Washington’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects led by Jaxson Kirkland, Zion Tupuola-Fetui

The PFN Draft Preview series takes a look at Washington's 2023 NFL Draft prospects set to hit the field in the pacific northwest this fall.

After leading Fresno State to a 10-3 season capped off by a New Mexico Bowl victory, Kalen DeBoer decided to move to the Power Five. The Wahington Huskies are coming off a rocky season — both on and off the field. Their 4-8 record was overshadowed by former head coach Jimmy Lake’s suspension and eventual firing. But with their 2023 NFL Draft prospects, Washington can make some noise in the Pac-12 this year.

Washington prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Washington has had at least one player selected in the NFL draft since 2010. And that trend shouldn’t come to an end any time soon. The Huskies have 13 representatives on the Shrine Bowl 1000, two more than any other Pac-12 program. But how well do they translate to the NFL?

Michael Penix Jr., QB

After four years at Indiana and fresh off his worst statistical campaign, Washington saw enough to name Michael Penix Jr. their new starting quarterback. The former Hoosier has the raw tools to carve up Pac-12 defenses, owning a cannon for an arm and enough athleticism to be a threat on the ground. However, his mechanics are all over the place, and his accuracy suffers because of it. If Penix can harness his arm and layer throws with touch in 2022, he could turn himself into a late-round prospect.

Wayne Taulapapa, RB

In the last three seasons at Virginia (27 starts), Wayne Taulapapa recorded 1,192 yards and 19 touchdowns on 266 carries. He isn’t much of a receiving threat (151 career receiving yards) and has fumbled at least once each year. Yet, Taulapapa consistently churns out yards after contact and has enough wiggle to make a defender miss in the open field.

But the biggest knock on Taulapapa may be his health, as he suffered two documented concussions in 2021. Another this season could see multiple teams take him off their draft board completely.

Richard Newton, RB

Richard Newton is coming off a torn ACL. It’s a loaded running back room (seven players on scholarship), and he hasn’t received over 40 carriers since 2019. The 6’0″ and 212-pound RB moves well laterally and possesses solid vision. But injuries have plagued his career, and a lack of production could stymie his draft hopes.

Devin Culp, TE

With Cade Otton in the NFL, Devin Culp is Washington’s new TE1. He has 21 catches, 237 yards, and one touchdown to his name, but his wide receiver background should shine in 2022. Culp (6’4″ and 239 pounds) is cut from the same cloth as former Husky Hunter Bryant.

Although Bryant went undrafted, Culp could put himself in the conversation with a huge leap in production. Penix loved targeting Indiana TE Peyton Hendershot, and Culp has even more juice to pair with his length. Nevertheless, it’s all potential at this point. And without a strong statistical output this season, Culp’s only path to the pros may be as a UDFA.

Jaxson Kirkland, OT

Last summer, I had the Washington Commanders selecting Jaxson Kirkland 14th overall. Oh, how times have changed. I still believe in Kirkland, but he will be a 25-year-old rookie and is coming off an ankle injury serious enough that he withdrew from the 2022 NFL Draft. Entering his sixth season and third starting at left tackle, we largely know who Kirkland is.

He has a rather thin lower half that is susceptible to power. His hand usage and base can be more consistent. And his 6’7″ high-cut frame loses the leverage battle a bit too often. Yet, Kirkland can mirror most edge rushers and is patient off the snap. I’m still a fan, but the middle rounds are far more likely than the first in today’s economy.

Corey Luciano, C

Luke Wattenberg is out, meaning it’s now Corey Luciano’s time to shine. He has played less than 100 offensive snaps in his collegiate career. Better late than never? He was sitting behind an all-conference center, so it’s not due to his own skill set. Most of Luciano’s reps have come as a sixth lineman, with a few at left tackle, right tackle, and center. It’s too early to talk about his draft prospects, but Luciano has flashed in limited usage.

Henry Bainivalu, G

At 6’7″ and 307 pounds, Henry Bainivalu is a bit light on the inside. But that hasn’t stopped him from being a valuable piece along UW’s offensive line. He can maul defenders in the ground game and stone wall in pass protection due to his sheer width and length. Still, a lack of lateral agility and foot quickness cap his ceiling. Any improvement there in 2022 could see Bainivalu sneak into the back end of the draft.

Victor Curne, OT

Victor Curne may not even start this season thanks to redshirt freshman Roger Rosengarten. If he does, in fact, lose his starting position, his draft hopes will be lost with it. He has started at right tackle the last two years, but his 6’4″ and 320-pound frame better suits him inside. Curne struggled in pass pro last year, especially early in the year. Nonetheless, the traits are there to build off of, and Curne showcased his talent as a first-year starter in 2020.

Troy Fautanu, OL

Receiving a lot of hype as a potential breakout candidate for the Huskies, Troy Fautanu is slated to start at left guard. He started two games at LT and one at LG last season, and his inexperience showed on the edge. Fautanu is still developing his hands and footwork, but he is an uber-athletic prospect that carries his 6’4″ and 310-pound frame well. He presumably won’t declare this year, but Fautanu is brimming with upside and should feature in the OL class whenever he takes his talents to the NFL.

Zion Tupuola-Fetui, EDGE

Washington’s highest-rated prospect lives on the defensive line. Zion Tupuola-Fetui exploded onto the scene in 2020, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in the process. He dominated as a pass rusher with a quick get-off and impressive power, notching seven sacks in four games. With a full slate of games on the table, many were excited to watch Tupuola-Fetui feast. But a torn Achilles last spring robbed us of the opportunity.

He returned for five games before a concussion knocked him out of the last two. Still, he didn’t look nearly as deadly off the edge. With a healthy and productive season, Tupuola-Fetui’s stock could soar leading up to draft night.

Jeremiah Martin, EDGE

A rotational edge rusher, Jeremiah Martin will provide depth alongside Tupuola-Fetui and redshirt sophomore Bralen Trice. The former Texas A&M Aggie transferred to Washington last season and immediately improved in nearly every facet. There is certainly untapped potential within Martin, as he earned a four-star rating as a high school recruit after securing 30.5 sacks and 47 tackles for loss as a senior. But entering his fifth collegiate season, the clock is ticking to turn that potential into production.

Tuli Letuligasenoa, DT

Tuli Letuligasenoa is a name to know along Washington’s defensive front. He displayed his skill set in 2019 before sitting out 2020. Yet, he returned in full force last season, earning an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. His stats don’t pop off the screen (four tackles for loss and one sack), but Letuligasenoa can push the pocket as both a run defender and pass rusher.

While he’s a bit undersized at 6’1″ and 307 pounds, that allows him to gain natural leverage. This season, more all-conference honors and a draft selection should be on Letuligasenoa’s bingo card.

Ulumoo Ale, DT

After three years at left guard, the Huskies are transitioning Ulumoo Ale to nose tackle this season. Now 6’6″ and 333 pounds, he has run with the first-team defense all spring and summer. As a three-time Australian Golden Gloves heavyweight champion boxer, UW’s coaching staff expects Ale to punch his opponents in the mouth on the interior. He has the natural size and strength to do so, and Ale is a gifted athlete for his stature. But we must see him play the position first before we can even consider his NFL draft projection.

Edefuan Ulofoshio, LB

Edefuan Ulofoshio began to receive attention for the 2022 NFL Draft last year. But by midseason, a season-ending arm injury shot those ambitions down. Then, a winter knee injury requiring at least 10 months of rehab put his 2023 NFL Draft dreams in jeopardy. HC DeBoer said Ulofoshio will miss half the season, if not more. It’s a shame, as he has looked every bit the part of an NFL-caliber linebacker when on the field. Expect Ulofoshio to return later this year to get his feet wet before turning his attention to the 2024 NFL Draft.

Cam Bright and Kristopher Moll, LB

The Huskies reached into the transfer portal and pulled out two safety-sized linebackers in Cam Bright (Pitt) and Kristopher Moll (UAB). Both players are 6’0″, under 225 pounds, and provide versatile skill sets. However, their NFL futures are cloudy.

Bright is a tweener but doesn’t fit either position (linebacker and safety) well at the next level. He is too small to play in the box full time, and his coverage prowess and athleticism don’t translate to the secondary. Like Bright, Moll is undersized — though a move to safety is more plausible. The two may have to follow the UDFA path to the NFL despite being stellar CFB players.

Mishael Powell and Jordan Perryman, CB

The departures of Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon leave two vacant starting cornerback jobs up for grabs. It appears Mishael Powell and UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman are the favorites to replace the elite duo. Both are 6’0″ or over and 200+ pounds. Last season was Powell’s first of meaningful snaps, producing three PBUs and a forced fumble across 12 games. As a redshirt sophomore, even with a solid season, he’s likely to return to Seattle in 2023.

Perryman owns an impressive FCS résumé, posting 12 PBUs and an INT en route to the All-Big Sky first team a year ago. By all accounts, he has looked the part of a Washington DB this offseason, making life difficult for the offense. Defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell had this to say about Perryman:

“Pound for pound, he’s one of the strongest guys on the team, one of the fastest guys on the team, plays with confidence every day. And jumped up to a new level of football, and it honestly has not fazed him one bit.”

Don’t be surprised if Perryman is UW’s next DB off the NFL draft conveyor belt.

Alex Cook and Asa Turner, S

Unsurprisingly, it appears Alex Cook and Asa Turner will return as Washington’s starting safeties in 2022. 57 career tackles, one INT, and two PBUs aren’t exactly inspiring, but 2021 was Cook’s first with significant playing time. He missed too many tackles from his deep safety position and wasn’t spectacular in run defense.

Cook is far from a liability and rarely allowed chunk yardage in coverage. But Turner is the far better prospect. At 6’3″ and 200 pounds, he sports excellent length to affect the passing game, as evidenced by four career INTs. Turner has never conceded a pass longer than 25 yards and routinely keeps plays in front of him. He has been a mainstay in the secondary since 2019, and 2022 could be his best year yet.

Cameron Williams and Julius Irvin, S

Cameron Williams and Julius Irvin will backup Cook and Turner for another season. Williams has struggled with tackling since stepping foot on campus but is at his best in coverage. As for Irvin, we just haven’t seen too much. He started the first two games in 2021 and was relegated to the bench for much of the year.

Backup safeties on the college level rarely amount to much in the NFL. I don’t expect Williams to buck that trend. However, Irvin has the four-star pedigree and physical tools to push for playing time this year and perhaps a starting role in 2023.

Dominique Hampton and Kamren Fabiculanan, S

Dominique Hampton fits Washington’s “Husky” position (hybrid safety/linebacker) due to his 6’3″ and 215+ pound frame. He’s a strong tackler, isn’t afraid to come down in run defense, and has the length to disrupt passing lanes. Still, Hampton only has three starts under his belt, and former four-star recruit Kamren Fabiculanan could push him for snaps this season. Hopefully, the new staff gives the secondary time to mesh before rotating starters like tires on F1 race cars as the prior regime did last year.

Currently, neither Hampton nor Fabiculanan should be on the NFL draft radar. Yet, both have at least a year of eligibility left after the season to improve their stock (Fabiculanan has two as a redshirt sophomore).

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