To download this week's edition of the 'Sun Devil Source Report' podcast and listen to our 'Pac-12 Preview: Linebackers and defensive back rankings' episode, click here.
As the spring comes to a close and the summer arrives, SunDevilSource will provide broader context for our Arizona State player capsules and player preparedness and potential grades by embarking on a podcast series that compares the Sun Devils' depth at various position groups to the rest of the teams around the Pac-12 conference.
Each week, SunDevilSource analysts Chris Karpman and Kerry Crowley will review position groups for each Pac-12 team, and draft the players from those groups in order of which players they would most like to have on their own hypothetical rosters. In each podcast, Chris and Kerry trade off picks in an effort to build the deepest team.
After releasing their linebacker unit rankings earlier this week, the next installment of the series features SunDevilSource's defensive backfield rankings. Following back-to-back seasons with the worst pass defense in the country, Arizona State predictably ranks at the bottom of the conference, but many teams around the Pac-12 are in the process of rebuilding their secondaries after the league lost a slew of NFL-caliber talent this offseason.
Defensive backfield rankings
1. USC-- Even though the Trojans lost Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Adoree Jackson to the NFL Draft, the Trojans return as talented of a collection of defensive backs as any team in the conference. Head coach Clay Helton should be able to align former five-star recruit and returning starter Iman Marshall against the conference's top wide receivers, while highly touted talents like Ajene Harris and Isaiah Langley are poised to step into larger roles at cornerback this season. USC loses starting safety Leon McQuay, but the Trojans returns Chris Hawkins and Marvel Tell who should help the Trojans put together one of the most complete secondaries in the west.
2. UCLA-- The race for the top spot in our defensive backfield rankings was hotly contested, because even though UCLA loses multi-year starters Randall Goforth and Fabian Moreau, the Bruins return plenty of talent from a secondary that helped the Bruins rank third in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed per game last season. Starting safety Jaleel Wadood is rangy at the back end of the defense, while Adarius Pickett is expected to step in for Goforth with little or no drop off. The return of Nate Meadors gives the Bruins a third piece to build around, while coach Jim Mora is hopeful that and Octavius Spencer can work into the lineup. Johnny Johnson has transferred out.
3. Stanford-- The Cardinal boasted one of the most fundamentally sound secondaries in the Pac-12 last season, and even though Stanford won't have the services of Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 safety Dallas Lloyd anymore, the Cardinal do return a unit loaded with young talent poised for big seasons. Quenton Meeks has as much potential as any player in the conference to be the league's next shutdown corner, while safety Justin Reid enjoyed a strong season during his first full campaign as a starter. If the Cardinal get more production out of players like Alameen Murphy and Denzel Franklin, it could be a long year for opposing passers against Stanford.
4. Washington-- The Pac-12 was hit incredibly hard by players matriculating to the NFL this offseason, and Washington is a prime example of a team that will be forced to rebuild much of its talent. Even though corners Sidney Jones and Kevin King and safety Budda Baker were all early round draft picks, the Huskies still have plenty of playmakers in the fold and should put together one of the better defensive backfields in the conference. Safeties Taylor Rapp, the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and JoJo McIntosh are both back, while Chris Petersen is high on former five-star recruit and Saguaro (Scottsdale) product Byron Murphy. If Murphy plays up to his potential and position coach Jimmie Lake can find him a complementary piece on the other side of the field, Washington will be just fine.
5. Colorado-- While Washington was hit equally hard, perhaps no team will have a tougher time recovering from its personnel losses than Colorado, which lost three multi-year starters to the NFL Draft as Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson all landed with NFC teams in April. Their losses were compounded by the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who left to join Willie Taggart's staff at Oregon this offseason. Now, head coach Mike MacIntyre is forced to rebuild around cornerback Isaiah Oliver and safety Afolabi Laguda, who are both capable of earning All-Conference honors in 2017. Finding playmakers around the returning starters will be difficult, but Colorado does have two of the more talented defensive backs in the conference back in the fold.
6. Oregon-- The Ducks have struggled to defend the pass in recent years, but that should change now that a new coaching staff is in place. Even though Oregon has suffered through a handful of challenging seasons on the defensive side of the ball, the Ducks have still recruited well enough to give Taggart's staff plenty of pieces to work with, especially in the defensive backfield where players like Arrion Springs and Tyree Robinson proved they're more than capable of playing at a high level. The Ducks finished 10th in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed per game last season, but with the return of Springs and Robinson, who combined for 18 passes defended, and starting safety Brenden Schooler, Oregon should take a step forward.
7. Washington State-- Because of the style of play Washington State employs, the Cougars are unlikely to ever rank near the top of the conference in passing defense as long as Mike Leach is in charge of the program. Nevertheless, the Cougars were fundamentally sound in the back end for much of last season, and even though they lose their top defensive back, Shalom Luani, Washington State returns the majority of its key assets. The Cougars return starting defensive backs Marcellus Pippins and Robert Taylor, and also bring back Jalen Thompson who had seven passes defended last season. Though Washington State gives up its fair share of passing yards, the Cougars rarely pressure with more than four players which puts more stress on the players in their defensive backfield.
8. Cal-- The Bears finished seventh in the conference in passing defense a season ago, which put Cal in the middle of the road statistically. However, Sonny Dykes' squad was so abysmal at stopping the run that few teams ever needed to pass the ball to stress Cal's defense. Enter new head coach Justin Wilcox, a defensive-minded strategist, and the Bears may not take much of a step back against the pass this season, even if teams are forced to take to the air against Cal. Wilcox has the benefit of working with returning starters Marloshawn Franklin and Luke Rubenzer, and that pair should benefit from the presence of redshirt freshman cornerback Jaylinn Hawkins, who was a top signing in the Bears' 2016 recruiting class.
9. Utah-- Like Washington and Colorado, Utah lost nearly its entire starting until this offseason as Marcus Williams, Brian Allen, Reginald Porter and Justin Thomas all waved goodbye to Kyle Whittingham's program. The saving grace for the Utes is the return of safety Chase Hansen, one of the more active secondary players in the conference and Utah's top returning player in its defensive backfield. The Utes are hopeful that Jordan Fogal and Boobie Hobbs can take on larger roles, and would like four-star JUCO transfer Tareke Lewis to make an immediate impact.
10. Oregon State-- The Beavers lost their leading tackler Caleb Saulo at the linebacker level, and Oregon State also loses a pair of starters in the secondary, Tristan DeCoud and Devin Chapelle. However, Gary Andersen's squad ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in passing defense last season and it does bring back Xavier Crawford and Brandon Arnold, who both finished with at least 68 tackles last year. If the Beavers can find a few capable pieces to pair with Crawford and Arnold, this group may wind up finishing closer to the middle of the conference.
11. Arizona-- If not for Arizona State, the Wildcats would have had the worst passing defense in the conference a season ago. The Wildcats do return a few important players, namely Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, but that's not a great sign for a defense that surrendered over 275 passing yards per game in 2016. The Wildcats aren't especially athletic on the perimeter, and aside from Flannigan-Fowles, don't boast many defensive backs capable of keeping up with Pac-12-caliber wide receivers.
12. Arizona State-- When we initially recorded our podcast, ASU ranked 11th thanks to the presences of key returners like Armand Perry and Kareem Orr. However, in the past week, Perry announced a medical retirement and Orr announced his decision to transfer away from the program, leaving the Sun Devils in a dire position. No Pac-12 team is less prepared in the secondary this season, as the Sun Devils will be forced to rely on a slew of inexperienced talent and players who may not be capable of playing at a high level in the Pac-12. ASU will lean on former JUCO transfer Maurice Chandler and former four-star recruit Chase Lucas at cornerback, and hope that it can somehow cobble together a secondary that isn't as much of a liability as it has been in years past.