Stephen Paea Senior – Oregon State
Ricky Elmore Senior – Arizona
Jurrell Casey Junior – USC
Kenny Rowe Junior – Oregon
If there's any justice, Paea will get the Suh treatment in 2010. He might not have the gaudy numbers (8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks last year) but his combination of speed and quickness has drawn the attention of NFL scouts and especially Pac-10 linemen, who named Paea recipient of the Morris Trophy as best defensive linemen. Now that Ed Orgeron is back at USC, he'll mold Casey into the next great Trojan interior defender by instilling better effort snap after snap. After putting together a strong finale in the Emerald Bowl with five tackles, a sack and critical fumble recovery, Casey should end up a first round pick. Rowe would have been a sneaky under the radar pick if not for his breakout performance in the Rose Bowl (three sacks to earn Defensive MVP). Elmore tied Rowe for the conference lead in solo sacks with 10 and had a tackle for loss in eight contests last season.
Is it time to unretire "the human highlight reel?" If anyone deserves that moniker, it's Ayers, who had two spectacular end zone interceptions for scores to go along with 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and four forced fumbles. On the other end of the spectrum, Mohamed brings consistent production to lead the Pac-10 in tackles. Since the Golden Bears switched to a 3-4 defense, Mohamed has 199 tackles in two seasons. As the most touted prep player ever to sign with the Sun Devils, Burfict more than lived up to that hype. A starter by the third game of his freshman season, the only question with Burfict is if he can develop self-control and eliminate unnecessary personal fouls.
Which corner to leave out? That was the issue last year, given a glut of elite upperclassmen. Now the hard part is finding players worthy of the list. Wright is the perfect example. When on the field, he has been a beast. However, Wright hasn't played in more than two games in a season since 2007 because of a neck injury, then academics. Wade and Mitchell both emerged as standout defenders in their first stints as starters. The best ball hawk in college football, Moore led the way with a nation-high 10 interceptions and should anchor a Bruin defense that lost plenty of leadership and experience.
At least there was one bright spot for the Cougars as Forrest averaged 43.2 yards per punt, with a net of 36.1 yards, despite doing so a conference-high 86 times.
William Wright Junior – Arizona
Quick, who led the Pac-10 in punt return average? While the first guess might be USC's Damian Williams, Bug Wright was the correct answer at 17.5 yards per return. He also took one back 86 yards for a touchdown.
- Dan reveals his Pac-10 Breakout Stars on Monday.
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