Jimmy Lake stood on the east side of the Dempsey Center, with proof of his process purposefully placed at his back. In an interview with Mike Yam of NFL Network, Washington’s second-year head coach was asked how the Huskies produced more draft choices than any other Pac-12 program since 2015.
Meanwhile, Joe Tryon — a 6-foot-5, 259-pound torpedo with infinitesimal body fat — obliterated a pair of blue tackling dummies, acting as an unintentional visual aid.
“First of all, it’s pinpointing guys at the high school level that we believe can become NFL draft picks,” Lake said at his program’s pro day, wearing a white UW pullover zipped to his neck. “We believe if we can load our roster with potential NFL guys, then we’re going to keep adding championship trophies. And then once they get here, we develop them. We develop them in the weight room. We make them more twitchy, make them more athletic. Then we teach NFL schemes in all three phases.
“So you’re going to continue to see NFL draft picks come out of the University of Washington.”
You’re certainly going to see it sooner than later. In the draft next month, four Huskies — Tryon, defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, and defensive backs Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor — could fly off the board in the first three rounds. Of that group, Tryon and Onwuzurike — both of whom opted out of the 2020 season — have been projected as possible first-round choices.
But what would it mean to be taken on the first day of the draft?
“I think that’s how it should be, 100%,” said a smiling Onwuzurike, who bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times an hour or two earlier. “I think I’m the best d-tackle in the draft. The best d-tackle in the draft should go in the first round. It’s something that’s important to me. But at the end of the day, I’m going to just ball wherever I go.”
When asked how he compares to the other interior defensive linemen in his class, Onwuzurike added: “A lot of those guys can’t do what I do, and I can do what they do. So 100%, I think there’s a big gap between us.”
Tryon — once a modest three-star recruit from Renton — confronted the same question with an opposite answer.
“I really don’t mind where I’m drafted,” he said. “I’m just honored to be in this position in the first place. What I really care about is landing on a good team that’s going to use me to my best advantage. So it’s not about how high I go. It’s really the best place for me. I don’t care if I’m in the first round or not.”
Of course, four more games inside Husky Stadium might have made a difference in Tryon’s draft stock. But the Hazen High School alum — who produced 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2019 — committed himself to improving, despite the fact he couldn’t play.
“I wanted to play, man,” Tryon said. “But just given the circumstances I had to make the best decision for me, and teams know that my situation was kind of wacky. I opted out and signed with an agent, and then by the time the season came back I was already three months into training and I couldn’t pay back the fees to come back.
“So it was kind of sad to watch my team play, but I took it for what it was. I was fully committed to the grind by then.”
Those four weren’t the only ones grinding for opportunities Tuesday. Defensive tackle Josiah Bronson and quarterback Kevin Thomson competed as well, and several alums — including wide receivers Chico McClatcher and Andre Baccellia, defensive backs JoJo McIntosh and Dustin Bush, and linebacker Brandon Wellington — are no longer draft-eligible, but participated in hopes of turning heads.
Meanwhile, Browns center Nick Harris, Patriots defensive back Myles Bryant and Bucs defensive lineman Benning Poto’ae all turned up to support their former teammates.
“It’s definitely a close community at UW,” Molden said.
As Lake alluded to, that community has produced 26 draft choices since 2015 — ranked tied for first in the Pac-12 and 11th in the nation. It includes Onwuzurike, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds at 290 pounds; and Tryon, who paired a 4.64-second 40-yard dash with a 35-inch vertical jump; and Molden, a 2020 second-team Pro Football Focus All-American who added a 36.5-inch vertical jump of his own.
It includes a bevy of returning talent with much more to prove.
“When I was a freshman I knew the standard of the DB room — really, that whole Death Row defense,” Molden said. “I think every year our goal was to elevate it.”
Now, it’s Lake’s goal to continue providing proof of his process — to set the standard, then elevate it again.
“I feel like we’re all really close to each other,” Tryon said of UW’s 2021 draft class. “We’ve all played at a high level. There’s not going to be a huge drop off for the younger dudes in starting positions this next year.
“We set the expectation, just like the dudes who came before us. It’s just going to be an ongoing process, playing Death Row defense.”