Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ranking the Pac-12’s Top Defensive Backs

Whether it is making a touchdown saving tackle or swatting down a threatening pass downfield, defensive backs are the lifeline for any defense.

The corps of DBs in the Pac-12 is definitely no exception, and this group of ball hawks are more than capable of changing the makeup of any game in a heartbeat.

Let’s take a peek at which defensive backs rank at the top of the Pac-12 for next season. 

No. 1: Cliff Harris, Oregon
There are ball hawks and then there are ball eagles.  Oregon’s Cliff Harris definitely falls into the category of the latter.  Harris led the Pac-10 last year with 17 broken up passes and six interceptions.  His apparent omnipresence on the field makes the Duck’s secondary extremely scary to throw into. 

No. 2: Delano Howell, Stanford
Delano Howell emerged as a solid strong safety for the Cardinal, grabbing five picks last season during Stanford’s defense rapid revival.  Howell is an everlasting threat in the Cardinal secondary and will undoubtedly pluck a few balls from the skies this season. 

As the leader of the group, Howell will need to kick his game up a notch in order to help maintain this defensive’s recent progress.

No. 3: Nate Fellner, Washington
Strong safety Nate Fellner exploded onto the scene for Washington last season, collecting five interceptions, 13 passes defended, and 79 tackles.  The 6’1”, 201 pound junior will be the most important part of Washington’s growing secondary.

With his ability to deceive the QB downfield, don’t be surprised if Fellner increases his interception total in 2011.

No. 4: John Boyett, Oregon
It can be hard to get press time when you are riding alongside the best DB in the Pac-12 Conference (Cliff Harris). 

However, Oregon’s free safety John Boyett made a decent-sized splash of his own in 2010.  Boyett tied for second in the Pac-10 with five interceptions and he added on 14 passes defended.  The Duck’s duo in the secondary will without a doubt produce another year of havoc in the Pac-12.

No. 5: Tony Dye, UCLA
Senior strong safety Tony Dye rocked any ball that came his way last season, finishing second amongst DB’s in the Pac-10 with 96 tackles, tacking on 10 passes defended to boot.  Dye is a wrecking ball in UCLA’s secondary and will be a force to be reckoned with this season. 

No. 6: Nickell Robey, USC
As a freshman last season, Nickell Robey turned heads across the Pac-10, leading USC’s inept secondary with four interceptions. Recruited as a four-star prospect, Robey flashed signs of the closing speed, hands, and toughness that teams were drooling over a few off-seasons ago. 

Robey should continue his success in a much more stable Trojans’ defense.

No. 7: Robert Golden, Arizona
Although he only pulled in one interception last season, Robert Golden’s presence in the Wildcats secondary will be a force unfelt by Arizona in recent years.  The former five-star recruit took a while to live up to expectations, but it appears that he has finally grown into those enormous shoes. 

Golden’s ability to jam receivers at the line and his quick backpedal speed will make QBs think twice before throwing in his direction.   

No. 8: Sean Cattouse, California
Senior strong safety Sean Cattouse is California’s secondary top returning tackler (59) and will be leaned upon heavily as the most senior member of this unit.  Standing large at 6’2” 216 pounds, Cattouse is a hard hitter that will make going over the middle against Cal extremely difficult for every opponent. 

No. 9: T.J. McDonald, USC
USC’s defense was horrendous last year, but the two defensive backs on this list for the Trojans provide a great deal of promise for their upcoming season.

Expected to start at free safety, junior T.J. McDonald should improve on his three interceptions, seven defended passes, and 89 tackles from 2010.   With McDonald and Robey lurking around the Trojan’s secondary, USC’s defense could improve leaps and bounds above last season’s debacle.

No. 10: Omar Bolden, Arizona State
Last year, cornerback Omar Bolden seamlessly jumped back into action after an injury that forced him to redshirt his junior season.  Armed with a 4.3, 40-speed, Bolden is a menace in secondary.  He snagged three picks last season plus 10 passes defended.

Bolden tore an ACL this spring and his return in 2011 is still questionable.  If he does make it back, he should have a spectacular senior season.