Today we look at the Huskies’ top candidates for Defensive MVP. First, let’s review the last five winners:
2019: Myles Bryant (DB)*
2018: Ben Burr-Kirven (LB)
2017: Vita Vea (DL)
2016: Budda Baker (S)
2015: Travis Feeney (LB)
As you can see, a player in any position group can win the award. While no true-corner back has won the award the past five years, I’ve applied an asterisk to Myles Bryant, as he was a former CB who was converted into a safety his senior year. With that said, could this be the season when a cornerback wins? It might help that the top candidates along the defensive line (Levi Onwuzurike) and at outside linebacker (Joe Tryon) both decided to leave early for the NFL. Let’s review some options and put it to a vote.
OLB Laiatu Latu
Now that Joe Tryon has left for the NFL Draft, Laiatu Latu will slide into his place to start opposite Ryan Bowman. Last season as a freshman/backup, Latu played in 12 games and collected 16 total tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and 0.5 sacks. Per DC Pete Kwiatkowski, during fall camp Latu has taken his game to the next level. At 6’4” and ~265 lbs., he has the size, frame, and athleticism to be a force off the edge for Washington this season. But will he be able to do enough damage in opposing teams’ backfields to earn him the title of Defensive MVP?
CB Trent McDuffie
Despite a loaded secondary last season, it was the true freshman Trent McDuffie that stepped into a starting role (Kyler Gordon’s spot after two games) and was ranked as the 12th most valuable corner in all of FBS. He was also graded by PFF as the 11th best DB returning for the 2020 season. All the 5’11” McDuffie did last season was start 11 games and totaled 45 tackles, three passes defended, recovered three fumbles, forced two fumbles, and hauled in an interception. Don’t be shocked if McDuffie ends up having the most impressive statistical year for a Husky DB in 2020.
ILB Edefuan Ulofoshio
This is my dark horse candidate. The former walk on flashed his abilities as a true freshman, before he earned a permanent spot in the ILB rotation late last season. He’s now on scholarship. His insertion into the rotation coincided (or perhaps its no coincidence) with a notable improvement in UW’s run defense. During the first eight games of the 2019 season the Huskies allowed 147.63 rushing yards per game, then just 92.4 rushing yards per game in the final five games of the season. Ulofoshio became a regular contributor in the ninth game. He’s now a lock to start at one of the two ILB spots this season. Don’t sleep on Ulofoshio.
CB Elijah Molden
Given that McDuffie was the 11th highest rated DB returning for the 2020 season, you wouldn’t be faulted for assuming that he was the best player in Washington’s secondary... Until you remember that Elijah Molden is ranked as the third best returning DB. In 2018 and 2019, Molden was rated by PFF as the second-highest graded slot-corner. Molden is an All-American and is the leader of Washington’s defense heading into the 2020 season. He very easily could have gone straight to the NFL after last season, but chose to return for his senior season because he loves football and playing for coach Lake. It’s not unreasonable to expect greatness from Molden in 2020.
OLB Sav’ell Smalls
Could a true freshman break through as Washington’s defensive MVP? If someone was going to do it this season, it would be the homegrown five-star recruit, OLB Sav’ell Smalls. While he’s currently listed as the backup to Latu on the depth chart, don’t be surprised if Smalls quickly ends up in a starting role in 2020 (for those of you wondering why I left him out of my bench player article, that’s why). Reports out of camp are that he’s physically capable of jumping straight into Pac-12 play. It’ll also help that by all accounts his football IQ and pass rushing skills are both very developed for his age. Smalls possess the burst and quick twitch that is so highly coveted off the edge, and has been somewhat absent from recent Washington defenses. If there was one freshman who could be the Huskies’ Defensive MVP this season, it would be Smalls.
This will come as a shock to none, but Elijah Molden is my pick for Huskies’ Defensive MVP. To be honest, a part of me actually wanted to go with McDuffie, but Molden’s experience and talent are too elite to ignore. Sometimes hype can be misplaced, but this is a case of smoke leading straight to fire. Molden should have every opportunity to contribute regularly from the slot and without projecting too far forward, could potentially be a first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. He’s the guy.
Who will be Washington’s Defensive MVP in 2020?
This poll is closed