Elijah Qualls has always been bigger than life. The 6-foot-1, 321-pound defensive lineman dazzled before he ever stepped foot inside Husky Stadium. He was seen doing a standing backflip at over 300 pounds in high school.
Starting inside early in his Husky career, Qualls is now tasked in 2016 to replace Joe Mathis at defensive end. Mathis has moved further outside to replace the now-matriculated Travis Feeney. Replacing starters with starters is a nice luxury to have if you’re UW Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, even if it means those ‘starters’ will be now starting at relatively new positions.
But Qualls isn’t a total stranger to the defensive end spot. And when you compare Qualls’s 2015 statistics to Mathis’s, they are very similar. In one less game played, Qualls had four fewer tackles, 1.5 fewer tackles for loss, but 2.5 more sacks.
In fact, in the last two seasons, Qualls doubled his tackle output (13 to 26) and had 4.5 sacks in 2015 compared to zero the year before. Tani Tupou had the best statistics of any 2015 defensive lineman, finishing the season with 37 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss in 13 games. Qualls, if he plays the way he is capable of, can come up with at least as many tackles, and will obliterate Tupou’s TFL number.
Having Qualls and Mathis together should provide plenty of opportunities for both to stuff the stat sheet if they are playing to their potential.
At this point, as good as Washington’s defense has been the last couple of seasons, they need to get the production going at the line of scrimmage. Their top-10 tacklers this past season were all linebackers or defensive backs. It’s not crazy to expect one defensive lineman to crack that list, and Qualls is perfectly placed to be that guy.
All great defenses start up front, and Elijah Qualls should be the one to spearhead Washington’s pass rush. If they can get Qualls and the others at the line of scrimmage to rush effectively without the aid of too many blitzes, that just allows the back seven to continue to dominate.
No. 16 - Cameron Van Winkle
No. 17 - Jojo McIntosh
No. 18 - Lavon Coleman
No. 19 - Joe Mathis
No. 20 - Jaylen Johnson