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Nevada football 2021 offseason position preview: Defensive Backs

Nevada v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Nevada’s first game isn’t until Sept. 4 in a road contest against California — their first non-conference game since its 37-21 victory against Texas El-Paso on Sept. 21, 2019.

After finishing the year 7-2 — capped-off by a 38-27 win over Tulane in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — the Pack look to replicate their successful season. But before the regular season begins, let’s preview the roster.

This week, we dive into the Wolf Pack’s defensive back unit, led by All-Conference honorees Tyson Williams and BerDale Robins. Let’s jump into it!

Previous weeks:

Anyone departing?

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Tulane v Nevada Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

EJ Muhammad

In 35 career games with Nevada, Muhammad totaled 123 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, 12 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery with an interception that came in Nevada’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Tulane. Muhammad — who transitioned into the Wolf Pack’s primary nickel corner last season — was a sixth-year senior last year after getting granted an extra year of eligibility last spring for an injury suffered in 2018. He could’ve returned for a seventh year (that would’ve been a lot of college) with the blanket year of eligibility, but did not.

Anyone returning?

Emany Johnson

Johnson, who backed-up Williams (see below) at strong safety, was sixth on the team with tackles last year with 30; he’s recorded 30 tackles in back-to-back seasons. With the program adding transfers Isaiah Essissima and Bentlee Sanders to its secondary, Johnson’s role might undergo a minor decrease — but the third-year safety should still receive considerable opportunity in 2021.

San Jose State v Nevada
Defensive back Austin Arnold #28 of the Nevada Wolf Pack celebrates with defensive back Tyson Williams #6 of the Nevada Wolf Pack after scoring a touchdown after an interception of a pass by the San Jose State Spartans
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Tyson Williams

Williams made the All-Mountain West honorable mention team with Robins last year. Williams, listed at 5-foot-9, has finished two straight seasons amongst the team’s top two tacklers. Two years removed from tallying a team-most 85 — 27 more than any other player — Williams finished second with 56 in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign. He tallied two of the team’s six interceptions and forced half of its two fumbles last year.

Nevada v Hawaii
Melquise Stovall #3 of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors fails to make the catch against Berdale Robins #1 of the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

BerDale Robins

Robins was named to the preseason Paycom Jim Thorpe watch list this week. He will be the Pack’s top corner entering 2021. Robins, made the All-Mountain West honorable mention team last season, had 27 tackles, five pass breakups, one interception and one fumble recovery. He was given 2021 preseason All-Mountain West first-team honors from Pro Football Focus, Athlon Sports and Phil Steele.

JoJuan Claiborne

Claiborne started in Nevada’s first four contests last year, tallying 22 tackles. The free safety did not appear for the remainder of the season.

Zeke Robbins

In his first season with Nevada, Robbins, a former Butler Community College transfer, played in just one game last year, failing to record a stat. While at Butler CC, he tallied 39 tackles with 1.5 tackles-for-loss and two pass breakups in 2019.

AJ King

King played a sizable role in the secondary as a freshman. He split time with then-junior Mikael Bradford as the team’s second outside cornerback with Muhammad shifting into the Nickel corner role. The 6-foot-1 cornerback finished with three pass breakups and 12 tackles, including a season-high five tackles against UNLV. He’ll compete with Jaden Dedmon (see below), Bradford (below) and Essissima (below) for the same spot this fall.

Kacee Williams

Williams, a redshirt freshman last season, didn’t see the field.

Jordan Lee

Lee had a breakout sophomore 2019 campaign, totaling 40 tackles and was given the defense’s Newcomer of the Year award. Last year under first year Wolf Pack defensive coordinator Brian Ward, Lee’s role shrunk. The nickel corner still played in all nine contests, starting in one behind Muhammad; in 2019, he started in five of Nevada’s 13 contests. Last year, he was limited to just 17 tackles with a fumble recovery.

Christian Swint

Swint started the Wolf Pack’s final five games at free safety and is the odds-on-favorite to earn the starting spot entering 2021, though there will be competition. The former Riverside City College transfer made 24 tackles with an interception in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory last year.

Mar’Quette Jackson

After registering a career-high 20 tackles in 2019, Jackson didn’t see the field last season.

Jaden Dedman

Dedman was Nevada’s backup cornerback last year, but still appeared in seven of the team’s nine contests. He made 11 tackles with one tackle-for-loss last season.

Tyriq Mack

In his first season with the Wolf Pack in 2020, Mack, a walk-on, appeared in one game against San Diego State. He did not record a stat. Prior to Nevada, he played two seasons at the City College of San Francisco. In 2018, he had 64 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, three pass breakups with two interceptions.

The 5-foot-11 safety from Heritage high school in Brentwood, Calif., impressed in Nevada’s Silver-and-Blue spring game with two interceptions — including a 100-yard pick-six.

Micah Lilo

Lilo saw action in just one game last season, notching one assisted tackle against Wyoming.

Jayce Godley

After totaling 13 tackles in 12 contests in 2019, Godley appeared in one contest — against Wyoming — without recording a stat.

Micah Camat

Camat, a freshman last season, redshirted.

Marquese Allen-Patmon

Like Camat, Allen-Patmon redshirted as a freshman.

Mikael Bradford

Bradford competed with King for the team’s second cornerback spot last year, and will likely do so again in 2021. In seven games, he tallied 29 tackles — 20 solo — with one pass breakup.

Devin Gunter

Gunter played in just one game last year, but didn’t record any stats.

Avery Carrington

Carrington, who redshirted after making one appearance in 2019, did not see action in 2020.

Any new faces?

Bentlee Sanders

Sanders transferred from South Florida with two years of eligibility remaining. He’s started in 15 games in his collegiate career, including four of its nine contests last year. In six games, Sanders totaled 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, two pass breakups and one pick-six against Houston. In 2019, the 5-foot-9 defensive back tallied 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks, three pass breakups, one interception and a team-high two forced fumbles. He also adds value in the kick return game, too — averaging 26.8 yards per return in 2018 and 22.4 yards in 2019.

Here is what Mountain West Connection’s Mike Wittmann wrote about Sanders in Nevada’s 2021 recruiting breakdown:

Bentlee is another transfer in this class, hailing from USF. Like other DB coming in, he can also make an impact as a returner in addition to his skills in the secondary. Sanders is shifty and speedy, which will allow him to cover receivers in the slot or running backs out of the backfield. He makes athletic plays on the ball and constantly seems to be around the action. Bentlee looks like he would fit best as a nickel corner in Nevada’s defense.

Isaiah Essissima

Essissima, a transfer from Wake Forest, appeared in just six contests without recording a stat in 2020. As a true freshman in 2019, he played in ten games with six tackles. The former three-star recruit garnered offers from Boise State, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt and Illinois, among others. He’ll have three years of eligibility remaining.

Here is what Wittmann wrote about Essissima:

Isaiah is the first of three transfers in the secondary. He comes from Wake Forest and brings his talent along with him. Essissima excels in deep coverage, tracking the ball in the air and positioning himself well against receivers to make a play on the ball. He can also play press coverage at the line of scrimmage and knock people off their routes. Isaiah looks like he can find a role right away next season.

Chad Brown

Brown transferred from Fresno City Community College — where he spent the 2019 season before the 2020 season got cancelled due to COVID-19. In 2019, he had 24 tackles with an astounding six (!) interceptions. He transferred to Central Florida in Oct. of 2020, but didn’t play with the Knights and transferred to Nevada in May. Also a three-star recruit, he had offers from TCU, Colorado, Boise State, Hawai’i, Arizona and NC State, among others. He’ll also have three years of eligibility left.

Richard Toney

Toney graduated from Arlington High School in Arlington, Texas. Per Max Preps, he played just three games in 2019-20, tallying 14 tackles with one sack. Toney, a three-star recruit per, chose Nevada over Baylor, TCU, Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State and SMU, among others.

Here is what Wittmann wrote about Toney:

Richard comes to the Wolf Pack as a defensive back. He is a physical back who hits hard in the open field. Toney also isn’t afraid to disrupt receives in the process of their catch, breaking up passes consistently. He has nice size for his position, which helps him match up against bigger wide receivers. Richard fits the bill for the DBs Nevada likes to recruit and his talent will fit the scheme.

Aedan Seiuli

Though he played both receiver and defensive back at Maple Mountain, he will likely be used as the latter with Nevada. He recorded 87 career tackles with one sack, three interceptions, 17 passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. The three-star recruit chose Nevada over Eastern Washington, South Dakota, Southern Utah and Valparaiso.

Here is what Wittmann wrote about Seiuli:

Aedan is part of the commitment to restocking the secondary for Nevada. He is fast, which serves him well in coverage, matching the speed of receivers and recovering from mistakes. Seiuli comes out of his backpedal well and displays solid vision playing zone coverage. He can make his mark as a returner as well, where he showcases his speed and quick-cut ability in the open field. Aedan will be given time to develop before seeing the field but that isn’t a knock on his potential or ability.

Zion Burns

Like Seiuli, Burns played both ways in high school. Burns earned two first-team All-Region honorees as a tailback. Burns, a graduate of Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley, Ariz., amassed 3,278 yards on 334 career carries (9.8 ypc!) with 39 touchdowns in three seasons. On defense, Burns totaled 80 career tackles with nine tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, six pass deflections, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.

My thoughts:

Nevada’s secondary was its weakest unit last year. It recorded just three interceptions in the team’s eight regular season contests before picking off two of the team’s three interceptions in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Wolf Pack posted the conference’s fourth-worst pass defense (239.6 ypg) and surrendered the third-most passing touchdowns (13); they did, however, post the Mountain West’s fourth-best pass efficiency allowed (127.44). Though Muhammad departs, the unit bolstered their depth with the additions of Essissima and Sanders, who both provide athleticism and experience. If Nevada’s secondary forces more turnovers and continues limiting the deep ball with its five base defensive backs, this will be a unit to reckon with in 2021.