It began as a request from scout.com, asking CF.C for a list of the 10 best Cougar football players for 2013. We solicited subscribers, readers and twitter followers, put it all into our crystal ball and then had our editors come up with the list. Today, we conclude our 10-part series and reveal the No. 1 player on the list...
1. Deone Bucannon
Bucannon is like a fine wine. Quietly, he just gets better and better every year.
Bucannon led Washington State with 106 tackles in 2012, fifth-most in the Pac-12, and was named second team All-Pac-12 on a squad that went 3-9.
It was the first 100-tackle season by a Cougar in six years (Eric Frampton, 100, 2006). And it was the most tackles by a Coug since way back in 1996 – when James Darling racked up 136 stops.
GRANTED, YOU'D GENERALLY prefer to have one of the linebackers, like Darling, lead the team in tackles rather than a safety. But consider this when contemplating Bucannon and the 2012 crimson stop corps:
Bucannon was tops in tackles but the Cougar D was also No. 7 in the nation in tackles-for-loss.
In sacks, the Cougs were No. 14 in the land.
And the WSU run defense was, if not consistently so, downright salty on occasion (ultimately ranking sixth in Pac-12).
BUCANNON ALSO LED the Cougs in tackles in 2010 (84) as a true freshman. In 2011, his 80 tackles were second to linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (88).
And there's this: As a true freshman, he was named the Cougs' Defensive MVP at the postseason team banquet. Bucannon is believed to be the only freshman, true or redshirt, to ever win that WSU postseason award.
Yes, that speaks in part to how poor and pliable WSU's defense was in 2010 with a lack of upperclassmen talent -- but it also speaks to how plain 'ol good Bucannon was given that he only started eight games.
That freshman campaign drew him into the conversation surrounding Cougar NFL defensive backs like Husain Abdullah ('07), Eric Frampton ('06), Erik Coleman ('03), Marcus Trufant ('02) and Lamont Thompson ('01). And his two seasons since have only solidified that peg.
PART OF WHAT makes Bucannon so good is that he's a complete safety, but also one that has developed each and every year.
He's very good in run support, he led the Cougs with four interceptions last season and his coverage skills, perhaps because of the cast that's been around him his first three seasons, are underrated.
He also hits harder than one would ever think possible -- given that he's played his entire college career to this point at less than 200 pounds.
The ability to decaffeinate someone coming over the middle got him into some trouble last year – he made a bad split-decision against EWU and went both high and late against a wideout. He was suspended for the first half by the Pac-12 and Mike Leach also imposed some disciplinary penalties of his own. Later, Bucannon looked to have a target on his back, with Pac-12 refs flagging him for what replays showed to be at least two questionable personal fouls.
But Bucannon adjusted. He proceeded to be sure to go low, wrap up and get the tackle -- and to hell with trying to lay a momentum-changer on someone.
That showed leadership and Bucannon, a quiet sort by nature, has been taking on more of a vocal leadership role since the start of the 2012 campaign. He and Elliott Bosch will accompany Leach to the Pac-12 Media Day on July 26.
NFLDraftScout.com has him slotted as the No. 5 free safety available on their website for next year's NFL Draft.
And if Bucannon does what many expect him to do in 2013 – improve, as he's done every year and to again be at or near the top of the tackles list – it won't be a surprise to see him move up from that spot.
But there's some unfinished business for Bucannon first -- his 2013 senior season at Washington State. He missed most of the spring with an injury but a) sources tell CF.C he's expected to be 100 percent for fall camp and b) CF.C's Joe Doyle, who attended every spring practice, had one helluva time not putting him on his short list of the defense's best-of-the-best this spring regardless of all the missed time, (Darryl Monroe and Xavier Cooper).
Something tells us that with Bucannon and the Cougs this season, the best is yet to come.
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