It wasn’t exactly addition by subtraction, because the graduation of Jaydon Mickens left a big hole in Washington’s receiver production, but the return of John Ross gave the Huskies back arguably the greatest big-play receiver in the history of the program - if you go by the numbers. If Ross matches the number of 50-yard-plus plays he had in 2014 - four - he’ll become UW’s all-time leading receiver in that category. That’s impressive considering he would still have his senior year of eligibility remaining, if he chose to use it.
The real subtraction for this group happened right before the spring. Isaiah Renfro took spring off to tend to personal business. Quinten Pounds still wasn’t fully recovered from an injury sustained during last season. And Brayden Lenius sustained an injury during the first half of the very first spring practice that kept him out the remainder of April.
That’s some serious movement in the minus column. What did it mean, though?
It meant Ross would have to stay healthy. It meant Dante Pettis would have to continue to ramp up his steady play. It meant Chico McClatcher and Andre Baccellia would have to step up and show they help lead the charge. And it meant some of the myriad walk-ons would have to produce.
Guess what? All those things happened.
Receivers (by year and scholarship)
John Ross III (5-11, 196, Jr.) - It was great to see No. 1 back on the field this spring, and it seems like he’s back to his old ways. He always brought superior speed and playmaking ability to the field, but the question coming back was always going to be - could he regain his elite quickness and speed? Well, he was unofficially clocked at a 4.25 40 during the UW Combine Day, so that answered that question. Ross worked hard with quarterback Jake Browning to create the required chemistry - especially with the deep passing game - and that should pay off down the road. Who knows if it will immediately show up, but since UW’s non-conference schedule is not a strong one Ross has a chance to rack up some big receiving totals early. The other receivers and quarterbacks have talked about Ross tightening up his routes and becoming more of a technician. If he can get separation from defensive backs on a consistent basis, watch out.
Dante Pettis (6-1, 187, Jr.) - Pettis had a very solid spring as the Huskies’ leading returning receiver, and he should be right at the top of the receiver list this fall. While Ross brings the flash, Pettis brings the production and the consistency to match. He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to suggest he’s going to go nuts this fall, but he didn’t take a step back either. Just a steady spring.
Brayden Lenius (6-5, 228, Jr.) - Went out halfway through the first practice and never really came back 100 percent. Still should be a major factor this fall, provided he comes back healthy and available to contribute.
Nik Little (6-5, 212, Jr.) - Little came on strong the last two weeks of spring, right around the same time another juco transfer - quarterback Tony Rodriguez - did the same. With his size, Little should be a player the Huskies can count on for some catches this fall. I doubt he’ll be a major contributor, but if he can average a catch a game or so, that will provide a foundation for a bigger jump into 2017 when he’s a senior.
Isaiah Renfro (6-1, 207, So.) - Renfro missed spring completely due to personal issues, expected back to Montlake this summer, but who really knows what’s going to happen at this point. It was a good sign he was at the Spring Event and dressed, although he didn’t participate.
Chico McClatcher (5-7, 176, So.) - It was a very, very good spring for McClatcher, who should be a Swiss Army knife for Jonathan Smith when it comes to versatility and offensive options. Chico can play any of the receiver spots, and can also run the ball. He showed he could run it last year, mostly out of fly motion, but now he has to add the YAC (yards after catch or yards after contact) component to his game. He was a guy who had tons of YAC while at Federal Way, so I suspect that element of his game is coming around. McClatcher showed this spring he can get downfield in the passing game, and not just as a stretch guy. He can run routes, he can create separation, and he can impact the passing game in the intermediate zones.
Andre Baccellia (5-10, 166, RFr.) - In short, it was a breakout spring for Baccellia. Washington Receivers Coach Bush Hamdan said Baccellia impressed during last year’s bowl practices and this spring he just continued where he left off. He’s not the biggest receiver in the world, but he can play outside, can get separation, and can make tough catches. He did put the ball on the ground once during the Spring Event, something that put a bit of a dent in his team-leading four-catch, 68-yard performance - so that will be something to watch for as the 2015 season progresses, but I think based on his spring Baccellia should be in line for at least 25 catches his fall.
Quinten Pounds (5-11, 170, RFr.) - Pounds was in the same boat as Lenius, but he didn’t play at all during spring.
Drew Before (6-0, 201, Sr.)* - Before actually practiced a lot with the ones and twos and showed an ability to get open and make plays. With all the scholarship players out, Before was given a chance on the big stage and he performed admirably. He was second to Baccellia in the Spring Event, catching four passes for 65 yards and a long play of 28 yards.
Connor Griffin (6-3, 225, RJr.)* - Griffin made the conversion from tight end during spring, and it was a successful conversion. Griffin was the big target they needed from Lenius during spring. The only thing that kept Griffin from being a bigger contributor this spring was inconsistency. Chalk that up to learning a new position, but the former Gonzaga basketball player certainly has the athleticism and ability to get on the field this fall. It’s still unclear whether or not he will fully take advantage when he gets his moments.
Forrest Dunivin (6-4, 200, Jr.)* - Dunivin definitely had big moments catching the ball on the outside, but still inconsistent as a receiver in the two-deeps. He still has a lot to prove in the fall to be able to make a difference.
Taelon Parson (6-1, 195. Jr.)* - Solid walk-on, long-standing player who has been a scout team fixture.
Max Richmond (5-9, 182, So.)* - Good slot player, but really didn’t step out this spring. Nothing really outstanding from the former Bellevue star.
John Gardner (6-3, 183, So.)* - Another walk-on who has shown glimpses of being a contributor, but far too infrequent to expect much in the fall.
Jamon Jones (6-3, 227, RFr.)* - Same as Gardner. Looks the part of a player that should be more productive, but doesn’t seem to have the separation or game to match his physical ability.
Josh Rasmussen (5-11, 188, RFr.)* - Same as Gardner and Jones.
Where does the Receiver group stand heading into the summer?
It all depends on health. Apologies for the cliche, but it’s more true of this position group than almost any other for the Huskies. If Lenius, Pounds, and Renfro all come back and produce, life is great for Bush Hamdan, Jonathan Smith, and the Washington offense. If they don’t come back fully ready to go and they lose others to injury, it could be a very long season for the receiving corps.
Many will look to Ross as the linchpin, but for all his big plays - and there are a few - he has never been asked to be a number-one receiver before. I suspect that role will go to Pettis, who has the body and mentality to be that possession player Browning and the other UW quarterbacks can rely on. Ross can certainly develop into an every-down receiver: he just hasn’t been asked to do that yet. It was always Mickens who carried that torch.
In the end, I think it boils down to how quickly McClatcher and Baccellia adjust to life on the big stage. Chico has been there before, but not quite in the role he’ll find himself this fall. He’s a full-blown receiver now. And Baccellia appears to have the temperament and ability to be a nice 3 or 4 in the pecking order. His time to be a star isn’t quite now, but it’s not that far off either. He could be one by the end of the season.