Just a couple days ago I put up my offensive breakout player prediction of Connor Halliday, now it’s time for defense and there are a few candidates that come to mind.
The Cougar defense has struggled mightily over the past several years but they finally have some promise under Mike Breske’s aggressive 3-4 in the second year of the system. Ioane Gauta, Justin Sagote and Xavier Cooper are all primed to have a “breakout” type of season, but it’s for that reason that the Cougs I pick to have the biggest breakout season are the best players on the defensive side of the ball:
Aug 30, 2012; Provo, UT, USA; Washington State Cougars safety Deone Bucannon (20) on the sidelines during the third quarter against the Brigham Young Cougars at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Bucannon has been a mainstay as at least one of the best players on defense since he arrived on campus and it’s tough to say that he could do any more than he’s done on the stat sheet. Over his career, he’s tallied 270 tackles, 9 interceptions, several pass breakups, a sack and a slew of Pac-12 honors. But while Deone made all of the necessary plays he could make, he never really has been able to become a “game-changer” because the defense around him was so bad. I no longer expect that to be the case in 2013.
For the first time in his career, Deone can finally stop doing everybody else’s job and begin to make the plays that a free safety should be able to make on the ball. He reminds me so much of Ed Reed (in his Miami college days), not just because he wears the same number but in his ability to be around the ball at all times. He’ll still get his tackles (he had a team and career high 106 in 2012), but the more important stat will be his passes defensed.
I expect his pass breakups to be in the double digits and interceptions to rise to 6 or 7 over the course of the season, which would by far eclipse his previous high of 4 (Reed had 9 in his consensus All-American senior season at Miami). Some of this will depend on if WSU’s corners are better than previously known, but I expect them to be at least marginally better, which would make this easier on him.
So when I say breakout, I mean by the end of the season, I expect Deone Bucannon will be known across the country and jump into a late first/early second round discussion in the NFL Draft. He has all the numbers, but he needs to be able to change multiple games with a big pick or forced fumble for nation-wide recognition and he’ll finally get the opportunity in 2013.
Aug 30, 2012; Provo, UT, USA; Washington State Cougars linebacker Darryl Monroe (13) on the sideline during the third quarter against the Brigham Young Cougars at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The freshman campaign for Monroe was an uncharacteristically productive and consistent season for a first year middle linebacker in this conference with 80 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 3 sacks and a fumble recovery. Make no mistake, he is capable and primed for an absolutely huge season in 2013. I expect it could be the largest statistical year in his college career regardless of how long he plays. Monroe’s athleticism is off the charts but his instincts are what sets him apart and the combo might make him the most explosive player at his position in the conference.
This season he’ll be able to combine those instincts with some conventional wisdom and basic knowledge, based on a year in the system and a year playing against college level talent. In the Spring game Monroe showed a lightning fast reaction to many plays before they had time to develop and seemed to be a part of every play with 15 yards of the line of scrimmage on either side of the field, even if he didn’t make the tackle. After playing at around 225 lbs last season, he’s definitely bigger, stronger , quicker and faster than last season at 6’1″, 235. He’s like an outside linebacker when making plays outside the hash, where teams had a very difficult time reaching him at the second level and they’ll have an even more difficult time overpowering him in the middle than they did last year.
I believe Darryl Monroe will become a terror and that the Pac-12 will find out about how good he is to become very quickly. With a D-line that should be able to hold it’s own in the trenches, Monroe’s freedom to attack the line of scrimmage will result in a whole bunch of ultra-positive plays for Washington State.