Washington football: Previewing the WR position

Back to the offensive side of the ball, it is time to preview the wide receiver position for the Washington football team. The position took a big hit this off-season. The dawgs lost Kevin Smith to graduation and Damore’ea Stringfellow has decided to transfer after his recent legal problems and suspension from the team. That leaves the team lacking a physical presence who can line up outside the hashes. What this group lacks in size they make up for in speed. The type of speed that can turn a 1-yard screen into an 80-yard sprint. With multiple receivers on the roster possessing big play potential, the dawgs receiving corp could have games looking more like a track meet than a football game. Here is the Washington football WR position preview:

[Washington football: Previewing the defensive line]

Kasen Williams (6-foot-3, 221-pounds) SR.

If it wasn’t for a leg/foot injury ending his season early, I believe Williams would have foregone his senior season and declared for the NFL draft. More than likely he would have been a 2nd-3rd round pick, maybe even higher considering what kind of performance he could have had at the combine.

Washington football

Williams looks to bounce back after an injury ended his season early in 2013

Unable to finish the season or compete at the combine, Williams decided to return.

Prior to injury, Williams was experiencing a bit of a slump statistically in 2013. A slump that was in no way Williams’ fault. Keith Price has never been one to be confused with a strong armed gun-slinger. Last year’s Washington football team focused much more on short, conservative passing, relying on players to make yards after catch.

Similar to this year’s roster, in 2013 the dawgs had a roster full of small speedsters fit for short passes. Because of this, along with his unique size, Williams’ role consisted of running more down field routes outside the numbers where his large frame could (should) be utilized. It also involved copious amounts of blocking (a trait that I know NFL scouts are high on him about).

In 2013 Price was incapable of completing passes down field. Williams’ numbers suffered because of it. With Price gone and a new quarterback making the throws in 2014, I expect a true return to form this year for Williams.

Williams has arguably the BEST hands in all of college football. I haven’t seen a WR with the ability to fully extend and catch with his hands like Williams in some time. That ability to extend the arms and make catches with his hands, along with his strong, physical nature should make him a favorite target for whoever is the QB.

Williams is one of the most NFL ready wide outs in college, expect him to be making spectacular catches often in 2014.

[Washington football: Previewing the offensive line]

Jaydon Mickens (5-foot-11, 171-pounds) JR.

The leading returning receiver for the Washington football team, Mickens had 65 receptions for 688 yards and 5 touchdowns as a true sophomore. While these numbers are impressive, especially so early in his college career, they can be misleading slightly. The majority of the touches Mickens got came via bubble screens and plays of that nature.

Washington football

Jaydon Mickens looks to build on his impressive sophomore campaign.

At times he played more like a running back lined up out wide rather than a true wide receiver. On the one hand, it is a testament to his ability to make plays once the ball is in his hand. Mickens is an extremely gifted runner, showcasing speed and elusive moves on practically every play.

On the other hand, Mickens lacks the ability to catch the ball consistently, relegating him to short passes predominately. Mickens has the speed necessary to take the top off the defense, putting pressure on the safeties to cover deep.

However, Mickens has proven that he doesn’t have the reliable hands to pull down those deep throws and make the defense respect the long ball. This stems from his tendency to use his body to catch the ball instead of his hands.

Other than his game against Cal where he hauled in touchdowns of 68 yards and 47 yards, Mickens was unable to capitalize on down field routes consistently. Once Mickens learns to catch with his hands and not his body, his effectiveness will increase dramatically. For reference, here is Mickens’ highlights against Cal.

It should also be noted that Mickens is one of my favorite players purely because he is a refreshing flashback to the 90’s, wearing his jersey tucked up into his pads. A look that will always be cool in my mind.

[Washington football: Previewing the QB position]

Kendyl Taylor (5-foot-10, 203-pounds) RSo.

After playing sparingly at running back as a true freshman in 2012, Taylor redshirted last season. He also switched to wide receiver, his natural position. Taylor doesn’t have much game film with which to judge him on making any definitive claims difficult.

But after his performance at the husky combine on May 20th, Taylor clearly has the athleticism to be a difference maker at the college level. Taylor finished in the top 5 in 4 out of the 6 events held.

He finished first in the vertical leap (40.5″) and the pro agility drill (3.90). For reference on the agility drill, Shaq Thompson was second best at 3.99 and Mickens was fourth with a time of 4.01. Taylor also finished second in the 3-cone drill with a time of 6.48 and he finished fifth in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.47.

What does all of this mean?

It is tough to say exactly, but one thing is for certain. This guy is an athlete. At the very least, this is a clear indication of the athleticism that this team has as a whole . If a guy with the athletic tools like Taylor can’t make it on the field, it’s a clear indication of the talent this team possesses top to bottom.

John Ross (5-foot-11, 180-pounds) So.

If I had to describe Ross with one word, that word would be ELECTRIC. Ross is freakishly fast. How fast? At the husky combine Ross ran a 4.29 40-yard dash, hand timed. He also finished in the top 5 in 3 other events at the combine.

Last season Ross used his speed to break off explosive plays, including a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown against BYU in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. He finished the season with 16 receptions for 208 yards and one touchdown.

This season Ross figures to have an increased role in the offense. Given Ross’ speed and playmaking ability, it came as a surprise that he wasn’t involved heavily in the offense despite being a freshman. This most likely came from Ross’ struggles in adjusting to the pace and complexity of a college level hurry-up offense.

Having a year of experience under his belt, spring practices, and a new coaching staff with which he can grow and learn with, Ross should shoulder much more of the load on offense this season.

Very similar to Mickens in speed and playmaking ability, what separates Ross is his hands. Ross actually uses his hands when he catches and doesn’t rely on body catches. This makes him a much more effective down field target.

Ross proved last season that he can turn an inch of space into a game changing play in a heartbeat. Now as a sophomore who is much more familiar with the speed,  physicality, and mental preparation of the collegiate game, Ross is poised to have a break out season.

[Washington football: Previewing the RB position]

Other Notables:

Marvin Hall (5-foot-10, 182-pounds JR.), DiAndre Campbell (6-foot-2, 199-pounds SR.), Dante Pettis (6-foot-1, 175-pounds FR.), and Brayden Lenius (6-foot-5, 220-pounds FR.) all figure to find action early because of the lack of depth at wide receiver. Hall has the experience over the incoming freshman, but hasn’t really made the most of it. He has similar skills to Mickens but has even less reliable hands. Dante Pettis is my favorite to make an impact out of the incoming freshman on offense, but Lenius has the size that could make him a valuable asset when blocking on bubble screens and allowing Mickens and Ross be electric. Because of that, Lenius could find himself taking snaps before the other receivers fighting for playing time. The wide receiver position still has many question marks, if there was ever a chance for a ‘nobody’ to step up and find a big role, this is the year.

Visit our Washington Football page for more Huskies news, analysis and opinion.