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An early look at the 2018 Colorado Buffaloes defensive depth chart

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Our best guesses at who might start next season.

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

Decimated by the loss of nine starters, the Colorado Buffaloes defense took a step back last season under first-year coordinator D.J. Eliot. Expect senior inside linebackers Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis to anchor Eliot’s 3-4 scheme in 2018. Aside from that, you’ll see a couple of new faces gracing Folsom Field in the fall.

Below are my projected starters on defense and special teams for the Colorado Buffaloes in 2018.

DEFENSE

LEFT DEFENSIVE END

Terrance Lang, RS-Freshman

Replacing CU’s sacks leader Leo Jackson III will not be easy, unless you have someone like Terrance Lang. A former basketball player, the redshirt-freshman is a physical beast who verbally committed to play for the USC Trojans before signing with Colorado.

NOSE TACKLE

Javier Edwards, Senior

The 6’3, 350-pound junior college (Blinn Junior College, Brenham, Texas) product is athletic for his size. Edwards played in 11 games last season, registering 33 tackles and a sack.

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END

Chris Mulumba, Senior

A former judo champion in his native country of Finland, Mulumba saw action in all 12 games in 2017, finishing with a total of 39 tackles.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Jacob Callier, Sophomore

A true freshman, Callier led the Buffs with 11 quarterback pressures last season despite lining up for a total of 196 plays. He should get much more playing time in 2018 sliding into the spot previously occupied by Derek McCartney.

JACK (INSIDE) LINEBACKER

Drew Lewis, Senior

Whether it’s in the weight room or on the gridiron, Lewis was a force for the Buffaloes in 2017. The former Washington Huskies recruit led the Buffs with 119 total tackles in his junior season. Expect much of the same in his final year in Boulder.

MIKE (INSIDE) LINEBACKER

Rick Gamboa, Senior

A three-year starter at the ‘mike’ inside linebacker position, Gamboa has registered a total of 289 tackles for the Buffaloes. Known for his intelligence on the field, he’s the only captain returning from last year’s squad.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Davion Taylor, Junior

Sophomore’s Nate Landman and Dante Sparaco each saw time at outside linebacker as true freshman last season. However, they may be challenged for playing time in 2018 by junior college transfer Davion Taylor. An ESPN.com scouting report described the four-star Taylor – who signed with the Buffs last month - as an “outside linebacker that shows outstanding playmaking ability.” The report also praised his “lateral speed and coverage skills”, which would benefit Taylor in the Buff Backer (safety/outside linebacker hybrid) position. Bottom line, Taylor is too talented not to start in 2018.

BUFF BACK (S/OLB HYBRID)

Evan Worthington, Senior

Led all Buffs in tackles (86) and interceptions (3) last season. Whether it’s in the Buff Backer or strong safety position, the senior from Aurora, Colo. should lead CU’s secondary this year.

CORNERBACK

Trey Udoffia, Sophomore

Udoffia will be tasked with replacing Isaiah Oliver who has decided to test the NFL waters following his junior season. In nine games last season, Udoffia finished with 33 total tackles and 10 pass breakups.

FREE SAFEETY

Nick Fisher, Senior

The frontrunner to replace Afolabi Laguda at free safety, Fisher had six pass breakups and 29 tackles in 10 games last fall. He also recorded a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 44-28 win over California on October 28th, the fourth such play in school history.

CORNERBACK

Delrick Abrams, Junior

Former junior college standouts Dante Wigley and newly-signed Delrick Abrams Jr. should fight it out for the second cornerback spot. While Wigley showed flashes last season, I like Abrams to edge him out for the starting job in one of the more interesting position battles to keep an eye on. Abrams held offers from Boise State, Nebraska, Oregon and UCLA among others before eventually signing with the Buffs.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PUNTER

Alex Kinney, Senior

The senior from Fort Collins, Colo. enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2017 averaging 43.77 yards per punt, including a career-long 70-yarder in week two against Texas State.

PLACEKICKER/KICKOFF

James Stefanou, Sophomore

A semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award (Nation’s best kicker), the 30-year old Aussie revitalized the Buffs kicking game connecting on 17-of-22 field goal attempts in 2017. Expect more of the same during his sophomore campaign.

PUNT RETURN

Ronnie Blackmon, Sophomore

The Atlanta native averaged eight yards per punt return last season and should be atop the list to do so in 2018. .

KICKOFF RETURN

K.D. Nixon, Sophomore & Ronnie Blackmon, Sophomore

Starters last year as redshirt-freshman, Nixon, who averaged 23.7 yards per kick return and Blackmon (21.0 yards) should be returning kicks next season.