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Projected Depth Chart: Defense

CU’s defense should be better in 2020.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we attempted to chart the offense for the 2020 season, so we’re doing the same for the defense today. The same questions arise with the defense as far as COVID-19 is concerned, like if Fall camp will happen, or if the season will start on time.

From a football perspective, we have more clarity on the defensive side of the ball. Almost every frequent starter returns from last season, everyone besides Davion Taylor and Delrick Abrams. Even better, the 2019 season was plagued by injuries — so much so that former QB Sam Noyer started at safety — so even CU’s younger rotation players have starting experience.

Defensive End

Mustafa Johnson, Sr.

Terrance Lang, Jr.

Antonio Alfano*, rFr.

Justin Jackson, Jr.

Janaz Jordan, Jr.

There’s a great chance than defensive ends Mustafa Johnson and Terrance Lang are Colorado’s best defenders in 2020. Johnson has the explosiveness to cause havoc in the backfield and get to the QB. Lang is such a good run-defender on the strong-side, and he’s realizing just how good he can be. Both can be first-team all-conference next season.

Antonio Alfano presents himself as a major question mark. He’s the former five-star recruit who transferred from Alabama to Colorado, but was suspended from the team in March. Now he’s working back towards being on the team, and if he does, whoo boy is the defensive line stacked. If Alfano doesn’t play in 2020, the Buffs have decent depth still.

Justin Jackson can play immediately as a JUCO transfer. He’s a bit undersized but has an excellent first step. Janaz Jordan is solid, if not spectacular, and he has experience from last season. Watch out for Dante Sparaco as well. He transferred from CU to Montana State and back to CU, then impressed as a scout team player while sitting out that year.

Nose Tackle

Jalen Sami, So.

Na’im Rodman, So.

Austin Williams, So.

Jalen Sami was completely under-the-radar as a raw recruit from Colorado Springs. But after he took a redshirt year to learn the position, he broke out in 2019. There’s no moving the 6’6, 320-lbs. lineman. He’s an intelligent player who is quickly learning how to free up his teammates. Sami should be even better in 2020.

After him, the Buffs have solid depth from freshmen contributors Na’im Rodman and Austin Williams. It was trial by fire at times in 2019, but both are solid on the interior. Williams looks like Sami clone at 6’5, 320-lbs., while Rodman is nimble enough to also play defensive end on rushing downs.

Edge Rusher

Carson Wells, Jr.

Guy Thomas, Jr.

Jason Harris, Fr.

Jamar Montgomery, Jr.

There’s so much talent on the edge. Carson Wells will be starting for the third straight year and he’s poised for a breakout. He’s huge (6’5, 250-lbs.), polished and productive. If the defensive line is as good as we think, Wells will round out a fearsome pass rush. There are durability questions with Wells, but the Buffs have enough depth to keep everyone fresh and fill in for any injuries.

Guy Thomas is a transfer from Nebraska (via Coahoma Community College) who should play lots of meaningful snaps. After him, there’s true freshman Jason Harris, a four-star recruit who had offers from Alabama and Auburn. He’s still growing into his body but we should see him on passing downs. The last player to watch is Jamar Montgomery, who may not have the pass rushing ability as the others, but he’s more versatile as a traditional outside backer.

Inside Linebacker

Nate Landman, Sr.

Akil Jones, Sr.

Jonathan van Diest, Jr.

Jash Allen, Sr.

Quinn Perry, Jr.

Marvin Ham II, rFr.

The Buffaloes will have senior starters in Nate Landman and Akil Jones. Landman is the star in the middle, always in pursuit and always making plays on the ball. There are no questions with him as a run stopper. Jones was a breakout player in 2019, finally starting after years of scratching and clawing his way up the depth chart, he had a knack for the big play. These two are as solid a combo as anywhere in the conference.

Jonathan van Diest is the best bet to get major playing time off the bench. He was a starter entering last year, but he wasn’t quite ready. He should be a solid reserve at the very least. After van Diest, the Buffs will call on a number of unproven players: Jash Allen is learning the position but is an explosive athlete; Quinn Perry is a cerebral player and a physical tackler; and Marvin Ham II, who has a ton of talent but is still developing.

Cornerback

Chris Miller, Jr.

Mekhi Blackmon, Sr.

K.J. Trujillo, So.

Tarik Luckett, So.

Nigel Bethel, So.

Technically speaking, the Buffs are returning four starting cornerbacks from last season. Chris Miller has the most talent of the bunch, although he has suffered injuries to his hamstring, a dislocated shoulder, broken thumb and a torn ACL. If he’s healthy, he can be a major player. Mekhi Blackmon was also a starter entering 2019, but he too missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. He doesn’t have the same injury history as Miller, so there’s a higher likelihood he stays on the field. He’s tough as hell and has the competitiveness you want at cornerback.

Colorado’s injury issues meant that true freshmen K.J. Trujillo and Tarik Luckett saw major action. Trujillo was very impressive, particular his attitude and fearlessness. He should be an impact player at some point in his future. Luckett was an emergency cornerback who had been a receiver all his life, but new DB coach Demetrice Martin has praised his natural ability at the position. The Buffs also bring in Miami transfer Nigel Bethel, a former track star with ideal recovery speed. These three sophomores should be competing every day for playing time.

Safety

Mark Perry, So.

Derrion Rakestraw, Sr.

Christian Gonzalez, Fr.

Trey Udoffia, Sr.

Isaiah Lewis, Jr.

There’s uncertainty with how the safety position will shake out, as it may be the thinnest position in the entire lineup. Mark Perry was a prized recruit and played the STAR position as a true freshman, but there’s no telling if he will move to a traditional safety role in 2020. He should shine at whichever position he plays, at least. Derrion Rakestraw is the assumed starter at free safety, an emergency starter last year who impressed with his coverage ability. These two starters should be fine, even if they struggle at different points.

The depth at safety is where the real questions begin. Christian Gonzalez is a blue chip true freshman who should play immediately, but he’s a natural cornerback who may not even switch to safety. With zero sources to back this up, I’m guessing Gonzalez switches to safety at starts there, and Perry remains at the STAR position. Beyond him, Trey Udoffia is back after his hiatus, and Isaiah Lewis has developed some, but both are best suited as depth pieces. Colorado would probably convert another cornerback to safety if an injury occurs.

Special Teams

PK — James Stefanou, Sr.

P — Josh Watts, Jr.

PK — Evan Price, So.

James Stefanou is still at Colorado, even at 33 years old. The oldest player in college football be should back to his old self after hurting his hip in 2019 (this is not a joke). He’s joined by another Australian in punter Josh Watts, the former professional Aussie Rules footballer who just graduated from ProKick Australia Academy. He has two years to play at Colorado. It’s also worth mentioning Evan Price, the sophomore kicker who was clutch last season and should be reliable in case he’s needed.