My All-Bang the Drum Team for 2022: one ride-or-die player from each Pac-12 school
My colleague over at Saturday Down South, Connor O’Gara, had this idea and I thought it was brilliant, so I’m borrowing it.
We all have those players we swear by. Sometimes your defense of the player goes beyond all reasonable and logical justification, but you believe he’s just one healthy season away or one “right situation” away from hitting his true potential. And when you’re in on a player from Day 1 and it takes until Day 487 for them to pop, best be sure you’re going to be telling random strangers on the street who didn’t ask you knew this was coming all along.
Connor offered up his All-Bang the Drum Team for the SEC. So I’ll do the same for the Pac-12, and I’ll abide by Connor’s parameters:
- One player per team
- No first-team All-Pac-12 selections from last year (using the official league teams for this)
- No quarterbacks
Let’s get to it.
Arizona — Jacob Cowing, WR
The Wildcats went out and got their quarterback this offseason, both of the present and of the future. That position looks remarkably more stable now than it did a year ago with Jayden de Laura coming over from Washington State and freshman Noah Fifita looking like a young man with a bright future. Of course, it doesn’t mean much unless you have wideouts to throw to. And Jacob Cowing, the transfer from UTEP, is maybe the guy I’m most excited to see. Cowing’s 3.8 yards gained per route run was the second-best mark among qualified receivers, behind only Jaxon Smith-Njigba at Ohio State, a consistent and every-down kind of threat from the slot. Arizona will have a wideout that puts up numbers this season. I like Cowing to eat, and he should help the young pass-catchers ease into things.
Arizona State — Nesta Jade Silvera, DT
“I thought he was our best defensive player last year,” linebacker Ryan Ragone said on a podcast with former Miami quarterback D’Eriq King. “People don’t really study film enough to really, really see what he does, the havoc he creates.” A mountain of a man in the middle, Silvera was a key contributor for the Hurricanes during his four years in Miami and played immediately as a true freshman. He finished the 2021 campaign with 38 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Among ACC defensive linemen to play at least 100 snaps in 2021, Silvera graded out as the sixth-best d-lineman in the conference, per PFF, after collecting the third-most stops (plays constituting an offensive failure). I expect this ASU defensive front to be nasty, and Silvera should play a key role in that.
California — Lu-Magia Hearns III, CB
Cal coach Justin Wilcox said with a grin that Hearns played as a 160-pound cornerback last season. As a freshman. The Pittsburg, California, native is undersized, to put it modestly. At just 5-foot-10 and now 170 pounds, Hearns isn’t going to overwhelm opposing wideouts with physicality or length. And yet he was a starter for a quality Golden Bears defense by his fifth collegiate game and closed the season (eight starts, 11 appearances) third among Pac-12 corners in passes defended (11). The footwork and technique Hearns displayed as a first-year player were impressive. His maturity, in terms of how he sees and feels the game, goes beyond his years. Some of his per-target numbers were right on par with what Kyler Gordon did at Washington last season. Everyone saw the potential in Cal’s blowout win over Stanford. As Hearns continues to develop in the weight room, Cal could have yet another standout defensive back on its hands.
Colorado — Guy Thomas, EDGE
A 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior, Thomas has been waiting for this moment seemingly his entire collegiate career. At Nebraska to begin his career, he was buried on the depth chart. A year spent at the junior college level showed a real penchant for getting into the backfield and creating problems, that same potential that made him such a highly-rated high school recruit. He played a secondary role with the Buffaloes in 2020, his first year with the program. Last season, he started five of the first seven games for CU before a lower-body injury ended his season. Now, Thomas gets a shot to be the featured man. With Carson Wells moving on, Colorado is hoping for a healthy season from Thomas. He has all the tools necessary to be a key playmaker on this defense. And he has worked his butt off over the last five years to experience a breakthrough. Here’s hoping it’s in 2022.
Oregon — DJ Johnson, OLB
Sometimes there are scrimmage performances that make you stop and say, “I know it’s a scrimmage, but good lord. What did I just watch?” DJ Johnson’s spring game was kind of like that. A guy who played both ways last season but wasn’t ever really unleashed, Johnson looks like a terrorizing pass-rusher for the Ducks now under Dan Lanning and Tosh Lupoi’s tutelage. “I think DJ can be one of the best players in the conference,” Lanning said after the spring game. “I see him develop every single day, day in and day out. One of the best players in the nation if he continues to push himself to the level he’s capable of.” Coming from Lanning, that’s quite the endorsement. I am all aboard the Johnson hype train.
Oregon State — Damien Martinez, RB
Do you ever look at the physical stature of the football recruits coming out of high school these days and think to yourself, “I don’t know what I was doing wrong but I was obviously doing something wrong,” or is that just me? Martinez, a 6-foot freshman running back from Texas, looks like he’s been in the Oregon State strength program for three years now, not just since January. A mid-year enrollee, Martinez wowed during spring ball, setting expectations high for his first year in Corvallis. He should be involved from the opening kick, most likely serving as part of a three-man backfield. As he develops, he’ll become one of the top backs in the Pac-12. This season, he’ll settle for being pretty darn good right away.
Stanford — Ben Yurosek, TE
A preseason second-team All-Pac-12 selection from the writers at Athlon Sports, Yurosek is sitting right next to Tanner McKee on the We’re Actually Good But No One Knows Because The Team Struggled bus. If Stanford rebounds offensively in 2022, it’ll need to be better at the point of attack and on the ground. In that regard, Yurosek needs to show major improvement. Of the 26 Pac-12 tight ends to see 100 snaps as a run-blocker last season, he had the 25th-best grade from PFF. As a pass-catcher, though, few were better. He hauled in 655 yards and three touchdowns. He caught nearly 70% of his targets. He was mostly working within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, giving McKee a reliable option and a jump-ball guy. No Pac-12 tight end had more contested catches. Given what returns, Stanford should be better in the rushing department. (We’ll see.) If it is, an offense that seemed diametrically opposed to putting itself in scoring opportunities could have life. Only 42% of Stanford’s drives crossed the opponent’s 40 last year. That ranked 101st nationally. In 12 games, the Cardinal had only 34 red zone trips. Only 10 of the other 129 FBS programs had fewer. Get yourself into the red zone, Stanford. Do it and you’ll have yourself a Ben Zone. The 6-foot-5 tight end could legitimately be an eight-plus-touchdown guy as McKee’s trusted red zone target.
UCLA — Darius Muasau, LB
My favorite defensive transfer to pick a Pac-12 school this offseason. A two-time All-Mountain West First Team selection, Muasau was one of the most productive and experienced defenders available. In the last two seasons for Hawaii, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker totaled 213 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, five pass breakups, five forced fumbles (all in 2021), and two interceptions. Over that span, no one on Hawaii’s roster had more tackles, TFLs, or sacks. In 2021 alone, he had the third-best defensive grade (per PFF) among Mountain West linebackers (min. 100 snaps) and the best pass-rushing grade. UCLA needs guys who can create havoc. Muasau can do that. Pounding this drum so hard the polyester is about to tear.
USC — Romello Height, EDGE
If you’re around non-SEC programs enough, you get sort of accustomed to the way non-SEC players look and move. Then, when you see an SEC player come around, he looks like an alien. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Auburn transfer is pure strength. The hype with the Trojans definitely outpaces the production he had with the Tigers, but (I won’t make a new heights pun, I won’t make a new heights pun, I won’t make a new heig-) with a new staff and a new scheme in a new home he’s hoping to take his game to new heights. The potential is very much still there. As a high school senior in Georgia, Height recorded 27 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. He seems to be the likely starter at USC’s rush end position. Maybe he’s in a timeshare with Korey Foreman. Maybe defensive coordinator Alex Grinch finds ways to get both on the field for big snaps together. Height could very easily double the snaps he saw last season. What can he do with them?
Utah — Clark Phillips III, CB
He’s the best returning corner in the league and could become one of the best corners in the country. Over his final six games in 2021, Phillips was the highest-graded outside corner in football, per PFF. He finished his second year in Salt Lake City with 13 pass breakups (most in the league), two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Phillips is a quick corner who thinks and sees the game at a really high level. I am still thinking about his chase-down, punch-out on Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the Rose Bowl.
Washington — Rome Odunze, WR
You can bet when Kalen DeBoer turned on the tape and started to think about how to fit what he now has in Washington to the high-octane offense he employs, the Husky head coach was beaming while watching Odunze. A 6-foot-3, 201-pound wideout, Odunze has played in 13 of a possible 16 games during his first two years in Seattle, earning starts seven times in nine appearances last season. He had 41 receptions for 415 yards and four scores last season while playing in an offensive scheme that was, nicely put, not in the same ballpark as the one he’ll play in during the 2022 year. I like his game a lot. It seems UW likes him too. He got a couple fly sweeps called for him down in the red zone during the team’s spring game, which tells me he’s a player DeBoer just wants to try and get the ball to any way he can. UW has a nice collection of receivers. In DeBoer’s offense, multiple guys could put up decent numbers. Odunze was a fourth-team guy in Athlon’s preseason all-conference teams. He could be a second- or first-team guy at the end of the year, depending on how things go.
Washington State — Lincoln Victor, WR
Here’s an inside receiver who was behind a couple of studs on the offensive depth chart and played a ton on coverage teams. That kind of worker is a guy anyone can get behind. The junior went on scholarship earlier this year and has a chance to be one of the best Pac-12 stories next fall if this offense takes off the way I think it can. Victor shines as a route-runner, and he looked to be a preferred target of new quarterback Cam Ward during the Washington State spring game in April. Last season, he caught 22 balls for 296 yards and two scores, posted a strong 13.5 yards-per-catch average, and didn’t drop a single of his 35 targets. This offense might produce video game-type numbers in 2022. It could support some massive receiving seasons. If Victor is healthy, I like his chances on the receiving end of Ward passes.