When we wrote this countdown last year, Jack Barsch fought me tooth and nail to have sophomore linebacker Nate Landman in the top 10. I thought he was smoking crack, or just overhyped on a young player he loved. I kept Landman 22nd on the list because he was backing up Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis and might not see the field that much.
Jack was right. Landman played so well during fall camps that the coaches moved Lewis to outside linebacker, clearing way for the Zimbabwean-born playmaker.
Of course, Landman was a star from day one. He was dominant against Colorado State as he and Laviska Shenault announced themselves as generational talents at their position.* He was even better against Nebraska as he made a crucial fourth down stop and came away with a clutch fourth quarter interception. Combined, Landman 29 tackles, 4 for loss and 2 interceptions in his first two starts.
*generational for CU athletics
Landman slowed down eventually, but only because that production is unsustainable for even Patrick Willis. He remained a force in the middle, the central star of a stars-and-scrubs defense. He stayed healthy, mostly, and only ever missed time because of multiple targeting penalties levied against him. (Those were unfair calls, but Ralphie Report has been warned against criticizing egregious targeting calls.) Once he figures out what is and isn’t legal, he won’t be missing halves at a time. Even more importantly the defense won’t have to scramble to replace an irreplaceable presence.
Like Davion Taylor (#5) and Mustafa Johnson (#3), Landman is so critically important for the Buffs because he is a star in an otherwise inexperienced and thin defense. Colorado cannot be successful if they don’t find something effective on that side of the ball. For those stars, they not only have to stay healthy and productive, but they need to be good enough to make up for the rest of the roster. If that happens and their star power makes their teammates better, the Buffs could have a solid defense. Landman is central to that, literally and figuratively.