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30-Day Countdown: Day 27 - Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year

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Which defender will take home the award at season’s end?

Oregon v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Yesterday we looked at the candidates for offensive player of the year so it’s only right that we turn our attention today to the other side of the ball. The first thing to do is look at some of the past winners to get an idea of the criteria. Overall, this award has shown a ton of diversity. The last two winners, Washington’s Ben Burr-Kirven and Cal’s Evan Weaver, each were the conference leaders in tackles. But before that you had a defensive tackle (Vita Vea), a defensive back (Adoree Jackson), and a pass rusher (DeForest Buckner).

That means we could be looking for anyone who is a conference leader in tackles, sacks, or interceptions or a 1st round NFL draft pick who doesn’t accumulate counting stats. So basically who are the best defensive talents in the conference.

CB Elijah Molden- Washington

We’ll start with the Dawgs’ leading candidate. Molden was one of 3 Huskies to make one of Phil Steele’s preseason All-American teams but the other two (Joe Tryon and Levi Onwuzurike) both opted out of the season. That leaves Molden as the biggest name on the team and he put up stats to match. Elijah finished last year with 79 tackles, 17 passes defended, 4 picks, and 3 forced fumbles. Those are absolutely elite numbers for a nickel corner but I don’t know if a nickel corner can win this award unless he’s the unquestioned star for an undefeated Husky team that has by far the best defense in the conference.

DE Kayvon Thibodeaux- Oregon

There were 3 pass rushers from the Pacific Northwest on Phil Steele’s 1st team preseason All-American team and with Tryon opting out we go to the next two on the list. Thibodeaux was the #1 rated player in the class of 2019 and he showed why almost straight away. He finished his true freshman season with 9 sacks and 3 passes defended which are nearly unheard of numbers for a guy in his first year in college. If we see traditional growth between years 1 and 2 and he averages better than 1 sack per game for a Duck team that wins the Pac-12 then he’s going to have the pedigree, the numbers, and the wins.

OLB Hamilcar Rashed Jr.- Oregon State

In contrast to Thibodeaux, Oregon State’s star pass rusher doesn’t have the same pedigree but he is more than a match in the stats department. Rashed Jr. led the Pac-12 in sacks last season with 14 in a stunning breakout redshirt junior season. He had just 2.5 sacks as a sophomore although he did have 11.5 tackles for loss to give a hint at what was to come. Now he is back for his senior season and if he puts up Hau’oli Kikaha type sack numbers albeit in a shortened season then he’ll be in prime position to win the award. It helps to have a winning team but if you have the best stats it certainly doesn’t hurt.

ILB Jahad Woods- Washington State

Evan Weaver led the nation in tackles last season at Cal but Jahad Woods wasn’t all that far behind him. Woods was 2nd in the Pac-12 and 4th in the country in tackles with 141 including 10 TFLs and 3 sacks. If the Cougs only win 1-2 games as projected then it may be difficult for him to win this award but he’s definitely the favorite to be the conference leader in tackles. And the last two players who put up that stat line ended up winning the award.

ILB Nate Landman- Colorado

This list has been dominated by the Pac-12 North so we needed to give a shoutout to someone in the Pac-12 South. Landman seems like the best candidate given that USC’s Jay Tufele opted out. With that decision plus 2 other opt outs (Paulson Adebo and Levi Onwuzurike) it means that Elijah Molden and Colorado’s Nate Landman are the only two 1st team all-defense players from a year ago still on the field. His numbers were actually down a little last year due to missing a few games and had 97 tackles with 2 sacks a year after accumulating 107 tackles and 19 tackles for loss the year before. If he puts up numbers similar to his sophomore season (adjusted for fewer games of course) and Colorado ends up being a surprise team then the South then Landman has a solid shot.

Other Candidates:

DE Drake Jackson- USC

CB- Cam Bynum- Cal

S- Talanoa Hufanga- USC

Poll

Who will win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    CB Elijah Molden- Washington
    (192 votes)
  • 33%
    DE Kayvon Thibodeaux- Oregon
    (123 votes)
  • 5%
    OLB Hamilcar Rashed Jr.- Oregon State
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    ILB Jahad Woods- Washington State
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    ILB Nate Landman- Colorado
    (7 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (18 votes)
363 votes total Vote Now

My pick: Kayvon Thibodeaux- Oregon

The media loves to drool over a 5-star player living up to his billing coming out of high school and I’m expecting to see Kayvon causing trouble for a lot of offensive lines this fall. Especially with the Ducks losing much of their secondary opting out for the draft there’s not as much focus on everyone around him.