November 28, 2022

Ranking the Pac-12’s most feared defenders of 2021

Ranking the Pac-12's most feared defenders of 2021

Photo courtesy of Colorado Athletics

It’s no mystery the conference needs a boost in national credibility.

And there’s no better way to earn that respect than on the defensive side of the ball. The Pac-12 has a plethora of stud defenders returning to the league, ready to add more storylines to their legacies.

From top to bottom the Pac-12 will boast some of the best hitters and ballhawks the College football world will see this fall. These 20 individuals have paid their dues and put in the work to be considered elite. Look for them all to make clutch plays for their respective teams in search of that gridiron glory this season.

20. Cameron Goode, LB, California: He’s one of the most experienced defenders in the Pac-12, who’s back for a sixth season. Goode tallied five solo tackles, including 2.5 against Oregon State. The Texas native got to the quarterback against Stanford and Oregon. Goode finished 2020 with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. The former four-star prospect has had a very productive career with the Golden Bears. With 125 career tackles, including 27.5 for loss, 14 sacks and two interceptions, Goode’s resume is as good as any defender in the conference.

19. MyKael Wright, CB, Oregon: The California native has the skills to blanket an entire side of a field. Wright generated 25 tackles last season. He also broke up nine passes, which led the Ducks. The former four-star prospect tallied four solo tackles and broke up two passes in the opening win over Stanford. He generated seven stops, including five solo against California. Not to mention Wright broke up three passes in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Wright is also solid at returning kickoffs and had a 41-yarder Oregon State.  He finished last season with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors.

18. Drake Jackson, LB, USC: The former four-star prospect recorded 20 tackles, two sacks and an interception for the Trojans last season. Jackson also finished the year with second-team All-Pac-12 honors. The California native tallied four solo tackles and two sacks in the win over Arizona. The six-foot-four, 255-pounder picked off a pass in the victory over Utah. Jackson had three solo stops, including 2.5 for loss against rival UCLA. He has 66 career tackles, including 17 for loss. There’s no denying Jackson is an elite pass rusher. He’ll wreak havoc on the outside all season long this fall.

17. Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington: The former four star prospect earned second-team, All-Pac-12 honors as a true sophomore last season. McDuffie generated four tackles, including three solo in the opening win over Oregon State. He tallied four stops and picked off a pass in the victory over Utah. The California native had five tackles, including three solo in the loss to Stanford. Over the Huskies’ past 17 games McDuffie has racked up 59 tackles and hauled in two interceptions. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound McDuffie is arguably Washington’s No. 1 ballhawk in the secondary.

16. Anthony Pandy, LB, Arizona: The California native led the Wildcats in tackles and interceptions last season. Panda generated eight stops in the opener against USC. The six-foot-one, 222-pounder racked up a season-high, nine total tackles against UCLA. Pandy put together another solid performance against Colorado. The former three-star prospect recorded eight tackles and intercepted two passes in the loss to the Buffaloes. The senior has 130 career tackles, including 11.5 for loss, four sacks and two interceptions.

15. Qwuantrezz Knight, S, UCLA: The Florida native spent his first four seasons with Maryland and Kent State before transferring to UCLA in 2020. During that span Knight racked up 119 total tackles. The six-foot, 199-pound Knight finished third on the Bruins with 40 tackles last season. He generated nine stops against rival USC and returned a fumble for a score against Oregon. He left a lasting impression against Stanford, with eight tackles. Knight carried that momentum into this season, and recorded four tackles in last Saturday’s win over Hawaii.

14. Jahad Woods, LB, Washington State: He’s the most productive linebacker the Pac-12, with 319 tackles, including 30 for loss and 9.5 sacks under his belt. Woods also has four career interceptions. He finished second on the team in tackles for loss in 2020. The San Diego native generated 11 tackles, including eight solo and a sack against Oregon. In the finale against Utah, the six-foot-one, 225-pounder recorded nine tackles, including six solo and intercepted a pass. Woods is currently No. 9 on the Cougars all-time tackling list, and has a chance to end his career in the top-two this fall.

13. Isaiah Pola-Mao, S, USC: He finished third on the team with 40 tackles last season. Pola-Mao also broke up five passes, which led the Trojans. The Phoenix native had six solo stops, broke up two passes and recovered a fumble in the opening win over Arizona State. Pola-Mao had a monster game against rival UCLA, with nine total tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. He stockpiled 10 total tackles in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Pola-Mao will be an enforcer in the Trojans’ secondary this fall. And USC should be one of the division’s best against the pass in 2021.

12. Kuony Deng, LB, California: The former JUCO led the Golden Bears in tackles last year. Deng racked up a season-high, 14 total stops, including one for loss against Stanford. He followed up that performance with five solo tackles and force two fumbles in the upset win over Oregon. The Virginia native ended 2020 with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. Not to mention Deng stockpiled 119 tackles in 2019. Deng and Goode create one of the best linebacker tandems in the Pac-12 North. With a full slate of games this fall, look for Deng to put together another 100-plus tackle campaign.

11. Thomas Booker, DE, Stanford: He’s huge for his position, standing six-foot-four and weighing 310 pounds. Booker established himself as a terror off the edge last season and earned second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. The Maryland native had three solo tackles, including one for loss in the opener against Oregon. Booker followed up that performance with eight stops against Colorado. The former four-star prospect put the quarterback to the turf in the win over California. Booker has had a very productive career, with 99 tackles, including 15.5 for loss, and 8.5 sacks.

10. Mustafa Johnson, DT, Colorado: The Buffaloes received the best news of the season this week with his return to the team. Johnson is a versatile defensive lineman, who can play along the interior or on the edge. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 in 2020. Johnson made the quarterback eat grass against UCLA, Arizona and Texas. The former three-star prospect also had a three-sack performance in the victory over Nebraska in 2019. Now Johnson will be anchoring Colorado’s defensive line for one last rodeo, which spells bad news for quarterbacks and ball carriers.

9. Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon: The former five-star prospect tied for first on the team in tackles as a true freshman last season. Sewell can fly from sideline to sideline. He stockpiled 10 tackles, including two for loss against Oregon State. Sewell generated nine stops against California. Not to mention he made the quarterback eat grass in wins over UCLA and Washington State. The Samoa native was all over the field in the bowl loss to Iowa State and contributed seven tackles. Sewell is an enforcer with a high ceiling, and primed for a breakout season with the Ducks this fall.

8. Chase Lucas, DB, Arizona State: He’s a four-year starter, who has enjoyed a very productive career with the Sun Devils. Last year Lucas generated six solo tackles in the opener against USC. The Arizona native also broke up two passes apiece in victories over Arizona and Oregon State. Lucas finished the year with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. The six-foot,180-pounder has 189 tackles and six interceptions in his career. Not to mention Lucas has broke up 28 passes during that span. Look for him to have a monster campaign with Arizona State this fall.

7. Carson Wells, LB, Colorado: Last season he emerged from the shadows and racked up a jaw-dropping, 16 tackles for loss in five games. Wells is one half of a two-headed monster the Buffaloes have at linebacker. The former three-star prospect finished first in the FBS in tackles for loss per game. Wells had an interception in the win over UCLA, plus five solo tackles apiece against Stanford, San Diego State and Utah. The six-foot-four, 250–pound Wells tallied 12 total stops, including eight solo and four for loss in the win over Arizona. He also had three tackles for loss against Utah.

6. Edefuan Ulofoshio, LB, Washington: Despite having no stars behind his name out of high school, the linebacker earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020. Ulofoshio led the Huskies with 47 tackles in four games. The Alaska native started out on fire with 10 stops, including nine solo in the opening win over Oregon State. Ulofoshio had five stops and a sack in the victory over Arizona. He followed up that performance with 14 total tackles against Utah. However, Ulofoshio saved his best performance for last, with 18 tackles, including 13 solo in the loss to Stanford.

5. Avery Roberts, LB, Oregon State: The former Husker led the Beavers with 69 tackles in six games last season. Roberts finished ninth in the FBS in solo tackles per game and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He cranked out a jaw-dropping, 15 tackles, including 12 solo against Washington. Roberts followed up that performance with 10 stops in the win over California. Not to mention Roberts stockpiled 12 tackles in the victory over Oregon. However, his best performance came against Utah. Roberts raised eyebrows with his season-high, 21 tackles in the loss to the Utes.

4. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah: The California native started all five games and led the Utes in tackles, including 10 for loss last season. Lloyd finished eighth in the FBS in solo tackles per game. The former three-star prospect generated 11 tackles in the opener against USC. Lloyd followed up that performance with 11 additional stops at Washington. The six-foot-three, 232-pound Lloyd recorded 10 tackles, including nine solo, four for loss and a sack in the win over Washington State on Senior Day. For his heroics Lloyd earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

3. Nate Landman, LB, Colorado: The former three-star prospect is back fully recovered from a torn achilles. Landman is a two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 performer, who tied for second in the FBS in tackles per game last season. He’s a specialist when it comes to solo tackles. Landman had nine stops in the opening win over UCLA. The next game he stockpiled 17 tackles, including 14 solo and recovered a fumble in the victory at Stanford. The Zimbabwe native racked up 10 solo stops, including four for loss against San Diego State. Landman is the best inside linebacker in league.

2. Zion Tupuola-Fetui, DT, Washington: Although the Huskies played a third of a season last year, he made his presence felt in the trenches. It only took Tupuola-Fetui three games to lead the entire Pac-12 in sacks. He put the quarterback to the turf twice in the opening win over Oregon State. The Hawaii native followed up that performance with two additional sacks in the victory over Arizona. However, he established himself as a pass rushing terror when he generated three sacks against Utah. Tupuola-Fetui finished his 2020 campaign with first- team All-Pac-12 honors.

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon: New Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff labeled him the best defender in the country at Pac-12 Media Day. Thibodeaux led the Ducks in tackles for loss and sacks for the past two seasons. As a true sophomore the former five-star prospect tallied 38 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and three sacks through seven games. The South Central Los Angeles native had a sack against Oregon State, California and UCLA. Thibodeaux finished 2020 with third-team AP All-America honors. Not to mention he also earned first-team All-Pac-12.

Honorable Mention

Chris Steele, S, USC: The California native picked off a pass against Utah and generated 10 total tackles in the win over UCLA. Steele also earned second-team, All-Pac-12 honors in 2020.

Nick Figueroa, DE, USC: The former JUCO led the Trojans in sacks and tackles for loss last season. Figueroa made the quarterback eat grass three times in the win over Washington State.

Jaydon Grant, S, Oregon State: He recorded 29 tackles through seven games last season. Grant picked off a pass against Oregon and Washington State.