Sometime in the next 36 hours, a lucky team will select Deone Bucannon in the 2014 NFL Draft. If mock drafts are to be believed, the former Washington State safety will become the highest draft choice for the school since Marcus Trufant was taken 11th overall in 2003.
Yet, because the WSU program has largely been irrelevant over the past decade, precious few people beyond hardcore Pac-12 fans and draftniks have paid close enough attention to the Cougars to notice the work Bucannon was doing, collecting tackles like candy on Halloween.
If you're a Coug, you already know everything that follows. But there are going to be a lot of fans of a yet-to-be-determined NFL team scrambling to learn everything they can about our guy Bucannon. Maybe that's you!
If it is, here's what you need to know.
Bucannon was a four-year starter and one of the few guys to truly bridge the gap from the Paul Wulff tire fire to Mike Leach. Not everyone bought in to Leach's, uh, methods after Wulff's firing, but Bucannon did and became one of the major reasons why this team transformed into one that could scratch its way to six wins and the program's first bowl appearance in 10 years.
He epitomizes "speak softly and carry a big stick," preferring to lead by example. A tireless worker -- he added 20 pounds between his junior and senior seasons -- Bucannon had the unending respect of his teammates as he was the unquestioned leader of the WSU defense.
Bucannon finished his career as an All-American, thanks in large part to plays such as this one:
There's plenty more where that came from, and we'll get to that in a minute. But this hit ... man, it's mesmerizing, isn't it? As one of our writers, Brian Floyd, said to me: This GIF is Deone Bucannon's WSU career wrapped up in a neat little five-second package. A bunch of his teammates sort of flail away in feeble attempts to make a tackle, while Bucannon just sticks his nose in there and tries to kill someone.
Sometimes he connects. Sometimes he doesn't. But it's never for lack of decisiveness.
It's been that way since he started as a skinny 186-pound freshman, stealing the job from a tackling-averse senior -- the hits just weren't as big. But now that he can lay the wood better than any safety in this draft, Bucannon has secured the full attention of NFL scouts. It only helped that he ran a blistering (for a big safety) 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine while generally flashing great strength and athleticism.
Here's another gratuitous Bucannon hit for you, just because big hits are really fun!
It's undeniable that Bucannon is experiencing some fortuitous timing, coming into the NFL in 2014. No other player in the draft is going to evoke comparisons to Kam Chancellor -- the enforcer of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks -- like Bucannon. He's a bit smaller than Chancellor, but stylistically? That's the guy you're looking at: An in-the-box thumper who is going to destroy anyone who tries to come across his area of the field:
It would be stunning if a team drafted him with the purpose of making him into a free safety. While Bucannon did have a fair amount of coverage responsibility at WSU -- and did pick up 15 interceptions in his career, including this nice one against Stanford in the end zone out of what was likely two-deep responsibility -- it's unlikely he possesses the coverage skills and range to play that role with regularity. Besides, smart coaches tailor their schemes to the talents of their players, and Bucannon has a unique skill set for which the Seahawks have laid down the blue print. Use it, folks.
Don't expect perfection from Bucannon. As we noted above, sometimes he misses. SI.com's Doug Farrar put it perfectly:
Get WSU SS Deone Bucannon under control on the field, he's got 1st-round flashes. But man... like a cat on a kitchen floor sometimes.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) February 13, 2014
He'll over-run some coverage and over-pursue on some tackles, and that gets him into trouble -- he missed a tackle in the New Mexico Bowl that led to Kapri Bibbs' 75-yard touchdown run. While he's a ferocious hitter whose single-minded pursuit of ball carriers will remind you of a lion chasing a gazelle across the plains of Africa, he'll need to work on his field discipline.
Will Bucannon be Chancellor? Heck, not even the Seahawks were sure Chancellor would be Chancellor -- as a 5th round pick who faced many of the same coverage questions as Bucannon, Chancellor sat behind an aging Lawyer Milloy for a year, playing special teams, before being worked into the fold the next year. It's so difficult to project a guy long term, but here's what we know from watching Bucannon for the past four years: He is humble and the kind of hard-working grinder who is going to earn the respect of his coaches and teammates immediately, likely parlaying that into a long career in the league.
Once again, Farrar: "As a developmental prospect who can play certain roles right away, he’ll make some NFL team happy."
Looks like that happy team is yours. Congratulations.