Here I compare the 2018 defense to the 2016 defense. Football Outsiders’ metric which emphasizes scoring more than per play stats, had UW’s 2016 D at #3 and UW’s 2017 D at #10.
The bold shows who I think is better.
DL-Elijah Qualls / Levi Onwuzerike (Qualls was drafted and first team all Pac-12)
DL-Vita Vea / Jaylen Johnson (Only Emtman would rate above Vita)
DL-Greg Gaines / Greg Gaines (Counting on him to be healthy)
LB- Joe Mathis, Psalm Wooching / Benning Potoae, Ryan Bowman (Its a tie bc of Mathis injury)
LB- Tevis Bartlett / Amandre Williams, DJ Beavers (Also a tie, tough to call now before season)
LB- Azeem Victor / Tevis Bartlett (Azeem was a beast until he got hurt)
LB- Keishawn Bierria / Ben Burr Kirven (Bierria took a step back without Azeem but with him…)
S- JoJo McIntosh / JoJo McIntosh (Assume senior version is better than soph version)
S- Tayler Rapp / Tayler Rapp (Rapp should definitely be better than as a true freshamn)
Rov- Budda Baker / Austin Joyner, Elijah Molden
CB- Kevin King / Jordan Miller (Similar players, counting on Miller to make a leap)
CB- Sidney Jones / Byron Murphy (Murphy could be an All-American but Sidney was a top 15 pick b4 injury)
This is more difficult than assessing the offense as players can move around on defense.
With the 2016 defense being #3 based on my favorite metric, there is not much room for personnel improvement. The weakest links in that group were Pslam, Tevis (who was honorable mention all-pac 12 last year) and McIntosh (who was 2nd team all-pac 12 last year).
Anyway, the 2018 D goes 3-5 here with 4 ties.
In 2016, the breakout players were mostly on offense. Pettis and Coleman were big surprises. Browning made a predictable but big leap. The same could be said for Jake Eldrenkamp who made 1st-team all-pac12. The defensive guys in the 2016 rotation made big leaps mostly in 2015.
If we are going to be a playoff team then the big leaps have to be on defense this year and specifically in the front 7.
At linebacker can Tevis Bartlett be an all-pac 12 guy? Can Benning Potoae’ take his game to the next level?
On the line, can Jaylen Johnson stay healthy and can Levi Onwuzerike take the next step?
If Tevis and Jaylen are all pac-12 guys and Benning is honorable mention all pac-12 then you could have 7 of the 11 starters getting recognition. (Gaines, Rapp and Murphy will be 1st-team with Miller likely 2nd-team).
The bottom line is if those guys can have breakout seasons then the 2018 D has a chance to be 95% of what the 2016 D was at the end of the year. The secondary could be just as good while the LB’s could be close (no Azeem at end of 2016). The big difference is the 2016 DL had more depth.