Predicting Which Returning Defensive Players Will Outperform Their 2018 Numbers

By Jake Anderson on August 16, 2019 at 11:45 am
Landers and Young in the Big Ten Championship game

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

"Will Chase Young improve upon his 10.5 sack sophomore season?"

"Will Jeffrey Okudah finally record his first collegiate interception?"

"Is Brendon White Ohio State's 'Speedin' Bullet to the Playoffs'?"

I do not know the answers to these questions (August 31 come quicker!) but I can make a fool out of myself with some predictions. Let's get started! 

Jordan Fuller

2018 Statistics: 81 total tackles, one interception, four passes defended

Over/Under: Tackling - Under, Pass Defense - Over

The senior safety led the team in tackles a season ago and will continue to anchor the defensive backfield for the third year in a row. His versatility will continue to be one of his most crucial abilities moving forward, allowing him to switch between positions seamlessly. 

With the supporting cast improving around him, I expect a slight drop in his tackling production. He was the last line of defense far too often in 2018 and there is simply no way the defense will allow as many big plays as they did last year. 

The Bucks struggled to find a competent second safety for half of last year, forcing Fuller to play down for much of the year. This year, he'll be the centerfielder from day one. With this opportunity, Fuller will be able to show his true potential as a ballhawk. 

Damon Arnette

2018 Statistics: 40 total tackles, one interception, six passes defended

Over/Under: Tackling - Push, Pass Defense - Over

Arnette seemed to always be in the right position but could never finish the play. Hopefully an offseason with Jeff Hafley will bring him to the light. 

The fifth-year senior has always had the tools to be a premier outside cornerback and this season is his final chance. He is not a great tackler but should be able to match his 2018 performance. With a favorable schedule and another outstanding corner on the opposite side, expect Arnette to flourish when the ball is in the air. 

Jeffrey Okudah

2018 Statistics: 32 total tackles, zero interceptions, eight passes defended

Over/Under: Tackling - Over, Pass Defense - Over

Okudah is being talked about as a top-five pick in next year's draft. He has never been the starting outside cornerback and has zero collegiate interceptions. He recently mentioned how his and Denzel Ward's Ohio State careers have followed a similar path

There is no reason Okudah will not become one of the nation's best corners. This, combined with an unintimidating schedule, should force the junior from Texas into the national spotlight. 

Prepare for a huge year, folks. 

Brendon White

2018 Statistics: 46 total tackles, one interception, two passes defended

Over/Under: Tackling - Over, Pass Defense - Over 

White was the defense's saving grace last season. He just arrived too late. 

The junior safety did not start a game until after the loss in West Lafayette. When given his chance, White made an immediate impact, putting up thirteen tackles against Nebraska. 

He started only six games and still finished the year as one of the team's top-five tacklers. His physicality has pushed him into the bullet position, a safety/linebacker hybrid. This change should allow him to wreak havoc from the slot whether the ball is in the air or on the ground, boosting his production with a full season under his belt. 

Shaun Wade

2018 Statistics: 31 total tackles, three interceptions, seven passes defended

Over/Under: Tackling - Push, Pass Defense - Under

Last year, Shaun Wade played the fifth-most snaps of any player in the secondary and led the team in interceptions despite not being a "starter." This year in fall camp, Wade has been running with the starters and appears likely to see playing time at both outside cornerback and slot cornerback.

He might not have as many tackling opportunities or passes thrown his way in his new role, so as for his pass defense, my "under" pick is not an indictment on his ability but rather a belief that he will simply not be able to match his outstanding numbers from last season.

Malik Harrison

2018 Statistics: 81 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, two turnovers

Over/Under: Tackling - Over, Sacks - Push, Turnovers - Push

Harrison considered leaving for the draft after his successful 2018 season but returned after feeling as if he could do more. 

The weak-side linebacker was easily the best of Ohio State's trio a season ago and that will not change this season. His ability to go from sideline-to-sideline is something the Bucks were missing from the other two starters. 

If he can carry the momentum he created in the final four games of 2018, where he had 29 total tackles and a forced turnover, he could put himself into position as an All-Conference player and outperform his junior season. 

Tuf Borland

2018 Statistics: 67 total tackles, three sacks, two turnovers

Over/Under: Tackling - Under, Sacks - Under, Turnovers - Under

Borland's name consistently comes up in press conferences and has been one of our biggest storylines heading into next season. He was productive last year but it was clear that the Buckeyes needed more out of that position. 

As of today, it looks like Tuf Borland will hold onto his starting middle linebacker position. Seeing that he has been "getting pushed" by Teradja Mitchell, however, it is difficult to predict his numbers for the upcoming season. I expect a heavy rotation between the two (with Baron Browning also in the mix) and Borland's overall production to take a hit. 

Pete Werner

2018 Statistics: 58 total tackles, three sacks, two turnovers

Over/Under: Tackling - Over, Sacks - Under, Turnovers - Push

Werner is one of the more difficult returning players to understand. The strongside linebacker accumulated over 800 snaps last year, the most of any linebacker, but his numbers looked fell short in comparison to the other contributors in his unit.

Yet, he is a lock to start this season. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has raved about him this offseason

“I think Pete Werner had a really, really good spring, ... I think he’s going to be a heck of a football player.”

I'll drink Mattison's Kool-Aid and trust that more snaps tend to allow for more production, improving his tackling numbers. I do not see him getting to the quarterback that often, however, as the defensive line should be more than able to get pressure in the backfield. 

Chase Young

2018 Statistics: 33 total tackles, 10.5 sacks

Over/Under: Tackling - Over, Sacks - Over

Projected top-five pick. Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. 10.5 sacks as a sophomore. Chase Young is a rising star. 

Young is probably the most talented player on the defense but that may end up hurting his overall production. The third-year defensive end should see more than his fair share of double teams and chips this season, which could make it difficult to top his sophomore year total. 

Despite this, Young is simply overwhelming and he should dominate opponents all season long. 

Jonathan Cooper

2018 Statistics: 25 total tackles, 2.5 sacks

Over/Under: Tackling - Push, Sacks - Over

The senior defensive end is not as flashy as his partner on the opposite side but he is more than able to get the job done. It is his final season at Ohio State and he wants to make the most of it. 

Prepare for him to do just that. 

Cooper has mentioned before that he has not yet reached his full potential. He was the 33rd best player in the nation out of high school and has been short on patience. 

With three years of playing time under his belt and a superstar taking most of the spotlight, I expect Cooper to come into his own. His tackling totals should not increase by much, especially with the heavy-rotations that have become a Larry Johnson staple, but his sack numbers could skyrocket. 

Robert Landers

2018 Statistics: 25 total tackles, one sack

Over/Under: Tackling - Push, Sacks - Over

Everyone's favorite nose tackle is not someone who will wow you with stats. Nose tackles rarely get to the quarterback, opting to hold the pocket and take up blockers. Landers, all 285 pounds of him, is the perfect man for the job. 

With Dre'Mont Jones gone, B.B. has a great opportunity to be a dominant force in the middle. His tackling numbers should increase with more playing time and, with two destructive ends on the outside forcing quarterbacks to step up, his sack numbers should follow suit. 

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