Brandon Huffman does not hate your favorite team.
For those blissfully oblivious to the recruiting realm, Huffman is the national recruiting editor for 247Sports, one of the nation’s foremost college football recruiting sites. And on Tuesday, 247Sports published its final recruiting rankings for the 2020 class. Some players moved up. Other players moved down. But, as it always is, just about everybody was angry.
That includes UW football fans, who watched Sav’ell Smalls — the Huskies’ highly touted outside linebacker signee — slip 40 spots, from No. 18 to No. 58 nationally. The former Kennedy Catholic standout also dropped from a five- to a four-star prospect in the process.
It’s natural, then, to assume Huffman and Co. hold some unexplainable vendetta. And, in that opinion, Husky fans are not alone.
“I’m on a group chat with about three different UW grads and season ticket-holders, and the first thing they all said was, ‘Damn, Sav’ell dropped a lot,’” Huffman said. “‘OK, did you guys happen to see how many spots (UW QB signee) Ethan Garbers rose?’ ‘No, we haven’t even looked.’ ‘Good. Go look. Because his rise was much greater than Sav’ell’s drop.’
“It’s the nature of fans. They never say anything about the guys that rise up, that pass other guys who would have had to have dropped. It’s only the guys who dropped (that they’re not happy about). So …,” and he paused to let out a sigh, before adding sarcastically, “it’s always fun. Always my favorite part of the year.”
But what about Smalls, specifically? What did 247Sports’ evaluators see — or fail to see — that resulted in the reduced ranking?
“In his case, there were a lot of players that had more impactful senior seasons and a couple that had impressive all-star week showings (that passed him),” Huffman explained. “There were other guys in the west who had a better senior season and then had a better (all-star bowl) week on top of that, and were already trending upwards as the summer went on and they were in a ‘T-shirt and shorts’ environment. Then it was a matter of them continuing that trend up in the fall when it actually got down to pads and playing football.
“There were other guys where, their body of work over the last six months or so — the most crucial evaluation period in the recruiting process, in terms of the final rankings — was better. Those were guys we stood on the table for, for a rise in the rankings. Unfortunately when some guys move up, other guys will drop.”
So, simply put, Smalls didn’t appear to have a five-star senior season — and the statistics bear that out. In eight games in 2019, the 6-foot-4, 244-pound outside linebacker recorded 26 tackles with seven tackles for loss, two sacks and a pick-six, while also scoring six offensive touchdowns, according to MaxPreps. But a somewhat underwhelming senior season — if that’s how you choose to see it — shouldn’t affect his athletic ceiling, either. He can still be a game-wrecking, pass-rushing outside linebacker. He can still be all of the things Husky fans hoped for when he signed on the dotted line. In the end, these are projections; his production is another matter.
And, likewise, it’s important to stop, look up and see the sky isn’t falling.
UW’s 2020 class — currently 23 deep, with the potential to add tight ends Nic Sani or Jack Yary and defensive lineman Tanoa Togiai next week — is still ranked as the top class in the Pac-12 and the No. 13 class nationally, according to 247Sports. It still features nine signees in 247Sports’ final top 247 — wide receiver Jalen McMillan (No. 38), Smalls (58), offensive tackle Roger Rosengarten (102), wide receiver Rome Odunze (134), quarterback Garbers (151), center Myles Murao (153), offensive guard Geirean Hatchett (210), safety Jacobe Covington (223) and running back Sam Adams II (246).
In short, it’s still the kind of class that competes for Pac-12 titles. And should one player’s positioning really affect that perception?
“No, because I always thought it was a good class,” Huffman said. “When the biggest complaint is that a guy like Sav’ell dropped from top 30 to top 60 … he’s still top 60. He’s the second highest rated player in this (UW) class, and that’s a pretty darn good local kid for them to get. Some of their players who were maybe less heralded turned out to be really valuable additions to this class, when the class finally filled out.”
But Smalls wasn’t UW’s only signee who made a significant move, up or down, in 247Sports’ final recruiting rankings. Let’s briefly analyze the Huskies’ most noteworthy risers and fallers.
QB Ethan Garbers — four stars, No. 151 nationally, up 341 spots
2019 statistics: 69.5% completions, 5,034 passing yards, 71 pass TDs, 5 INTs, 12 rush TDs
Huffman: “In Ethan’s case, you’ve got a five-star coming in a year from now (in Sam Huard). There was clearly more excitement for the local kid. Ethan was a guy who just continued to get better and better. It started this summer when he was at The Opening (a national talent showcase sponsored by Nike), and then going into a state championship season. I think it just really solidified this class, top to bottom.”
WR Rome Odunze — four stars, No. 134 nationally, up 53 spots
2019 statistics: 54 catches, 1,222 yards, 22.6 yards per reception, 15 TDs
Huffman: “This year (Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School) didn’t have anywhere near the talent that they had a year ago. I think this is when (Odunze) really stepped his game up the most and really rose to the occasion against the non-conference schedule. We expected him to dominate against the Vegas teams. But this year there was consistency each week, game to game, and without as many weapons for opposing DBs to focus on. So you just saw him mature physically and you saw the consistency week in and week out.”
RB Sam Adams II — four stars, No. 246 nationally, down 133 spots
2019 statistics: 666 rushing yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 8 rush TDs, 185 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs, 21 tackles, 2 INTs
Huffman: “When you’re looking at these things, you’re kind of expecting the guys that are the elite players to be that much better as a senior. He didn’t seem to have the same juice this season. Physically, he just never seemed right. It was clear that, after the All-American Bowl, he had shoulder surgery. Injuries may have led to it, but there wasn’t the productivity this year that you would have expected given how he played as a junior. He kind of trended down this year on the field, and there’s still questions about his position. I know he wants to play running back, but I think everybody else in the country thought he was a safety.”
OC Myles Murao — four stars, No. 153 nationally, down 31 spots
Huffman: “247Sports has become more about NFL projections (than college projections). So in the case of Myles, there hasn’t been a center — there hasn’t been a guy with his measurables, in terms of his arm length, his height, his hand size — that’s been drafted that high regularly. There’s been some exceptions to the norm. Jeff Saturday becomes a Pro Bowler and an outstanding NFL guy, but there hasn’t been a lot of first round centers. There hasn’t been a lot of second and third round centers in these last couple drafts. They’ve been mostly guards that have been drafted earlier. So if I’m playing a game on Friday night, as a high school coach, Myles is the first guy I’m drafting. But if you’re basing it on NFL projections, he might not have his name called for a while. He’s so much further along than Nick Harris as a football player, at the same stage. We’ll see where Nick Harris gets drafted this year as a guy that converted from guard to center, and maybe that shatters the glass ceiling in future classes.”