SEATTLE — In the not-so-distant past of University of Washington football, NFL dreams rarely made it past the bedroom door. Only three Huskies were selected in the four drafts spanning the 2006 through 2009 seasons, with not a single UW player being chosen in ‘08 or ‘09.
Further evidence that Husky football is on the way back from obscurity will come this week, when as many as five — and almost certainly three — UW players could hear their names called during the three days of the NFL draft.
“It’s crazy how fast things go,” running back Chris Polk said during the UW Pro Day last month. “I’m really happy with my life. I’m really loving life right now. It’s surreal that the best is yet to come, that it’s just the beginning. It’s just the door opening.”
Polk is one of three Huskies who are all but guaranteed of hearing their name called during the seven rounds of this week’s draft. That would mark the most UW players drafted since 2004, when four were selected; last year, quarterback Jake Locker and linebacker Mason Foster went in the draft.
Polk is projected as a second- or third-round pick, while defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu — once considered a borderline first-round prospect — is projected to go around the third round and offensive lineman Senio Kelemete could go in the middle rounds. Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse also has a shot at getting drafted, while the most surprising name to be called this week might belong to oft-maligned, but physically gifted, cornerback Quinton Richardson.
Both Ta’amu and Polk entered the spring with chances to move up into the final few picks of Thursday’s first round, but underwhelming workouts have left both looking like they’ll have to wait until Friday to get picked.
Ta’amu, a 348-pound defensive tackle whose production dipped during his senior season at UW, said during Pro Day that getting drafted would help him pay back a family who supported him over the years. It would also allow the senior from Renton to have some financial security while raising a daughter who turns 3 years old next month.
Ta’amu was one of the top returning defensive tackles heading into the 2011 season but did very little to raise his stock. He had 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks, then struggled at the NFL scouting combine in February. Draft analyst Rob Rang of CBS Sports ranks him as the ninth defensive tackle prospect in this week’s draft and projected Ta’amu as a third-round pick.
Rang had better projections for Polk, who left school early. Polk, Rang’s fifth-ranked halfback, is ranked 65th overall and is projected to be a second-round pick. Pro Football Weekly ranks Polk seventh among halfbacks, behind players like Virginia Tech’s David Wilson, Boise State’s Doug Martin and Oregon’s LaMichael James, while SI.com has Polk all the way down at No. 15 in its halfback rankings.
Polk’s weight was an issue during the week of the Senior Bowl in January, but he shed some weight leading into workouts at the NFL Combine and at the UW Pro Day. He just feels fortunate to be in position to have his name called this week.
“I’m really blessed to be in this type of predicament I’m in now,” he said during UW Pro Day.
The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Kelemete was also excited about the draft last month, saying that the whole process leading up to it was “mind-boggling,” while adding that he’s long dreamed of being in this position.
“Watching the draft, seeing guys up in New York or back home with their family, I think it’s a really cool deal,” said the Seattle native, who plans to host a small gathering of family and friends this week to watch the draft.
Kelemete, who was a left tackle at UW, could be moved to guard at the NFL level. Rang has him as the No. 8-ranked guard and projects him as a fourth-round pick.
Several other recent Huskies might watch in anticipation this week but seem to be more likely destined to be signed as undrafted free agents. Kearse has the best chance among them of being a late-round pick, while Richardson’s size and speed could be enough to make one team overlook his lack of productivity and take a shot on him as a safety in Round 7.
Other UW players just hoping to get into a camp include wide receiver Devin Aguilar, linebacker Cort Dennison, defensive end Everette Thompson and kicker Erik Folk.
If nothing else, the recent spike in talent at UW has given Husky fans reason to start watching the draft again.
Based on Rang’s rankings, the only other prospects from in-state schools likely to be considered are Washington State linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (projected fifth-round pick) and offensive lineman David Gonzales (seventh round/free agent). Rang has three Eastern Washington prospects — defensive lineman Renard Williams, safety Matt Johnson and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell — listed as likely free agents.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday that freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has shown “some moments of fatigue” this spring after playing football in the fall and basketball through the winter. The coach said they’ll revisit whether to allow Seferian-Jenkins to play basketball next year after the football season. … Quarterback Keith Price spent about 15 minutes after Monday’s practice working with wide receiver Kasen Williams on a variety of throws. Price said he was trying to get on the same page with the sophomore-to-be after they failed to hook up on a key pass at Monday’s practice. … Center Drew Schaefer (knee) was back in pads Monday but only did some limited work during position drills. He has missed more than a week of action.