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30 Day Countdown - Day 20: Predicting the PAC 12 Defensive Player of the Year

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Bringing some defense to the PAC

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Today is the last day that we’ll be talking about numbers in the twenties before Huskies football. Happy Sunday.

We continue our weekend of “of the year” debates with a look at the PAC 12’s top defenders. Who do you like for your P12 Defensive Player of the Year? Here are some candidates:

1. LB Nate Landman, Colorado Buffaloes

Ben Burr-Kirven proved last season that the “tackling machine” style of inside linebacker is now fair game for inclusion in DPOY debates. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next great PAC 12 tackling machine: junior Nate Landman.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day
Nate Landman is the new face of the Colorado defense.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With a nickname like “the Hammer”, you probably don’t have to wonder about what Nate Landman’s super power is. He is a 6’3”, 230 pound inside linebacker who has the speed to close a gap and the power to get any kind of ball carrier on to the ground ... in a hurry. As a sophomore last season, Landman led the team with 123 tackles and 2 INTs while playing alongside fellow star Ricky Gamboa. He also added 25 TFLs (!), two fourth down stops, 4 sacks, 5 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles and one recovery.

Gamboa has now moved on leaving Landman as the clear leader in the middle of the Buffalo defense. He will now call plays for the team. I shudder to think about the kind of stats that the Hammer will be putting up as he shifts into upperclassmen mode. He is a clear candidate for the PAC 12 DPOY.

2. DL Bradlee Anae, Utah Utes

The PAC’s leading sack man from a year ago with 8 sacks, Anae is quickly emerging as the leagues top havoc creator. The Utes star plays this critical role on a Utah defensive line that looks like one of the best not just in the conference but across the nation. As such, he will continue to get great opportunities to rush the passer and rack up the kinds of stats that look good for DPOY kinds of awards.

When you watch him play, it is impossible to miss the resemblance that his game bears to former Husky great Hau’oli Kikaha. Though he plays a little lighter (260 pounds) than the typical Utah DE, his game is still oriented around strength. He is great winning battles with his hands and he has a killer inside spin move that can put a lineman on his shoulder and clear a path to the quarterback.

The fact that Anae is really not the most athletic kind of DE or the kind of guy that is going to chase down runners from behind hardly matters in this analysis. The real question is whether or not Anae can become the kind of guy that can dramatically increase his production from 8 to something more like 16 sacks. He is a senior, so an argument might be made that “he is who he is”. That said, I think the Utes are going to have a different dynamic this year on defense and will be looking to create more opportunities for him. We shall see.

3. LB Evan Weaver, California Golden Bears

The presumed captain of the Bear defense, and arguably its most important player, is the PAC 12’s top returning tackler (12.15 / game) now that Ben Burr-Kirven has moved on to the Seahawks.

NCAA Football: Colorado at California
Evan Weaver is Cal’s most important player.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Weaver, unlike BBK, fits the physical mold of a typical MIKE linebacker. He’s a solid 6’2” and 245 pounds which gives him more ability to withstand direct contact in the middle of the field and to still make plays. His real strength, however, lies in his versatility. Weaver came to Cal originally as a defensive end before shifting to linebacker. He’s played both inside and outside positions developing not only a command of the playbook but also the ability to roam the field, cover zones, and make plays either as a blitzer or as in pass defense. Last season, Weaver racked up 9.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs and one defensive TD that no Husky fan will ever be able to un-see.

With those kinds of stats, inclusion in all kinds of watch lists and a spot on the PAC 12 Preseason All-Conference team providing winds in his sails, Weaver is definitely a factor in the DPOY race.

4. DB Paulson Adebo, Stanford Cardinal

It is probably too early to crown the Stanford redshirt sophomore as the best corner in the conference, but Paulson Adebo sure passes the look test and is, in my mind, a clear DPOY candidate.

Adebo had a breakout season in his first year as a starter last season. He is a prototypical big CB at 6’1” and 190 pounds. He has a complete set of physical tools. The combination of his speed with his reach allow him to do things that great corners do. Check out his ball skills in this clip below:

Adebo defines the term “ball skills” in this clip. He understands what the route is and where QB Justin Herbert is doing. In addition, he shows the instinct to turn his torso towards the QB in order to get his right arm - which has a longer reach from that angle than his left - stretched out to make the deflection.

It is these kinds of ball skills that I think really make Adebo stand out as a young player. As a freshman he finished third in the nation with 17 PBUs to go along with 4 INTs. If he keeps up racking up those kinds of pass defense stats and turns those into a few more turnovers, he’ll make a great case for to become the PAC’s top defender.

Other Honorable Mention:

DL Levi Onwurzurike, Washington; LB Troy Dye, Oregon; LB Colin Schooler, Arizona; DL Leki Fotu, Utah; LB Palaie Gaoteote, USC

Poll

Who will win the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    LB Nate Landman
    (418 votes)
  • 6%
    DL Bradlee Anae
    (67 votes)
  • 12%
    LB Evan Weaver
    (122 votes)
  • 0%
    DB Paulson Adebo
    (8 votes)
  • 38%
    Somebody Else?
    (384 votes)
999 votes total Vote Now