Where does the tight end group find itself heading into fall camp?
After crunching the numbers, it’s clear Washington didn’t use the tight end very much at all last year, despite Josh Perkins’ 25 catches. The tight ends caught 14 percent of all 2014 catches and 17 percent of total receiving yardage. Expect those numbers to double in 2015.
There’s a few reasons for this. To start, tight end is the deepest, most talented offensive group at Washington. They can go legitimately four-deep with big, athletic players. It’s true that players like David Ajamu and Drew Sample really haven’t been tested yet, but there’s no question right now they can compete on the Pac-12 stage. We already know what Josh Perkins is capable of, and late last year we got a huge whiff of what Darrell Daniels can cook up once he gets going.
Secondly, the tight ends are going to have to initially pick up a lot of the slack for the young receivers as they get their feet wet early in the season. With only nine scholarship receivers available for the Huskies this fall - and five of them are either new to the program or are true freshmen! - there’s no question the new players are going to be playing a game of catch-up within the actual game of football. And that makes life tough on those that are trying to get them the ball - which leads to point three…
Whoever starts the season at quarterback is going to need help - and the tight ends can remedy a lot of their ills by maximizing their own potential. This group is so versatile in terms of body types and skill they can offer a ton of variety to Jonathan Smith’s game plans - which in turn should allow the quarterbacks at least a modicum of comfort while trying to make good decisions and be accurate with the football in the heat of battle.
Lastly, much of last year’s passing game was predicated on short passes - screens and passes to the flat where the running backs and receivers would then search for yards after the catch. Smith had to do that because that’s where the strength of the pass catching group was this past season. 2015 is much different, simply because of the breadth and depth at tight end. Smith now has bigger, experienced options he can use in the short to intermediate game to take some of the pressure off of their short passing game - which were essentially long handoffs - and thus providing him more ammunition during the game to change up tendencies and catch defenses off-guard, whether by scheme or by personnel.
The tight end group also received a walk-on transfer in Connor Griffin, a 6-foot-4, 212-pound athlete who was playing basketball at Gonzaga last year but decided his future lie in football instead. He was an all-state receiver at Lake Oswego High School. With his size, Griffin looks to be another one of those converted receivers that can find himself at the X, Y, or Z - as well as inline. He played in 29 games last year for the Zags, so his athleticism is unquestioned. What is in question is just how quickly he picks the game back up. The sooner he can, the sooner he can become a valued contributor.
Josh Perkins (6-4, 226, Sr.): It feels like Perkins, the lone senior of the tight end group, has been at Washington forever. Even though he is physically like a ‘newer’ style tight end in that he’s not 260 pounds and runs the occasional route, Perkins is a bit of a throwback in the sense that he’s truly moved his way through the ranks to become a vital cog in Washington’s offensive engine. He was the second-leading returning pass catcher to Jaydon Mickens, and I expect that hierarchy will continue in 2015. The only difference between last year and this year is Perkins will certainly catch more than 25 passes. He just has a knack of getting open and making tough catches when they have to be made.
Darrell Daniels (6-4, 230, Jr.): If Perkins is more like the ‘newer’ tight end in terms of size and ability, then Daniels is the prototypical ‘new’ style tight end. A converted receiver, Daniels has all the skills of a player that plays out wide, but the physicality of a player that likes to act like an extra tackle at the line of scrimmage. We started to see Daniels’ potential at the end of last year, and he kept ramping up his play in the spring. By the time April was done, Daniels had caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. With his speed and receiving skills, Daniels is arguably the hardest tight end to defend based on his abilities, and UW fans should expect to see a lot of Darrell on the field this fall.
David Ajamu (6-5, 251, So.): One of the reasons the Washington tight end group is so well balanced is that they have an ‘old school’ tight end like David Ajamu that’s starting to come good at the right time. Now with two full seasons under his belt, Ajamu showed real signs of being a breakout player on offense this past spring. The last practice he caught three passes for 53 yards, and it was a performance that capped off a very strong spring. Ajamu has the size to be that second or third tight end in short-yardage or goal-line packages, yet is athletic enough and big enough to create havoc with opposing secondaries.
Drew Sample (6-4, 249, RFr.): Before an injury took him out of much of spring, the former Newport star was having an exceptional spring, so I don’t expect Sample to slow down any time soon. There’s no question Drew has the physicality and game to challenge David Ajamu as one of those bigger ‘classic’ inline tight ends that can also break off and do some damage in space. Sample was a player originally committed to Petersen at Boise State before Pete switched area codes, so Drew is ‘all in’ when it comes to buying Petersen’s ‘OKG’ and ‘Built For Life’ mantras. There’s no reason Sample can vie for playing time this fall, provided he stays healthy.
Mike Neal (6-4, 219, Fr.): With four legitimate tight ends in front of him, Neal has the luxury of putting his mind toward the playbook and grinding in the weight room to get bigger, faster and stronger. Much like Perkins and Daniels, Neal will play tight end after converting from wide receiver - a position that helped him hone separation skills downfield. Neal is talented enough to compete this fall, but the tight end group is positioned with perfect class balance. So the best thing for the program is for Mike to push for playing time starting next spring after he has a full year of BCS college experience behind him.
Projected Fall TE Depth Chart
Josh Perkins (6-4, 226, Sr.)
Darrell Daniels (6-4, 230, Jr.)
David Ajamu (6-5, 251, So.)
Drew Sample (6-4, 249, RFr.)
Connor Griffin (6-4, 212, So.)*
Mike Neal (6-4, 219, Fr.)