This isn't listed as most improved: this is done by position starting with the offense, starting with the quarterbacks and working down. It would be awfully hard to quantify improvement in that way, but this list should give you a very good idea of who has shown up and delivered so far during spring football outside of the household names you're already familiar with.
On to the list!
Let’s be clear from the start: Jake Browning is miles ahead of any other quarterback currently in Washington’s rotation. Praising Rodriguez could be akin to damning him because Browning is so far beyond where the rest are, but there’s also no question that Rodriguez is miles ahead of where he was at the end of the 2015 season. It was a difficult transition for him as a junior college transfer without the benefit of a winter or spring to work through things, and even more so at a position of importance like quarterback. But in the last two weeks Rodriguez has suddenly blossomed into a prospect that could genuinely compete with K.J. Carta-Samuels. It should be a great battle come the fall.
RB Jomon Dotson
I love what Dotson has become in Washington’s offensive system. He can carry the ball, and will be asked to do that no doubt. But he also can catch passes out of the backfield, and could honestly be used in other ways catching the ball. He’s certainly athletic enough. Once he gets in space he can go. I personally believe that the emergence of Myles Gaskin as a premier tailback in the Pac-12 has upped the stakes for Dotson and Lavon Coleman. And both have responded, at least so far this spring. But Dotson seems to be the one that has upped his game to a new level so far.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone that has been reading our practice reports. And frankly it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to us either, because Bush Hamdan was talking about how Baccellia had started to really do some things during the Heart of Dallas Bowl practices last December. The 5-foot-10, 166-pound Baccellia has simply pushed on from the winter, has gotten bigger, stronger, and faster, and is now looking like a serious contributor from the receiving corps this fall. He’s a versatile athlete, can get separation, and can make moves for yards after the catch.
WR Nik Little
The emergence of Little as a potential fall contributor follows a similar timeline to another juco transfer, quarterback Tony Rodriguez. Both came in last summer with not much time to acclimate, so it took them the 2015 season to find their footing. And even in the beginning of spring football, the 6-foot-5, 212-pound receiver wasn’t wowing - even with Brayden Lenius out. In short, he wasn’t taking his opportunities. But starting last week, Little got noticed. He started making some big catches, some grabs to extend drives and touchdown receptions. Little kept showing up. Now he’s got a chance to push for more playing time now that the top four of John Ross, Dante Pettis, Chico McClatcher and Andre Baccellia look to have solidified their spots in the receiver rotation.
TE Drew Sample
It may be considered disingenuous to label Sample as a ‘most improved’ player considering the 6-foot-5, 260-pound sophomore played in every game for the Huskies in 2015, but he only caught five passes. Now, two of those catches were for touchdowns, so he had some vital moments. But starting at the beginning of spring ball, it was clear that Sample’s off-season work to get bigger, stronger, and faster had paid off. He’s now the clear number two tight end behind Darrell Daniels, and that’s with the inclusion of Jeff Lindquist and Will Dissly. He’s not only shown that he can act as a strong blocker at the line of scrimmage, but he can find seams and holes down the field and offer up mismatch opportunities.
Another player that took part in every single 2015 game, Johnson was one of those you might have been hard-pressed to know he had played in every game. That won’t be a problem this coming season. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle is in the position battle of his life with Shane Bowman and Damion Turpin, but right now he’s winning that battle. Now, the way that Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has beefed up the defensive front, it’s Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea up front, but Johnson should be considered that next defensive linemen in when they want to rotate.
OLB Tevis Bartlett
Now that Joe Mathis has been moved to BUCK, pushing Psalm Wooching to SAM, that’s given Washington some immediate depth at the two positions vacated by departing seniors Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton. But those two positions are in need of some serious backup, and that’s why Tevis Bartlett will be playing a lot this fall. The 6-foot-2, 229-pound sophomore played in all 13 games last year, but made his biggest impact near the end of the season with three tackles apiece in the Arizona and Oregon State wins. Bartlett is smart, hungry and willing to do what it takes to improve Washington’s defense, and he’s made a lot of positive strides this spring. He’s been consistent, present, and focused.
ILB D.J. Beavers
Unlike some of the players on this list, the 6-foot, 224-pound WIL ‘backer redshirted last year, allowing Tim Socha to lock Beavers in the weight room during the fall and winter. Beavers gained 13 pounds in the off-season, and it definitely shows. With Keishawn Bierria and Ben Burr-Kirven a bit dinged up, Beavers jumped into the mix a lot with the ones and two - and while he’s not near Bierria when it comes to providing the 1-2 linebacker punch in the middle with MIK Azeem Victor, Beavers has been a quick study this spring. He looks very much in his element during the 11-11 team periods, coming up with deflections in space or fitting the run when required. Just like Bartlett outside, Beavers’ development this spring has given proof that there are shoots of growth within the linebacking room that should flower this fall. Once Bierria and Burr-Kirven come back 100 percent, they’ll join Victor, Beavers, and Sean Constantine as a stout inside linebacking corps. And all those players will play this fall.
This one was an easy, easy pick - pun intended. Washington’s secondary is playing at such a high level right now, they need all hands on deck to create the kind of quality depth that can not just provide value this fall, but pick up right where the likes of Sidney Jones, Kevin King, and Darren Gardenhire left 2015. That’s usually not an easy thing to do, but Jordan Miller and Brandon Lewis are battling their butts off to show they are ready to take that next step in their development. The 6-foot-1, 176-pound true sophomore played in every game last season, and even had a 55-yard pick at Oregon State. But most of his work was cleaning things up, so he wasn’t thrown into the fire quite like Jones, King and Gardenhire were a couple years back. That’s a sign that quality depth is being produced, and Miller has out-distanced Lewis this spring. He has pushed hard to get as much time with the ones as possible, and he’ll continue to do the same this fall.
Safety Jojo McIntosh
McIntosh waited patiently behind senior Brian Clay in 2015, but the sophomore’s time is right now. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound safety played in every game for Washington last year, but it was mostly mop-up duty. But his 38 total tackles and one pick certainly provided enough insight to reveal McIntosh’s potential as a 2016 starter alongside Budda Baker. With Brandon Beaver out, McIntosh got first-team reps with Baker the first day of spring and has put a headlock on that position. Zeke Turner and Trevor Walker have played very well this spring, as well as true freshman Taylor Rapp, but none of them have been able to knock Jojo off that number-one spot. The chemistry between him and Budda is getting stronger every day, and right now I’m finding it harder and harder to believe someone other than McIntosh will be starting at that safety position for the Rutgers game.