Who Will Become the Most Heralded Husky Football Player in 2021?

We have the top five candidates and their early honors listed here.
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If this were the 40-yard dash, the starter's pistol would go off and Jaxson Kirkland would jump into the lead, lumbering just ahead of Trent McDuffie, with Cade Otton and Eddie Ulofoshio pushing hard to make it a close finish, and Luke Wattenberg just happy to get out of the blocks.

Instead, it's a race to see who will become the most decorated, the most highly regarded, the most publicized University of Washington football player for 2021. 

So many choices, all on one roster. 

If it's not clear by now, the Huskies have assembled a considerable amount of football talent for the coming season. Enough bodies to be considered a top 20 team and a serious conference contender once more.

While it still doesn't match the mother lode of players that Don James assembled for his national championship run 30 years ago, this group offers a lot of guys who are highly thought of by NFL scouts, the people who decide All-America and all-conference listings, and college football analysts in general. 

Just imagine if Zion Tupuola-Fetui hadn't popped a tire midway through spring practice and required Achilles surgery, robbing him of 2021 college football glory. Or if someone such as Richard Newton, Rome Odunze, Kyler Gordon, Sav'ell Smalls or Bookie Radley-Hiles emerges from this barking Husky dog pack and has a monster year, as well.

It's only the second week of May, still three months or so before everyone pulls on the pads again, yet as the personal accolades begin to pile for these chosen Husky gladiators, it's probably a good time to take stock of who has what and where. 

It's an impressive collection of college football baubles, something that's never a given. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that the UW didn't provide a single NFL draft pick over consecutive seasons (2008-09), a first-team all-conference player for three seasons (2007-09) or an All-American for seven long years (2003-09).

Those were the dark ages. This is a Husky golden era, indeed. 

Jaxson Kirkland

Just last week, Kirkland was singled out as the No. 12 overall NFL draft pick by the reputable Pro Football Focus, this coming a few days after the senior offensive tackle from Vancouver, Washington, was designated as the No. 29 selection by Yahoo in its mock draft. 

Even earlier, the 6-foot-7, 310-pound Kirkland, soon to become a four-year Husky starter after beginning his career at right guard, was pegged as the nation's eighth-best offensive lineman and the top lineman in the nation.

Trent McDuffie

The word finally got out: McDuffie is an exquisitely skilled and a fairly accomplished cornerback. Tough, too. A two-year starter since he was a true freshman, he's the latest in a long line of Husky defensive backs to have his name bandied around with the nation's elite. It took a while.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior from Westminster, California, recently joined Kirkland on PFF's mock NFL draft, coming four slots behind his teammate as the 16th player chosen overall. He also turns up as the fourth-best player overall on 247Sports' ranking of the top Pac-12 players. Enjoy him while you can. This no doubt will be his final Husky season. 

Cade Otton

Outside of Seattle, this Huskies' tight end has been underestimated throughout his five-year college football career. His position is a tough one to grade by the general voters and so-called analysts, though not by the NFL scouts. The former groups tend to rank these guys by their size and their number of receptions.

They leave out the one dimension the pros covet most in a pro football tight end: blocking. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Otton has worked exceedingly hard to make himself an unparalleled blocker as well as a proven pass-catcher. A senior from Tumwater, Washington, he turns up in numerous top 10s as one of the nation's best tight ends, and the second-best TE in the Pac-12. The pros know who he is.

Edefuan Ulofoshio

This guy remains the Huskies' Area 51, their big secret. OK, make that Area 48, matching his jersey number. And, yes, he's also from Nevada. He's gone from walk-on to special-teamer to redshirt freshman starter to scholarship recipient to the heart and soul of the UW defense. 

247Sports ranks Ulofoshio, whose Nigerian name, of course, translates to "unafraid of war," as the sixth-best player overall player in the Pac-12 and a top 15 linebacker nationally. Need references, ask Stanford about him. In the last game he played last December, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Ulofoshio piled up 18 tackles against the Cardinal, the second-most in school history. 

Luke Wattenberg 

This guy has always worked in the long shadows, playing alongside more highly publicized UW offensive linemen in Kaleb McGary, Trey Adams, Nick Harris and Kirkland. Yet as he enters his fifth season as a college starter — you read that right — people are beginning to understand his versatility, which includes starting stints at left tackle and left guard.  

The 6-foot-5, 295-pound center from Trabuco Canyon, California, this offseason began catching the eye of college football analysts and is considered one of the top 17 offensive linemen in the country, at any position, as well as the Pac-12's No. 1 snapper.

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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