The Golden Bears had an amazing defense against the pass last year, and they return most of that group. Safety Jaylinn Hawkins was the star of the show, with his six interceptions leading the Pac-12. He also defended 9 passes, with three break-ups, and had 32 total tackles last season. Ashtyn Ellis, the team’s other starting safety, may have been the best player on the defense, with 4 interceptions, 5 break-ups, and 56 total tackles.
The corner backs are just as good as the safeties. Camryn Bynum had 2 picks, Elijah Hicks had 1, and nickel back Traveon Beck had three. That’s 16 total interceptions from the Golden Bears five main defensive backs.
Simply put, this was one of the best past defenses in the country last year, and everyone of note is returning. There’s simply nowhere on the field where it’s safe to throw. Expect Jermar Jefferson to carry a big workload when the Beavers play the Bears.
As a redshirt freshman, Paulson Adebo was already the best cornerback in the Pac-12. The runner up for last year’s Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award, and an all conference first teamer, Adebo pulled down 4 interceptions and broke up 23 passes in his first season. In his sophomore season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Adebo take his place as the best corner in the country.
The Cardinal have surrounded him with a solid unit. In the other corner slot, junior Obi Eboh will likely get promoted to a starting role, and has shown flashes of potential. The four star recruit hasn’t had a lot of time to show off his skills, but he should get the opportunity this year. Stanford also has a few more Corners waiting in the wings, with sophomore Kendall Williamson and freshman Salim Turner-Muhammad expected to see some time on the field.
There safety position is a bit more questionable. Junior Malik Antoine will bring stability at free safety, and looked okay last season, with 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups, one sack and 37 solo tackles. The other starting spot is a mystery. Senior corner JJ Parson worked out in the spot during the spring, but he hasn’t seen the field much in his career. Stuart Head has some experience at strong safety, and there’s the possibility that one of the young corners, like Turner-Muhammad, could convert. We’ll have to wait and see how the Cardinal development this unit, but there’s a huge amount of potential.
The Ducks lost excellent nickel back Ugochukwu Amadi to the NFL, but bring back the rest of a very solid unit. Starting corners Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir grabbed 3 three interceptions each, and free safety Jevon Holland pulled in 5. Graham will absolutely get his hands in your face, with 18 passes defended last season. Nick Pickett will probably round out the starting unit at strong safety.
The Ducks also managed to snag one of the best cornerback prospects in the country in Mykael Wright. Wright has excellent speed and great reactions, and has the potential to contribute right away if Oregon needs him to. If everyone else stays just as good as they were last season, and Wright lives up to his potential, this is going to be a very scary unit.
Last year, the Huskies defensive backs were a top 25 unit, but they’ve lost a lot. Starting safeties Jojo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp are gone, as is cornerback Byron Murphy, and linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is now a Seattle Seahawk. Burr-Kirven was the leader of Washington’s defense, and his departure leaves a vacuum in leadership.
Senior cornerback Myles Bryant will be expected to step up and fill that void. Bryant was second team All Pac-12 last season, with 61 total tackles and 6 passes defended. Bryant swapped between playing as a starting corner and as a nickel defender on last season’s stacked secondary, but there’s big changes in the works. He’ll be playing at safety this season, and new corners will take on the starting roles.
Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor are currently projected to take those spots, but keep an eye on Kyler Gordon. After redshirting last season, Gordon is well placed to make an impact, probably as nickel. He has tremendous speed and a great eye for getting his hands on the ball. The Huskies lost a lot, but they’ve recruited so well and the next back of DBs looks like they’re right where they left off.
Utah has been picked by many as the team to beat in the Pac-12 South, and while they lost both starting safeties, they’ve got two all-conference corners ready to form the backbone of their secondary. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was first team all conference, and hauled 4 interceptions while breaking up 4 passes. His fellow corner, Julian Blackmon, had only one interception, but broke up 10 passes.
Blackmon is moving to safety this season, but beyond that, there are questions in this unit. Nickel corner Javelin Guidry was practically a starter last season as the Utes tend to run 5 DBs as a base, and could see even more time this season. He has absurd speed, and if he sniffs out a play he will get his hands on the ball (1 interception, 9 break ups) or get your screen behind the line of scrimmage.
This is a very top heavy unit, but that top is really strong. The Utes will need a few more players to step up to have a truly elite passing defense, but they’re very close.
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