Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel at Houston, but he does need to find depth. While he develops the second and third string players, D’Onofrio should rest easy knowing he has some of the best defensive players in the conference on the first team. This defense should be, once again, one of the best in the conference, and these five players will play a large role in that success.
PREVIOUSLY: TOP 5 OFFENSIVE PLAYERS
Ed Oliver, Defensive Tackle
2016 stats: 66 tackles, 23.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 6 PD
This shouldn’t be a surprise as Oliver could be the Top 5 by himself. As one of (if not the) best players in college football, the sophomore has mentioned he thinks he can play better than last year. After looking at his stat line from last year, any improvement on those numbers would almost guarantee Hall of Fame status. He’s the best player in the nation at his position and one could make a strong argument that he’s the best in the nation at any position. He has all of the tools to be dominant and his motor never goes less than 100%, which is a big reason why he dominates this league.
Matthew Adams, Inside Linebacker
2016 stats: 82 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 3 PD
Houston’s top returning tackler now is the leader of the defense with Steven Taylor exhausting his eligibility. With D’Juan Hines moving from outside linebacker to join him, the inside backer position should be solidified while the two outside positions get settled. Adams is a big body that can sniff out plays and deliver big hits. Just ask Baker Mayfield what it’s like to meet Adams one-on-one.
Garrett Davis, Safety
2016 stats: 65 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 5 PD
Another leader of the defense, and leader of the secondary. Davis already has played in 26 games in his career, and he’s just a junior. He finished third in the conference in tackles for loss, which means he’s utilized in blitz schemes and not afraid to stick his nose in with the big boys. Houston will rely on Davis and Khalil Williams to be leaders in a defensive backfield that will feature multiple new faces.
Khalil Williams, Safety
2016 stats: 68 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 PD
Williams was the third leading tackler on the team, and offenses need to be aware of both Davis and Williams when they’re watching the safeties. Williams added 6.5 tackles for loss last year, giving the Cougars another player to put into blitz packages. The two safeties give the Cougars a formidable 1-2 punch (Davis’ jersey number is also #1 while Williams is #2), and will be expected to get the new cornerbacks up to speed. Davis and Williams’ experience will be tested when Texas Tech comes to TDECU Stadium in Week 4, but they should be settled in by then.
Jeremy Winchester, Cornerback
2016 stats: 45 tackles, 8 PD
It’s his time to shine, and Winchester vastly improved over the course of 2016. There were games in which he struggled, but towards the end of the season, it appeared as if his confidence was at its highest. Now, he’s the man, as the other cornerback spot is in limbo. At 5’11” and 203 pounds, Winchester has solid size for competing with big receivers, and he has the speed to keep up with any burners as well.