Jack Follman’s Pac-12 Defensive Back Unit Rankings

The Conference has a lot of talent and experience coming back at DB

Updated on June 18, 2021, with the addition of three WSU DBs. Arizona’s ranking has been reevaluated as well.

Posted on June 17, 2021

  By Jack Follman, SuperWest Sports

We’re at another strong unit group for the Pac-12. The conference has a lot of talent and experience coming back at DB, and some groups that have excelled working together.

They also have some guys like Trent McDuffie and Mykael Wright, who could be 2022 First-Round NFL Draft picks. 

The hierarchy is a little more clear to me here—more so than in some other units. But while the difference between the top and the bottom is more pronounced, there isn’t much difference between the bottom few.

Also, this group is extremely deep. Even the 12th unit, Arizona, has some really nice pieces. In short, there’s no bad group in this ranking. 

1. Washington
Asa Turner | Ted S. Warren/AP

Cornerbacks: Trent McDuffie, Brendan Radley-Hiles, Kyler Gordon
Safeties: Asa Turner, Dominique Hampton, Cam Williams

Jimmy Lake and the Huskies should have another great secondary.

McDuffie is the best DB in the Conference, and one of the best in the nation.

Radley-Hiles is an Oklahoma grad transfer who could be a shot of talent and experience, Gordon might be the best athlete in the Pac-12, and the safeties are experienced and talented. 

2. Arizona State
Chase Lucas | 247Sports

Cornerbacks: Chase Lucas, Jack Jones, Timarcus Davis
Safeties: Evan Fields, Jordan Clark, DeAndre Pierce, Cam Phillips

The Sun Devils have an elite DB unit led by Lucas and Fields, who turned down the NFL for one more year.

The return of former USC player and former All-Pac-12 performer Jones is also a huge score for what should be the cornerstone of ASU’s defense, and a very hard unit to pass against. 

3. USC
Chris Steele | Rick Bowmer/AP

Cornerbacks: Chris Steele, Isaac Taylor-Stuart
Safeties: Isaiah Pola-Mao, Greg Johnson, Chase Williams

The Trojans were good at defending the pass last year and have some nice pieces coming back.

IPM is probably the best, one of the top safeties in the Pac-12, and former five-star recruit Steele is a guy who could quickly turn into a star. 

4. Oregon
Verone McKinley III | Oregon Athletics

Cornerbacks: Mykael Wright, DJ James, Dontae Manning
Safeties: Jamal Hill, Verone McKinley III, Jordan Happle, Bennett Williams

I’m a broken record this year on the talented Oregon groups that need to play just a little bit better this year to keep climbing.

Wright is somewhere between One and Three in the rankings of best Pac-12 cornerbacks, and Hill broke out with a great Pac-12 Championship Game.

The question mark is the safety position overall. Regardless, this is one of the Pac-12’s best DB units, and if a blue chip recruit like Manning can get healthy and step up, it could easily be the best overall. 

5. Stanford
Kyu Blu Kelly | Stanford Athletics

Cornerbacks: Kyu Blu Kelly, Salim Turner-Muhammad
Safeties: Kendall Williamson, Noah Williams, Jonathan McGill

The Cardinal were sneaky good at defending the pass in 2020.

Standout corner Kelly and solid safeties Williamson and Williams had a lot to do with that.

This should be a pretty solid and consistent unit in 2021. 

6. Cal
Elijah Hicks | Cal Athletics

Cornerbacks: Josh Drayden, Chigozie Anusiem, Collin Gamble, Isaiah Young
Safeties: Elijah Hicks, Craig Woodson

The Bears have had some of the best DBs in the nation in recent years, but it’s a bit of a rebuilding year with Hicks being the only true All-Pac-12 candidate coming back.

I trust Justin Wilcox and company to build around him, though, and put together another good unit. 

7. Oregon State
Rezjohn Wright | Saturday Blitz

Cornerbacks: Rezjohn Wright, Alex Austin, Elijah James
Safeties: Jaydon Grant, Akili Arnold, Alton Julian

I liked the Beavers’ unit in 2020, but losing Nahshon Wright early to the NFL stung.

Grant returns, though, as one of the best DBs in the Pac-12, and the rest of the unit flashed well in 2020. 

8. Colorado
Mekhi Blackmon | Colorado Athletics

Cornerbacks: Mekhi Blackmon, Jaylen Striker, Christian Gonzalez
Safeties: Isaiah Lewis, Mark Perry, Chris Miller

The Buffs were solid at defending the pass in 2020, and I really like Lewis and Blackmon, who both feel like All-Pac-12 type players.

They need some more players to step up, but this should be a good group. 

Jay Shaw | Steve Cheng/Bruin Report Online

Cornerbacks: Jay Shaw, Obi Eboh, Mo Osling III
Safeties: Quentin Lake, Quantrezz Knight, Stephen Blaylock

I like a lot of the players in this group, so it’s a little strange they didn’t actually defend the pass well in 2020.

There’s a lot of potential, though, as just about every player listed in their key depth could be an All-Pac-12 type guy.

They just need to put it together more on the field in 2021. 

10. Utah
Clark Phillips III | Jeffrey Swinger/USA TODAY Sports

Cornerbacks: JaTravis Broughton, Clark Phillips III, Malone Mataele
Safeties: Vonte Davis, Kamo’i Late, Cole Bishop

The Utes have made a living recently developing NFL DBs, but they had to reload and 2020, and I was shocked to see how bad their pass defense stats were from last season.

The returning cornerbacks are very strong, with blue chip recent recruit Phillips ready to become a star soon and Broughton bringing back some good experience.

Watch out for this group. 

11. Washington State
Jaylen Watson | 247Sports

Cornerbacks: Jaylen Watson, Derrick Langford, George Hicks, Kaleb Ford-Dement, Chau Smith-Wade, Chris Jackson

Safeties: Tyrone Hill, Daniel Isom, Armani Marsh III, Hunter Escorcia

This is a good group.

Statistically they struggled more than other Pac-12 units in 2020, so I have to keep them here, but Watson was graded very, very well in 2020, and Buffalo transfer Hill will make an instant great impact. 

Old Dominion transfer Ford-Dement,  Michigan State transfer Jackson, and returner Smith-Wade could help move them up this list as the season progresses.

12. Arizona
Cristian Roland-Wallace | Arizona Athletics

Cornerbacks: Cristian Roland-Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford
Safeties: Christian Young, Isaiah Mays, Jaxen Turner, Rhedi Short

I originally had the Wildcats a few spots higher, but having reevaluated the teams I had placed below them, I am repositioning them here.

(No slight intended. As noted above, the Pac-12’s DB group is very strong this year, from top to bottom, and this UA unit could easily prove me wrong.)

Arizona was actually pretty good at defending the pass in 2020 and has a nice deep unit coming back.

There are no household names, but the secondary should be the strength of the entire Arizona team in 2021.

—More from Jack Follman—