Dec 22, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver Kasen Williams (2) battles Boise State Broncos defensive back Jerrell Gavins (4) in the third quarter of the Maaco Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Boise State defeated Washington 28-26. Mandatory Credit: Josh Holmberg-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Huskies Football: Kasen Williams' Pivotal Year

Kasen Williams came in as part of the Class of 2011, and he arrived on campus with more hype surrounding him than any player in recent memory, except perhaps Shaq Thompson. A local kid, and state champion, out of Skyline, a Parade National Player of the Year, and a physical marvel of a wide receiver prospect. The expectations were ridiculous.

In his first season, Williams didn’t burst on to the scene like some optimistic fans may have hoped he would, but he come on strong towards the end of the 2011 season, including the highly memorable hurdling in the Apple Cup victory, and finished with 36 receptions for 427 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Enter 2012, and everyone seemed ready for Williams to make them forget Aguilar and Kearse had even graduated. Price was coming off of his massive 2011, and it was logical to think that Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins would dominate as the primary two options for the Husky passing attack. The problem with that? They were the only two options. No one developed as a reliable second receiver on the outside, and no one evolved into a serious weapon in the slot.

Sept 27, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver Kasen Williams (2) holds on to a reception while being tackled by Stanford Cardinal cornerback Usua Amanam (15) during the second half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

That is only one of the reasons that Price fell off so severely in 2012, along with the loss of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the shakiness of the young, injury-ravaged offensive line, and who knows what else. So how did Williams fare with his quarterback lacking confidence and only ASJ, a tight end, present as a legitimate option alongside him?

Very well. 77 receptions for 878 yards and 6 touchdowns. Aside from the touchdown total, which remained the same across the two seasons, Williams just about doubled his receptions and his yards. I think there is a certain percentage of the fanbase that was disappointed by these totals, that hoped that Kasen would explode with 1000+ yards and double-digit touchdowns. That would have been great, but it also appears that given the circumstances, it was never fair to expect.

The number one reason of course being that Price was really bad all year long, at least by the standards he set in 2011. A huge chunk of the throws completed to Williams were screens, or passes no more than 5 yards in front of the line of scrimmage. Oftentimes, even these throws were poorly timed and high, meaning that Williams had to jump up to snag the lofted ball, and then immediately lower his shoulder and use his uncommon physicality to fight for yards after the catch. This largely explains why his yards per catch average was fairly low, at 11.4.

It isn’t that Sark shouldn’t be utilizing Williams for short passes. His 6’2″ 216-pound frame, including abnormally wide shoulders, and his affinity for lowering his pad level and slamming into corners, linebackers, and safeties with far more gusto than the average wide receiver makes this sort of thing a must. But I can’t even count how many times Price’s short throws were poor enough that it cost Williams five or more yards by allowing the defender to react to the play long before the ball reached its target.

Not to mention that these short passes are great as a steady, two or three times a game type deal, but they shouldn’t have been a near majority of balls thrown Kasen’s way. So often Williams would find some space down the field, only to have Price either not even attempt the throw, or have the ball sail ten yards over his head and to either side. Also, whether it was a product of poor offensive scheming or simply another result of Price’s lack of confidence, any deep balls that did go Kasen’s way were on the outside. It was so, so rare to see him get anything over the middle more than 10 yards downfield.

I’m not saying the fault falls flatly on Price and the coaching staff. Williams is still a developing player, and at times I think his route-running was pretty raw, and he often struggled to create much separation when he couldn’t out-muscle his defender. But even if he has a lot of ways he can improve, I’m 100% confident that if the Price of 2011, or any of the multitude of successful Pac-12 quarterbacks of 2012, had been throwing to the Williams of 2012, that statline would have gone from 77 for 878 and 6 TDs to more like 90 catches for 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns, at minimum.

Thing is, Price is going to start in 2013, and though there is some reason to believe that changes to the coaching staff, including the addition of Marques Tuiasosopo as the quarterbacks coach, the addition of some highly-touted freshmen to add some depth to the wide receiver position, and the experience and health along the offensive line, will help Price to improve, it is unrealistic to assume that the Teeth Price of 2011 is ever returning.

Nov 5, 2011, Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver Kasen Williams (2) celebrates a touchdown reception against the Oregon Ducks during the second half at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

So that leaves Kasen Williams at a pivotal point in his Husky career. If he will be catching balls from the same Price, in mostly the same offense (it appears that more no-huddle will be added to the offense), against the same level of defensive competition, he will have to make improvements to his own game to take the next step in his improvement, from solid first receiver to legitimate star. To me, that means right around 75 to 90 catches, but far more yards per reception. 1000-1200 receiving yards total. And that 6 touchdowns needs to reach more like double-digits.

It isn’t unrealistic. Williams took a serious leap forward last year, not only in his skills as a wide receiver and his confidence catching the ball, but also physically, as he added on significant bulk. It looks like he has gotten even bigger already since the off season began, and one can assume that he’s hard at work improving his route running and other positional skills.

If Williams achieves this, he will have the chance to declare for the draft after the season and will likely go in the 1st round. If he turns in a season similar to 2012? He could probably still declare, but I would think a 2nd-4th round grade would be more likely. He could always decide to return for his senior year to take one more shot at climbing the ladder to the top rung of his college potential, but here is where the addition of three different four-star wide receivers in the Class of 2013 could impact Kasen’s role.

Of those three (Damore’ea Stringfellow, John Ross, and Darrell Daniels, Damore’ea Stringfellow is the most likely to have a serious impact as a true freshman, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he started on the outside across from Kasen. However, in that first year it is highly, highly unlikely that any of them challenge Kasen’s hold on the number one wide receiver spot. He is the primary receiver on the team, and that won’t change because of talented freshmen showing up.

But, if Williams fails to take the step forward discussed above, and does return for his senior year, it’s more likely that at least one or two of those three, with a year of either playing experience or redshirt practice time under their belt, chips away at Kasen’s hold as the primary option. Suddenly it could be more of a Kearse/Aguilar/Williams situation, in which it is difficult for any one player to dominate and put up tremendous numbers due to the depth at the position.

For the team, this wouldn’t be a bad thing. For Williams and his draft stock, it wouldn’t be great. For him to fulfill the great hype that surrounded him when he arrived on campus, 2013 is his best opportunity to step up as a dominating, award-earning star.

Of course, given his tremendous physical tools (he truly is one of the most physically impressive, and unique, wide receivers I have seen at the college level), even if his stats failed to make a big jump, it’s likely he would be drafted no later than the 3rd or 4th round, whether he declares after his junior or senior season, especially because scouts would realize from the tape that Price has often held back Kasen’s production.

Yet, we all want Kasen to fulfill his full potential as a Husky, to become one of the greatest wide receivers to wear the purple and gold, and the first season in the new Husky Stadium will be his best chance to do it.

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