special teams. He is still raw, but should to have a chance to crack the rotation at inside linebacker in 2018.
Aaron Fuller, wide receiver: Made four starts as a freshman, four more as a sophomore in 2017 and will be counted on in 2018 to help fill the void created by Dante Pettis’ graduation. Fuller’s 42 career receptions, for 475 yards and three touchdowns, trail only Chico McClatcher for the most returning this year.
Isaiah Gilchrist, defensive back: The Bellevue High product emerged as second-team safety as a redshirt freshman this past fall and had seven tackles in eight games. He figures to have a more prominent role as a sophomore in 2018.
Jacob Kizer, tight end: Originally part of the 2015 class, the Salem, Ore., native grayshirted as he recovered from a high-school injury, delaying his enrollment at UW until January 2017. Was a pleasant surprise as a freshman, appearing in 12 games (with two catches for 17 yards) and getting four starts in UW’s multiple tight-end formations.
Kentrell Love, cornerback: The former four-star recruit is the one defensive back from this class who didn’t work out. The writing was on the wall by the end of fall camp in August, when Love had fallen to third string on the depth chart. He wound up appearing in just two games (Rutgers and Montana) and announced his intention to transfer in January.
Sean McGrew, running back: Like Eifler, McGrew hasn’t lived up to the recruiting hype, but the former California player of the year out of powerhouse St. John Bosco remains an intriguing option in a loaded backfield. After redshirting in 2016, had an up and down first season in 2017, appearing in seven games and scoring two touchdowns (vs. Montana and Oregon State) in a limited role. He did serve a one-game suspension in September for an undisclosed violation of team rules, and lost his job as the primary kick returner to Salvon Ahmed midway through the season.
Byron Murphy, cornerback: On signing day in 2016, Petersen predicted Murphy would “do some special things” with the Huskies. He was right. After redshirting the 2016 season, Murphy won a starting job in 2017 — and despite missing more than half the season because of a broken foot — looked every bit a rising star on the Pac-12’s top defense. His interception in the back of the end zone in the Fiesta Bowl was one of the highlights of the season for the defense.
Nick Harris, offensive lineman: Much like Bryant, Harris was an under-the-radar recruit — his only other scholarship offers were from New Hampshire and Cal Poly — who is playing a pivotal role for the Huskies. He started four games as a freshman and all 13 as a sophomore, earning All-Pac-12 honorable-mention recognition. He could be next in line to take over as UW’s starting center.
Levi Onwuzurike, defensive lineman: If you had to buy stock in one player from this class who could break out in 2018, Onwuzurike would be a pretty safe pick. The Texas native was a regular in the D-line rotation as a redshirt freshman, posting 16 tackles, 3.5 for loss and 2.0 sacks in 2017.
Kamari Pleasant, running back: Pleasant didn’t come to UW with the same fanfare as McGrew, but the 194-pound redshirt freshman was able to show off some of his versatility in 2017. He was a key part of the game plan in the Pac-12 opener at Colorado, when he was used primarily as a fullback. He was seldom used after that, though, and like McGrew he also served a one-game suspension for an undisclosed violation. Overall, he appeared in four games and had five carries for 19 yards and one reception for 20 yards.
Taylor Rapp, safety: A consensus three-star recruit out of Bellingham, Rapp made a stunning rise into the starting secondary during the first month of his freshman season, earning the Pac-12’s freshman defensive player of the year award. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2017, when he was third on the team with 59 tackles.
Van Soderberg, kicker: In a murky season for UW’s kicking game, Soderberg got his chance in early October and connected on his first field-goal attempt — a 23-yarder against California at Husky Stadium. Fair or not, the Olympia native for now is remembered for his two missed field-goal attempts a week later in UW’s 13-7 loss at Arizona State. He enters his sophomore season in the competition to take over as the regular place-kicker.
Luke Wattenberg, offensive lineman: A four-star recruit, Wattenberg lost about 30 pounds because of an illness in the summer of 2016 and redshirted that season. He regained strength and weight and was one of the breakout players of 2017, when he held his own as Trey Adams’ fill-in at left tackle during the second half of the season. With Adams and Kaleb McGary both returning for their senior seasons on the ends, look for Wattenberg to slide inside in 2018 and then return to tackle in 2019.
Brandon Wellington, linebacker: The former Eastside Catholic star has been a regular contributor on special teams in his first two seasons, though an injury kept him out of the Fiesta Bowl. He enters his junior year with a chance to contribute even more at inside linebacker following Keishawn Bierria’s graduation.
Amandre Williams, outside linebacker: The Tahoma High product appeared in eight games in as a redshirt freshman in 2017. Also missed the Fiesta Bowl because of an injury. Had 1.5 sacks in a limited role last fall, and still has quality upside at an edge-rusher position in need of a jolt.