Breakdown: The returning UW Huskies with the most experience

Mar 6, 2024, 3:23 PM

UW Huskies Elijah Jackson...

Elijah Jackson of the UW Huskies celebrates a win over Oregon on Oct. 14, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Pop quiz: which offensive player returning from the UW Huskies’ 2023 roster played the most snaps for Washington last season?

Here are a few hints:

• He came to UW as a transfer
• He appeared in all 15 games
• He set a career high for snaps played in the national championship game

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Washington lost many stars and contributors from its defense, too, but the Huskies must replace every single starter — and a couple key reserves — from last season’s prolific offense. In fact, none of the top 14 offensive players, in terms of snaps played, are on the roster for 2024. Three of those 14 players had expiring eligibility; six of them declared for the NFL Draft with one or two seasons of eligibility remaining; and five transferred to other schools (all, incidentally, in the SEC).

So, which returning offensive player saw the field most for the Huskies last season?

The answer to our trivia question is …

Will Nixon, the fifth-year junior running back who came to UW from Nebraska ahead of the 2022 season and played 204 offensive snaps in 2023, per Pro Football Focus, behind starting tailback Dillon Johnson. Nixon actually led the Huskies in rushing in each of their first two games (victories over Boise State and Tulsa), and finished the season with 33 carries for 201 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 13 passes for 84 yards.

UW’s defense, meanwhile, returns eight players who logged more snaps last season than Nixon’s offense-leading figure. (Several of them took the stage earlier this month at the Seattle Sports Star of the Year Awards, accepting UW’s honor as the city’s Sports Story of the Year.)

The theme of Washington’s 2024 season will be roster turnover and new faces in new places. But there also will be some returners sprinkled throughout the depth chart. Here, we highlight the 15 players still on UW’s roster who played the most offensive/defensive snaps last season (snaps data per PFF).

1. CB Elijah Jackson

2023 defensive snaps: 796

2024 outlook: An every-game starter at cornerback opposite Jabbar Muhammad, Jackson had his ups and downs, though his most notable play was a highlight UW fans will remember forever. He returns to a crowded room, despite Muhammad’s absence, with Arizona transfer Ephesians Prysock a strong candidate to start, and others like Thaddeus Dixon, Davon Banks and Jordan Shaw likely in the mix, too. Jackson’s experience and athletic profile, though, give him a huge advantage as he looks to play with greater consistency as a fifth-year junior. Jackson also played 146 snaps on special teams, tied for eighth-most on the team.

2. LB Alphonzo Tuputala

2023 defensive snaps: 586

2024 outlook: With more than 1,100 snaps the past two seasons, Tuputala has played more football at Washington than anyone on the roster. He should be a team captain candidate and one of UW’s most important defensive players as a sixth-year senior, regardless of how the rotation shakes out between Tuputala, Carson Bruener and San Jose State transfer Bryun Parham.

3. EDGE Voi Tunuufi

2023 defensive snaps: 442

2024 outlook: I’m curious to hear the new staff’s perspective on Tunuufi, a tweener who has played both on the edge and along the interior. I could see him sliding inside if the Huskies can’t build out their d-line depth through the portal, but his smaller stature — and his speed — could make him a more ideal candidate to rush the passer. One way or another, expect Tunuufi to continue adding value as a senior.

4. LB Carson Bruener

2023 defensive snaps: 439

2024 outlook: Could Bruener start alongside Tuputala? Or would the staff prefer to pair one of them with a different body type, then rotate accordingly? That’s something I’ll be watching for this spring. Bruener will have a big role, regardless, as he did in 2023 when he finished third on the team with 86 tackles. He’ll also be among the team’s most popular players. And he played 250 special-teams snaps last year, third-most on the team.

5. DB Kamren Fabiculanan

2023 defensive snaps: 397

2024 outlook: I’m not sure any UW defender was as improved last season as Fabiculanan, who developed into a dependable playmaker at safety. Now, I wonder if he stays at that position, or if the new staff might also give him a look at nickel, where he did play some the past two seasons. Now a sixth-year senior, Fabiculanan should be a key leader in the back end.

6. CB Thaddeus Dixon

2023 defensive snaps: 361

2024 outlook: I wouldn’t have guessed that Dixon played quite this much last season, which he finished with 26 tackles, an interception and six pass breakups. His aggressive style makes him fun to watch, but PFF didn’t grade him all that well in coverage. Dixon has a competitive streak that should serve him well, and he’ll be in the mix to contribute in the secondary.

7. S Makell Esteen

2023 defensive snaps: 359

2024 outlook: At least right now, Esteen might have the inside track on a starting job, considering the graduation of Dominique Hampton and the transfer of Asa Turner, and no veteran safeties yet acquired via the portal. Esteen made two starts last season and snagged an interception in the Apple Cup. The previous staff liked his football IQ. Maybe he’ll enter the starting lineup full-time as a fifth-year junior, along with Elijah Jackson, his old high-school teammate.

8. DL Jacob Bandes

2023 defensive snaps: 323

2024 outlook: A touted recruit in UW’s 2019 class, Bandes has a chance to earn starting reps for the first time as a sixth-year senior. No doubt, UW will be active at this position in the transfer portal, and the Huskies already added two veteran players here (Sebastian Valdez from Montana State and JUCO transfer Bryce Butler). Bandes, though, has the experience edge over everyone but Valdez, and should be in the rotation, regardless.

9. RB Will Nixon

2023 offensive snaps: 204

2024 outlook: Just as Nixon saw his carries diminish last season once Dillon Johnson got healthy (or at least healthier), he could also face an uphill battle toward playing time in 2024. That’s because coach Jedd Fisch brought starting tailback Jonah Coleman with him from Arizona, and also because sixth-year senior Cam Davis could be in the mix after missing last season due to injury (and Davis, it should be noted, played 339 snaps in 2022). You never know, though, and Nixon did show some impressive burst at times last year.

10. DL Jayvon Parker

2023 defensive snaps: 195

2024 outlook: The loss of Tuli Letuligasenoa, Ulumoo Ale and Faatui Tuitele does open an intriguing opportunity for Parker, who spent his first two college seasons as a bottom-of-the-rotation player. Even if they get busy in the portal, the Huskies are going to need him.

11. TE Quentin Moore

2023 offensive snaps: 165

2024 outlook: Moore caught two passes last season. The first was an 8-yard gain in a blowout win over Tulsa. The second — Moore’s first career touchdown — was a wee bit more memorable. Unless the Huskies pull a veteran tight end from the portal, Moore should be atop the depth chart in his final college season, and he’s currently the only tight end on the roster with legitimate college experience.

12. WR Giles Jackson

2023 offensive snaps: 141

2024 outlook: Jackson, of course, has more experience than his limited contributions in 2023; he played 275 snaps in 2022, logged 160 in 2021, and spent two seasons at Michigan prior to that. But he does have a chance as a sixth-year senior to play more than ever before, with UW’s top four receivers moving on and, so far, only one incoming transfer, Cal’s Jeremiah Hunter, taking one of those spots. Injuries prompted Jackson to redshirt last season, or he’d already be gone. Instead, he’ll have a chance to establish as UW’s top slot receiver.

13. OL Landen Hatchett

2023 offensive snaps: 120

2024 outlook: It’s dependent on his health, as Hatchett tore his ACL in December. If not for that injury, you could pretty much write his name in permanent ink as UW’s starting center. As it is, the Huskies will have to prepare a couple other players at that position, and will wait and see whether Hatchett might be available for the start of the season. He should be a big part of the Huskies’ future, once healthy.

14. WR Denzel Boston

2023 offensive snaps: 115

2024 outlook: The portal always could yield an experienced player who might leap atop the depth, but at present, there’s no reason to think Boston won’t be a really important pass catcher for the Huskies this season. He might have been last year, too, if UW hadn’t been blessed with generational talent at receiver.

I actually asked now-former receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard in December how Boston was handling his limited duty, considering the praise he received throughout spring and preseason camp.

“He’s been handling it flawlessly, especially by going on special teams,” Shephard said. “He’s played in all four phases of special teams for us. He was super uncomfortable with punt returns at one point, and now he’s doing a great job there punt returning. Being on the punt unit, kickoff unit, kickoff return. He’s found that being out there on the field and actually doing something well has given him even more confidence at the receiver position.

“It’s hard when you’ve got a guy who is a Biletnikoff finalist (Rome Odunze) that you’re backing up. You know what, that guy wants to play. It’s no fault of Denzel’s, that’s for sure.”

Indeed, Boston played the seventh-most special-teams snaps on the team (152), in addition to his relatively scant offensive role. That extra experience should help him as he takes the next step under a new coaching staff.

15. EDGE Jacob Lane

2023 defensive snaps: 107

2024 outlook: Lane was one of three 2023 signees who didn’t redshirt last season, along with Hatchett and tailback Tybo Rogers. The previous staff loved his potential. PFF had Lane for six pressures and three quarterback hits as a freshman. UW’s edge position is interesting, with Bralen Trice, Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Sekai Asoau-Afoa all moving on, but Arizona transfers Isaiah Ward and Russell Davis II joining the room. It seems the depth chart is still pretty fluid, and Lane should have every chance to snag a spot in the rotation.

The next five: RB Tybo Rogers (103), RB Sam Adams II (102), EDGE Lance Holtzclaw (87), LB Drew Fowler (84, plus a team-high 320 on special teams), S Tristan Dunn (64)

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

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