Last week we took a look at potential offensive breakout players. This week we flip the field to look at the other side of the ball. Who do you think will be the defensive breakout players on your teams?
Graham_Gibson: One of the biggest losses this season for the defense will be defensive end Nick Heninger, who had his biggest season yet with 74 tackles, eight sacks, four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. One of the names that could replace some of Heninger’s contributions is junior defensive end Addison Trupp, who had four tackles and 0.5 tackles for a loss last season. Defensive tackle Marcus Moore, who had 46 tackles last season and 1.5 sacks in addition to a fumble recovery. Senior defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka started 14 games last season and had 26 tackles and had 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss and should be an impact player this season. Losing linebacker Cash Gilliam (64 tackles, one sack, one interception) will hurt the defense as well. The breakout player for the Utah State defense this year though could be junior defensive end Patrick Joyner Jr., who had 25 tackles and 3.5 sacks last year. He made eight starts and played in all 14 games as a sophomore and seems poised to put up big numbers in a junior season where his production will be needed.
Mike: Looking at the Aztecs, I think the defense has proved time and time again that it can reload after losing talented players. Transfer LB Cooper McDonald is a player I think will thrive in the San Diego State system. However, as far as a breakout player, I think CJ Baskerville is the next big thing at SDSU and in the Mountain West. He played as a true freshman as a defensive back in nine games last season and showed glimpses of his potential. CJ had 38 tackles (22 solo), including one for a loss. He had one interception, two pass breakups, and one fumble recovery. This year he will step into a starting role and figures to be even better with a full year in the system and now being acclimated to the speed of the college game.
Willie: Wyoming’s Linebacker room will have to fill a major void in the locker room with the departure of Chad Muma to the NFL. Enter Easton Gibbs. After finishing second on the team in tackles last season (90 TOT) behind Muma, Easton Gibbs is the lead returning tackler for the Pokes and it’s looking like he will be the ipso facto leader on the defensive side of the ball heading into 2022. Gibbs started and played in all 13 games for the Cowboys last season, recording 51 solo tackles on top of 39 assisted tackles. The fourth-year Backer also forced 2 fumbles and recorded double-digit tackles in 5 of the Cowboys’ 13 games. In doing so, Gibbs earned Honorable Mention All-MW honors by Pro Football Focus. With his enhanced role on defense, look for Gibbs to breakout as a star for the Pokes this season.
Adam: Reco Hannah is coming back after taking a medical redshirt for the 2021 season for New Mexico. While he did take the redshirt, Hannah saw action in four contests and recorded 18 tackles, three of which were tackles for loss, including two sacks. If Hannah can stay healthy, he will be a menace at the middle linebacker spot, wearing an all-too-famous in Albuquerque 44 on his jersey. A big indicator on Hannah’s potential was during his two year stint at junior college in which he amassed 153 tackles, 29.5 of those for loss, including 13 sacks. Hannah also forced two fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Expect big things from 44 this season at UNM.