Post-spring depth chart on D: Write it in pencil and keep a big eraser handy with so many Cougs playing various positions

PULLMAN - With so many Cougar defenders playing various positions this spring, a post-spring defensive depth chart needs to be filled out in pencil and with a big eraser always within reach. On the other hand, that flexibility is one of the primary reasons Washington State fans have reason to be confident about the 2017 counterpart to the Air Raid.

1. Nnamdi Oguayo, sophomore (6-3, 229 pounds)
2. Kingston Fernandez, junior (6-2, 262)

Oguayo showed off his speed all spring long, holding off both Fernandez and Nick Begg from this chair. But you can expect Fernandez to see some snaps, he shined often this spring. Begg, meanwhile, closed strong and had a highly productive spring game. All could also see work at the tackle positions in the fall, as positional interchangeability will be a key feature of the Cougar d-line and overall defense.

Nose Tackle
1. Garrett McBroom, senior (6-3, 280)
2. Daniel Ekuale, senior (6-3, 297)

You could just as easily slot Ekuale on top here but I have McBroom at the No. 1 based on his overall spring performance plus one other factor: while Cougar o-linemen admire Ekuale’s strength and skill, they didn't talk about him with quite the same level of praise as they did  McBroom. Still, you get the feeling Ekuale has another gear he hasn't shown yet. One of the many good problems for new d-line coach Jeff Phelps: he has two linemen at this spot that can compete with any opposing center they might face (plus Ngalu Tapa who was absent this spring).

Defensive Tackle
1. Hercules Mata’afa, junior (6-2, 255)
2. Nick Begg, junior (6-5, 260)

The question isn’t whether Mata’afa is a potential Pac-12 defensive player of the year, but rather which position he might play most of his reps at while contending for it. For now, DT looks to be the best spot for the junior’s unique combination of size and speed. Begg could be one of the pleasant surprises in 2017 as far as 'corner turners' go but wait a minute, why isn't Derek Moore listed here? Well, because ...

1. Derek Moore, sophomore (6-1, 246, pictured above)
2. Logan Tago, junior (6-3, 245)

Moore could play here or at d-end but if spring is any indication, Rush looks to be where he hangs his hat. Moore as a true freshman last season was quietly impressive, the question now is if he makes a large or average sized step forward.  This might be the most unsettled position of all on the depth chart - Moore or Tago could start in any given week, plus there's a third potential starter. Watch out for junior Dylan Hanser (6-4, 240) to put his name in this group in the fall. He missed time this spring to apparent injury but the senior made 6 starts at Rush last year. Hanser showed up big in some games last year, and was quiet in others. The question this season if he's ready to be a force game in and game out.

1. Frankie Luvu, senior (6-3, 240)
2. Jahad Woods, second-year freshman (6-0, 216)

Luvu’s experience served him well all spring.  Woods's stock is rising though, and he's a lock to find his way onto the field in the fall.

1. Peyton Pelluer, senior (6-0, 228)
2. Nate DeRider, senior (6-1, 226)

Pelluer is the unquestioned starter and has a chance to finish his career in the top 10 for career tackles at WSU. At the same time, DeRider is a steady presence and he made the most of his opportunity in the Cal game last year with  a sack and interception.

1. Isaac Dotson, senior (6-1, 224)
2. Justus Rogers, second-year freshman (6-2, 225)

Dotson could play WILL but he focused more on nickel as the spring went along and Grinch and position coach Roy Manning seemed pleased with Dotson at the top spot here at spring's end.  Rogers, to me, is a question mark (in a good way). I can see him having a solid career at WSU at either here or linebacker. Or, he has the makings of a future star if he can more fully grasp the nuances of the scheme.

Free Safety
1. Robert Taylor, senior (5-10, 183)
2. D’Jimon Jones, second-year freshman (5-11, 191)

After a great spring, Taylor figures to be one of the leaders of the Cougar D. The Cougs need a "game changer" in the secondary in the way Shalom Luani was for the Cougs in 2016 and from this chair, the leading candidate for that role this spring was Taylor. Jones could play here or nickel but wherever he lines up, the storyline will be if he's ready to turn potential into solid production as a second-year freshman.

Strong Safety
1. Jalen Thompson, sophomore (6-0, 190)
2. Hunter Dale, junior (5-10, 195)

Perhaps the best position, skill-wise, in the Cougar secondary.  Thompson earned plenty of plaudits last season but a true breakout year in comparison to the other Pac-12 safeties in 2017 would shock no one on the WSU coaching staff.  Dale needs more consistency but he's capable of getting a lot of turns in 2017, and possibly as a starter at nickel.

1. Darrien Molton, sophomore (5-10, 175)
2. Sean Harper, junior (6-2, 184)

1. Marcus Strong, sophomore (5-9, 175)
2. Marcellus Pippins, senior (5-10, 176)
3. Isaiah Love, freshman (6-0, 174)

Strong ended the spring on a very high note, but was it enough to push him into the starting lineup? Considering how well Harper played this spring, maybe not. But I'm giving him the slight nod at this stage. No matter what happens in the spring and in fall camp, Pippins always seems to find his way back into the starting lineup. The big difference this year? Pippins actually had a pretty darned good spring. Indeed, the depth and athleticism at corner will present a lot of options should Grinch want to mix and match and/or introduce any new packages in the regular season.

True freshman Zaire Webb (5-10, 169) and former Cougar wideout Grant Porter (6-0, 184) are also potential players here. In fact, if corner is too crowded, Porter and/or Webb could line up at safety some in fall ball.

RELATED: Breaking down post-spring depth chart on offense

Cougfan Top Stories