The final defender on this countdown is Mustafa Johnson, the junior defensive lineman who starred in 2018 as a JUCO transfer. He was a breakout star last year, but he will be counted to improve in 2019.
Like Nate Landman setting the world aflame in his first two starts, Johnson did the same against Colorado State and Nebraska. He was everywhere as a d-lineman as he crashed the run game, pressured the QB and even swatted a pass that Landman picked off. He had 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and 12 tackles in those games — superb production, especially for someone who had never played FBS football.
Johnson finished the season with 73 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Those are great numbers for any defensive line, but he did that as 3-4 lineman, which isn’t supposed to happen. Johnson is 6’2, 290-lbs. with an explosive step few interior lineman have, and combined with excellent timing, he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the nation. That is why he was voted first team All-Pac-12 in 2018, a preseason selection in 2019 and on numerous other major awards lists.
Besides being a star in the making, Johnson is crucial because he’s the one star at a position of need. The Buffs desperately need to have strong line play on defense, particularly a pass rush to help the zone coverage. Johnson will play next Terrance Lang, who should be good but is still developing, and Jalen Sami, a massive freshman who’s still learning the ropes. After those three, there’s virtually zero depth. That means that not only does Johnson have to stay healthy, but he has to prop up a vital position group practically on his own.
That’s a lot to ask of Johnson, but he’s a uniquely productive player who should continue to improve. There’s reason to believe he can be the most impactful defender on Colorado.