Mathisen: Did Husky Players Make Right Choice on Opting Out or Staying?

Two Washington football players opted out, while another likely candidate did not

Posted on October 8, 2020

Nathan Mathisen
  By Nathan Mathisen of Dash Sports TV for SportsPac12

Opting out has never been more prevalent in college football than it is now.

With the odd circumstances that surround this season, the NCAA allowed players to opt out of this year and also gave all players an additional year of eligibility. This means a senior who had only one year of eligibility left, can now miss this season and if they choose to, they could come back next season. 

But what are the benefits of this for a player, and what are the negatives? In other words, why should a player opt out vs. staying?


For the Washington Huskies, only two players have opted out, and head coach Jimmy Lake said in a recent press conference that no more players will opt out, and none of the players that did opt out, will return to the team.

The two players that did opt out for the Huskies are outside linebacker Joe Tryon and defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike. Both are huge losses for the Huskies, but there could have been more losses as many people thought that star cornerback Elijah Molden would also choose to opt out, but he didn’t.

Molden’s reasoning behind not opting out was that he loves the game of football too much to sit out a year when he could be playing, and his other reason is simply that he wants to help coach Lake in his first year as a head coach. 

So again, the question arises: Did they all make the right decision? The answer is no.

They all have their own valid reasons, so I’m not trying to knock them or anything like that. I simply feel that certain players could have used another year of college football to their advantage, while others might have benefited from preparing for the NFL draft immediately.

Tryon | Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures

Let’s start with Joe Tryon, the first Husky to opt out, all the way back in August. He shouldn’t have. Tryon had two more years of eligibility, and he should’ve at least used one of those years to gain more experience.

I understand why he opted out. He has good size at 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, and in 2019, he logged 12.5 tackles for loss with eight sacks. No doubt, he had some great games, but had he stayed at UW, he would have been poised to have a monster breakout season.

Current mock drafts have him going anywhere from mid to late first round to early second round. NFL scouts base their assessment on his potential, along with his size, and his production in 2019. However, had he stayed for another year and shown even more, scouts would likely have graded him as a Top 15 pick. 

Moving to the next player to opt out, Levi Onwuzurike, I came to a different conclusion. Owuzurike made the right decision. He had nothing left to prove to anyone on the college level. 


Onwuzurike had more film than Tryon, starting the past two seasons on the defensive line. In those snaps, Onwuzurike never put up gaudy numbers, but he posted solid, consistent numbers that caused pro football focus (PFF)  to list him as the 29th best player in college football going into the 2020 season. 

Onwuzurike was graded by PFF in the Top 10 at both nose tackle and defensive tackle. Since 2018 he has the same grade as Javon Kinlaw, who went 14th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Onwuzurike doesn’t have eye popping stats, but scouts love his “get off” and ability to move offensive linemen. He’s read to show the NFL that he means business. 

Tryon and Onwuzurike were the only two Husky players to opt out, but many observers believed that Elijah Molden might opt out, and Cade Otton and Jaxon Kirkland could have chosen to opt out as well.

Molden |

Molden should have opted out.

Now I completely understand why he didn’t. He gave great reasons at the press conference, and I respect him for staying, but I still feel that the risk of playing in this very different season is far too great for him to stay.

Molden is superstar cornerback in the mold of former Huskies Sidney Jones and Kevin King. In 2019, Molden led the Pac-12 in interceptions, pass breakups, forced fumbles, and led the Huskies in tackles as well. 

Molden is similar to Onwuzurike in that he has nothing left to prove at the college level. He flat-out dominated college football last year, allowing only two touchdown passes on all year. 


He had the numbers to be drafted as a mid-to-late first round pick and perhaps even a Top 15 pick, assuming he performed well at the combine and team workouts. By returning for his senior season, Molden hopes to cement himself as a Top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.


The two other Huskies who were at least mentioned as possibly opting out were Otton and Kirkland, both Juniors. Each of them made the right decision by staying for at least another year at UW. 

Otton and Kirkland both had great sophomore seasons such that, if they had opted out, they likely would have been mid-round picks in the 2021 NFL draft. By coming back for another year and adding to their resume, both Otton and Kirkland could go from a mid-round pick to a first or second-round draft pick, depending on the type of season they have.  

All five of these players had their own personal reasons for making their decisions. I don’t agree with all of them, but I do understand why each player made the decision that they made. 

You can watch Mathisen’s Husky Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read Mathisen’s other sports stories and columns at The Daily.

—Recent Nathan Mathisen Stories—