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30 Day Countdown- Day 3: Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year

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Which defender will take home the conference hardware?

Oregon State v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Yesterday we looked at the candidates for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year so you probably guessed what we’re doing today. Oh, it was also in the title you clicked on to get here? But you swear you’re smart enough that you knew even before you saw that? I believe you. I really do.

Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux

No player in the conference has gotten more hype this offseason than Thibodeaux and it’s tough to say most of it isn’t deserved. He was the top-ranked player in the country coming out of high school and has averaged nearly 1 sack per game through his first 2 years on campus. Thibodeaux’s performance against USC last year was dominant in front of a national audience with 12 total pressures and that’s in the forefront of the minds of many a media member.

If Zion Tupuola-Fetui were fully healthy it would have been fascinating to see the two of them as the focal points of the Oregon/Washington compare and contrast. Thibodeaux sports a 13.0% career pressure rate compared to ZTF’s 14.3% rate but has done so in 3x as many snaps. There’s no question that Thibodeaux’s ceiling is as an absolute destroyer of worlds even if he hasn’t shown the consistency so far to do it game in and game out. It’s in there though and if Kayvon unleashes it on a regular basis then he’ll lead the country in sacks and be a top-5 NFL draft pick next year.

Washington Linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio

There’s certainly an argument to be made that Trent McDuffie will be the best Husky defender in 2021 but Ulofoshio is my pick for most likely DPOY winner. I just don’t think that McDuffie will have the ball thrown at him enough to put up the kind of stats that would win an award that’s not just comparing cornerbacks.

Ulofoshio by contrast will be in the center of the action and in a position to put up fantastic numbers. It’s not quite as simple as multiplying Eddy’s 4 game stats from 2020 by 3x but let’s go ahead and do that to start. That would give him 141 total tackles, 6 pass break-ups, and 3 sacks.

That in itself probably isn’t going to be enough to win a DPOY. The total tackle numbers probably need to be over 150 and I’m guessing he’ll need a minimum of 5 sacks to be in contention. Pro Football Focus has Ulofoshio down for a career 52% pressure rate when going after the QB. If the coaching staff sets him loose then he’ll get those 5 sacks. And for someone who went from 2-star walk-on to top-ranked PFF linebacker in the country in just 2 years I’m not willing to put a ceiling on Ulofoshio’s development.

Utah Linebacker Devin Lloyd

While Ulofoshio has the hype from his PFF grades, Lloyd is the bigger name (although not the longer one) across the country still . He was one of the stalwarts of Utah’s Pac-12 South champion team in 2019 with 77 total tackles and 7 sacks. Last season his prorated stats out to a full 12 game schedule would translate to 118 total tackles and 5 sacks. Lloyd’s career pressure rate of 21.5% isn’t quite at the level of Ulofoshio but it’s plenty good enough for him to wrack up sacks and tackles for loss by the bunches.

It wouldn’t take much of a leap for his numbers to be in the same range as Ulofoshio and if Utah ends up winning the Pac-12 South then Lloyd’s name will certainly be near the top of the list.

Colorado EDGE Carson Wells

If there’s a darkhorse who doesn’t get nearly enough media attention then it’s Wells at Colorado. He had an absurd 16 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 6 games for the Buffs last year. Double those numbers to prorate it for a 12-game regular season and you end up with 74 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, 8 passes defended, and 2 INTs. I don’t think he’s going to hit those totals but Wells has shown the flashes and if he does then I could see him winning player of the year.

If you want some context behind how bananas that 16 tackles for loss in 6 games is, when Hau’oli Kikaha had 19 sacks in 14 games in 2014 he only had 25 total tackles for loss. Last year ZTF only had 7 TFLs to go along with his 7 sacks. Should Colorado end up finishing in the top half of the Pac-12 South then it will probably mean Wells did some serious work on the defensive end and will be in consideration.

Honorable Mentions

Washington’s Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Arizona State’s Jermayne Lole- Both would have been under heavy consideration for this list if they were healthy but each is expected to miss at least the first half of the season.

Washington’s Trent McDuffie, Oregon’s Mykael Wright, and Arizona State’s Chase Lucas- Each of these 3 have the talent to be a 1st team All-American but it’s just really difficult for a corner to win DPOY. Only one has done so in the past 14 years and that was USC’s Adoree Jackson who likely got a boost for also having multiple return TDs on special teams in addition to 5 INTs.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux
    (120 votes)
  • 52%
    Washington Linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio
    (188 votes)
  • 1%
    Utah Linebacker Devin Lloyd
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    Colorado EDGE Carson Wells
    (8 votes)
  • 10%
    Other
    (36 votes)
357 votes total Vote Now