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Handicapping Colorado's defensive MVP race

Henry Chisholm Avatar
May 31, 2022

BOULDER — Colorado lost its top four defenders from a year ago, leaving the competition for top dog wide open.

The Buffs’ defense will feature a deep group of edge rushers, a pair one experienced tackles, a veteran group of linebackers and a young but talented secondary. The competition to get on the field will be tight, leaving the competition for defensive MVP tough to predict.

Here are DNVR’s odds on the Buffs’ defensive MVP race:

Guy Thomas +400

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound linebacker started the 2021 season on a tear before missing the second half of the season with a foot injury. Thomas picked up four tackles for loss in six games, with one coming in a 10-tackle performance against Minnesota.

If Thomas picks up where he left off, he’ll put together a solid case for defensive player of the year.

Terrance Lang +450

Colorado’s senior defensive end has all of the tools to be a top edge rusher in the Pac-12. He put those tools together in 2019 but hasn’t been able to replicate that success in the past two seasons.

2019: 12 games, 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks
2020: 5 games, 9 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks
2021: 12 games, 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks

Lang is a special athlete at 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, and he should be spending more time on the edge of the defense this season, where he is best-suited to use his length. If he can surpass his 2019 stats, he’ll be in position to be the DPOY.

Quinn Perry +500

The Buffs’ senior linebacker will take over as the MIKE, following in Nate Landman’s shoes. Perry got a head start on the job last year, when Landman missed the last five games with an injury.

Perry’s 61 tackles ranked fourth on the team in 2021 and seven behind the team lead. He did that while playing about 60% of CU’s defensive snaps. With an increased workload, Perry should be the favorite to lead the team in tackles, which would put him firmly in DPOY conversation.

He gets bumped down because of the small chance that the Buffs start a trio of Robert Barnes, Josh Chandler-Semedo and Marvin Ham II, which would relegate Perry to the bench.

Isaiah Lewis +500

Maybe the most consistent presence on the Colorado defense over the past two seasons has been safety Isaiah Lewis. That won’t change in 2022.

Lewis spent 2020 primarily in the slot, before playing a more true safety role in 2021. He was the Buffs leading tackler a year ago, while also intercepting two passes.

Robert Barnes +600

The hype surrounding Robert Barnes was palpable after he transferred from Oklahoma to Colorado last season. The former safety is now a cover-first linebacker and should be an every-down defender for CU in his senior season.

Coaches emphasized Barnes’ growth as a run defender this spring, thanks to a more aggressive approach. We know that he can cover tight ends and running backs one-on-one, but if he can make splash plays in the backfield he could find his way into the DPOY conversation.

Josh Chandler-Semedo +725

The West Virginia transfer has started 31 games in his career and that number should go up when he gets to Colorado. Most of those starts came at middle linebacker but he might be a better fit as a strong-side backer, given the Buffs’ other options at linebacker.

Regardless of where the 5-10, 226-pound linebacker lines up, he figures to be on the field enough to rack up some numbers.

Nigel Bethel +725

Colorado will only bring back one of its three opening day starting cornerbacks from a year ago: Nigel Bethel.

Bethel was the glue guy behind Christian Gonzalez and Mekhi Blackmon who generally covered opposing teams’ WR3. He did that exceptionally well before an injury kept him out of the last six games of the season.

But this year, much is unknown. The Buffs have a bunch of young options competing for time on the field. Bethel figures to be one of the starters, but there’s no guarantee. If he does start, Bethel could be defending opponent’s top options this time around.

Na’im Rodman +750

Rodman is a fairly explosive defensive lineman who could be poised to take another step in his junior season.

The 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackles specialized in getting into the backfield when he took over as a full-time starter last season. He tied for third on the team with five tackles for loss. Rodman is unlikely to see his snap count expand in 2022, but if he can add a few sacks to his 2021 line, he’ll give himself a chance to be the Buffs’ defensive MVP

Trevor Woods +775

Woods is heading into his second season in Boulder and seems poised to hold down the starting free safety job. The Texas native received fairly extensive work late in the season, playing 30+ snaps against both Oregon and Oregon State.

In high school, Woods was a pick specialist and if he can force 5+ turnovers and rack up some tackles, he could be in line for the defensive MVP award.

Jamar Montgomery +825

The depth among the edge rushers might be the most of any position on the team. That makes getting on the field difficult, let alone competing for defensive MVP.

Still, Jamar Montgomery has a chance to do exactly that in 2022. While Montgomery played fairly sparingly in 2021, he was primarily used as a situational pass rusher and the peripheral stats would suggest he’s the best edge rusher on the team. But the counting stats left plenty to be desired.

If Montgomery can retain his pass-rushing snaps, he’ll have a chance to put up a big sack total and get into the running for DPOY.

Tyrin Taylor +825

Tyrin Taylor spent more time on the field than any other true freshman on either side of the ball last season, after carving out a role as the Buffs’ nickel defender after injuries hit the Buffs’ secondary.

While Taylor only put up eight tackles over the course of the year, he showed ability as a cover guy and he should carry an even bigger role in 2022. If he can make a few plays on the ball and improve as a blitzer off the edge, Taylor could get into the DPOY conversation.

Jalen Sami +950

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Jalen Sami is entering his fourth season as the anchor up front in the middle of the Buffs’ defense.

But nose tackle isn’t a sexy position and Sami has only produced 55 tackles, three for a loss and two sacks in three seasons as a full-time starter. He’ll be a valuable piece for CU again in 2022, but he probably won’t put up the numbers needed to gain DPOY consideration.

Kaylin Moore +1000

When the Buffs’ secondary was banged up in the second half of the season, Moore was one of the beneficiaries. Over the course of his true freshman season, Moore spent 80 snaps in coverage. He was targeted five times and gave up two catches for 14 total yards. It was impressive stuff.

There’s no guarantee that Moore will start in the 2022 season like he did late in 2021, but he got off to a hot start to his collegiate career and could make his way into the DPOY conversation this time around.

Nikko Reed +1025

Reed, another true freshman, appeared to be just in front of Moore in the first half of the season, but Moore saw more work late in the year… at least until an injury kept him out of the final couple of contests.

Neither player spent significant time in the slot, so it’s probably safe to assume they’re battling for one of the two starting jobs on the boundary. Moore’s expanded work late and slightly better stats in a small sample size give him a marginal edge.

Marvin Ham II +1100

Somebody is going to be the odd man out in the Buffs’ linebackers room and it’s easy to see why it would be Ham; the Buffs wouldn’t add Chandler-Semedo for one year if they didn’t think he could contribute, Perry is an easy fit into the starting MIKE job, and Barnes is one of the better cover linebackers in the conference.

Ham could absolutely beat one of these guys out, but he’s probably facing an uphill battle. Plus he’s got youngsters like Mister Williams breathing down his neck.

Joshua Gustav +1200

We’ve heard about the German’s pass-rushing ability for a couple of years now but he still hasn’t broken through. With so much competition on the edge, Gustav is in a battle for reps.

The upside is absolutely there for Gustav but he’s got a long road to the DPOY conversation.

Devin Grant +1250

As noted above, the Buffs are deep on the edge. There just aren’t enough snaps to go around. Still, Grant gets a spot on this list because the last time we saw CU take the field, he may have been the best player wearing black and gold that day.

The freshman, who will be entering his third season at CU, has seen defensive action in three contests in his career.

Week 11 @ UCLA: Grant made four tackles but struggled to contain the edge at times
Week 12 vs. Washington: Grant made one tackle in his first career start
Week 13 @ Utah: Grant makes eight tackles, including two for a loss, in his second career start

Is Grant a starter? Is he even part of the rotation? Who knows. But we saw growth over the course of November and you’d be crazy not to be excited about him this season.

Dylan Dixson +1500

Dylan Dixson is Colorado’s top recruit in the ’22 class and he’ll be arriving on campus at some point in the next couple of weeks. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Dixson should be ready to play early and there’s a path to the field, too.

Isaiah Lewis is your starter at strong safety. Tyrin Taylor is your likely starter in the slot. But Dixson may be able to unseat Trevor Woods for the starting free safety job. It’s probably unlikely, and from there Dixson would have to play remarkably well for a freshman to win the award, but there’s a path. (And that’s before we consider injuries, and we’ll knock on wood after mentioning that.)


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