The Washington Huskies made official the inevitable on Tuesday.
One day after ESPN reported that junior receiver John Ross would forgo his final season of eligibility to enter this year’s NFL draft, UW announced that three other underclassmen — defensive backs Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, and defensive lineman Elijah Qualls — will join Ross in pursuit of a professional career.
All four players were first-team all-Pac-12 selections and are projected by CBS Sports and other analysts as first- or second-round picks. None were expected to return to school.
“These four players have been a big part of the progress this program has made during their time here,” UW coach Chris Petersen said in a statement released by the school. “We wish them all the success in the world as they pursue their professional goals.”
It seemed likely before the 2016 season began that it would be the last for Baker and Jones at UW. Both were first-team all-league selections as sophomores in 2015, and both were again among the top defensive backs in the country as juniors. Baker earned consensus All-America honors after totaling a team-high 71 tackles and 10 tackles for loss.
“I am not only excited to turn the page to a new chapter of my life,” Baker wrote in a message posted to his Twitter account, “but I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for our great program.”
Opposing quarterbacks mostly avoided Jones, one of the nation’s best cover corners, though he still finished the season with three interceptions and six pass breakups.
“These past three years have been the best time of my life,” Jones wrote in a message posted to his Twitter account. “So many people helped me along the way to develop into the man I am today.”
Qualls, a 6-foot-1, 321-pound defensive lineman, finished the season with 38 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks. He played every position on the defensive line, even standing up to rush the passer at times.
Ross caught 17 touchdown passes, second-most in a season in UW history, and finished the year with 1,150 receiving yards, fourth-most in a season in UW history. After sitting out the 2015 season because of a torn anterior-cruciate ligament, Ross quickly emerged as the team’s best playmaker and used his elite speed and improved technique to add a different dynamic to the Huskies’ offense. He also set the UW career record for kickoff-return touchdowns with four.
Third-year sophomore defensive tackle Vita Vea, another touted pro prospect, has not yet declared for the NFL draft. UW did not provide an official update on his status, though the fact he was not included in Tuesday’s announcement could be interpreted as a sign that he is considering staying in school. CBS Sports projects Vea as a second-round draft pick.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 16.
The Huskies also announced the enrollment of two new players: tight end Jacob Kizer from Salem, Oregon, and punter Joel Whitford from Neerim South, Australia.
Kizer signed as part of UW’s 2016 recruiting class but delayed his enrollment. Whitford played one year at Santa Barbara City College, in 2015, then sat out the 2016 season. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
Kizer is listed at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, and Whitford at 6-3, 200. Both players will participate in spring practices.