Jake Browning put up ludicrous numbers as a high school quarterback, collected numerous recruiting accolades and earned the starting job at Washington last season as a true freshman. His plaudits sheet in many ways mirrors UCLA's Josh Rosen.
Yet Rosen is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, celebrated as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and future top NFL draft pick while Browning is viewed as ... well, what?
For some, he is the potential second-coming of former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who won a record 50 games for current Huskies coach Chris Petersen despite an obvious lack of physical gifts and a QB look from central casting. High expectations this fall for Washington rise in large part out of a projected maturation for Browning and an offense with a lot of key pieces back.
Petersen, like many coaches, doesn't enjoy comparing players but this is not a comparison he resists. Obviously, Browning needs to win 43 more games after winning seven as a first-year starter, but the Moore-to-Browning connection raises more than a few eyebrows among those who've watched both QBs.
Said Petersen, "I know when we recruited Jake, his high school coach, Troy Taylor, who is the [quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator] at Eastern Washington now, way back when, said, 'I know you hear this a lot but I've got to tell you I think we have the next Kellen Moore for you.' I said, 'Yeah, we do hear that a lot.' So OK, whatever. But then I watched him."
Things folks see in Browning that they also saw in Moore: accuracy, poise, smarts and a detail-oriented desire to get better. And win.
On the downside, they also see a slight frame and a questionable arm. Rosen is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with an arm spoken of as though it's a unicorn horn. Browning is already bigger than Moore, now with the Dallas Cowboys -- 6-foot-2, 210 pounds compared to 6-foot, 200 pounds -- and he's focused on developing better arm strength.
When asked what he worked on the most this offseason, he quickly and succinctly said, "Deep ball fundamentals." Then, when it's pointed out that some -- writers, fans, anonymous opposing coaches -- question his arm strength, Browning gets a little crispy.
"First of all, I don't read it. Sportswriters, I'm not a fan," he said. "Second of all, that's something I said I want to work on. I recognized that after the season as something I needed to get better at. But I'm not reading articles about what people have to say about me or Twitter posts. I'm getting better at it day by day. They can say what they want to. But it's something I worked at this offseason."
Petersen, not surprisingly, doesn't seem too concerned about Browning's arm strength. He said he's had more trouble through the years with big-armed QBs throwing unnecessarily hard passes than with lesser-armed QBs coming up short.
"There have been very few quarterbacks I've been around that I've ever had an arm strength issue with," Petersen said. "His arm, just like I thought of Kellen's, is plenty good enough."
Browning certainly has used his arm effectively. At Folsom (Calif.) High School, he threw for a mind-boggling 16,775 yards and 229 TDs -- not a misprint -- setting numerous state records. His senior season, he passed for 5,790 yards, breaking his own state record set as a junior, and 91 touchdowns. According to his Washington bio, he is "the first high school player to ever throw for 60 or more TDs or for 5,000 yards in three straight seasons."
Last year for the Huskies, his stats were more modest. He passed for 2,955 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His numbers had "glass half-full/empty" aspects, allowing for both critical and positive appraisals.
Not so good: He threw eight interceptions and 11 touchdowns in Pac-12 games, and eight of those TDs came against Oregon State's and Arizona's woeful defenses. Nine of his 16 total touchdown passes came against Oregon State, Sacramento State and Utah State.
On the other hand, advanced metrics like Browning. Pro Football Focus rated him as the No. 1 breakout QB for 2016, going as far to observe, "UCLA's Josh Rosen got far more attention as a true freshman QB starting in the Pac-12, and Rosen finds himself on this list as well (see below), but Browning was quietly having a better true freshman campaign for the Huskies."
It noted Browning had several notable strengths, some of which were actually counter-intuitive:
"Among returning quarterbacks, he earned the 15th-highest passing grade in 2015, while also grading positively as a runner. Two more promising signs: Browning ranks sixth among returning passers in adjusted completion percentage on deep balls, and second on throws under pressure. In fact, he earned a better grade per dropback on pressure throws than he did on throws from a clean pocket, which is rare for any quarterback, much less a first-year player."
So much for that wet-noodle arm and limited athletic ability.
As for Browning's own thoughts, he's treating the preseason hype for himself and the Huskies, as well as the preseason skepticism, as something that doesn't concern him.
"We just ignore it," he said. "We're zero and zero. No one is listening to that on our team."
The Moore comparison, however, does have a certain charm.
"I hope we win as many games as he did," he said. "That would be nice."