1. Mykael Wright, Oregon (CB)
Wright is the class of the Pac-12’s cornerbacks. After being named First Team All Pac-12 last season, Wright is going to be asked to have an even bigger role in the secondary with the departure of three of the Ducks’ defensive backs in this year’s draft. Wright is a bit undersized, but he has extremely fluid movement, and great direction changing speed. That makes him incredibly hard to deal with in man coverage.
In his two seasons in Eugene, he’s picked up 48 total tackles, including 34 solo. He’s only grabbed one interception so far, alongside 9 pass deflections, but he’s started to build a resume and with Oregon’s secondary depleted its not hard to see opposing quarterbacks avoiding him as much as possible.
2. Trent McDuffie, Washington
McDuffie is a turnover machine. In his two seasons at Washington he’s picked off two passes and forced three fumbles. Like Wright, he is a bit undersized but has extremely fluid movement and good speed. He’s great in man coverage but is also no slouch in zone, giving Washington some amazing versatility in their pass defense.
McDuffie also has a lot of strength, and his skill at wrapping up ball carriers is possibly his most impressive asset. He’s picked up 59 total tackles as a Husky, 46 solo. Washington has been one of the schools most consistently sending DBs to the NFL, and McDuffie looks to be the latest link in that chain. McDuffie and Wright are going to be in competition for the best corner in the conference for most of 2021, and the battle is going to be exciting to watch.
3. Chris Steele, USC
Chris Steele has a lot of speed, and plays very aggressively. Thus far in his career at USC that style has led to quite a few penalties, but his game seems to be coming together. He’s already drawn a lot of attention, being named Second Team All Pac 12 last season, and being on Athlon’s Preseason All Pac 12 Team for 2021. If he can start generating more turnovers, he has one interception and one forced fumble in his two seasons, he’ll quickly ascend to one of the conference’s best defenders.
4. Isaiah Pola-Malo, USC
The Trojans lost one of the best safeties in the country when Talanoa Hufanga was drafted by the 49ers this spring, but they may not lose a step in the secondary. Isaiah Pola-Mao is expected to take over Hufanga’s duties, and Pola-Mao has all the tools to be another star for the Trojans. In 2019, his first full season, he had 73 total tackles and 4 interceptions. In the shortened 2020 season he somehow got more pass deflections than the previous year despite playing in seven fewer games. He could be on pace for a huge 2021.
5. Chase Lucas, Arizona State
The Sun Devils had the best defense in the conference last season, and they’ll return many of their best players in 2021. Chase Lucas is the big name from the secondary, his decision to play a fifth season for Arizona State is going to be huge if the Sun Devils want to make a run for the conference championship. Lucas has six interceptions in his time at ASU, and broke 50 total tackles in each of his first three years with the team. Covid-19 drastically cut short Arizona State’s 2020, but its clear the team has plenty to prove in 2021. With Lucas’s leadership on the defensive side of the ball, they might just do it.