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Colorado football: Way-too-early defensive breakout candidates for 2024

When examining my picks for offensive players who could break out in 2024, I spoke about Colorado football’s offense taking a step forward in 2023. On the other side of the ball, the Buffs’ defense looked eerily similar to 2022 and must now take a big jump forward in 2024 for the team to be competitive.

The Buffaloes’ defense struggled against the run and the pass at different points in 2023 but did a better job getting after the quarterback and forcing turnovers. Head coach Deion Sanders and his staff have hit the transfer portal hard again this offseason by landing talented players at every position.

Below are six Colorado defenders who are primed to break out in 2024:

DL Quency Wiggins

Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Wiggins’ excellent size and status as a former blue-chip prospect make him a candidate to start for Colorado in 2024, most likely on the strong side of the defensive line. At LSU, Wiggins played in nine games over the past two seasons while taking a redshirt year in 2023. We’ll see if a change of scenery produces a breakout season for Wiggins.

Edge Samuel Okunlola

Syndication: Beaver County Times
Syndication: Beaver County Times

Okunlola saw the field for 15 games at Pitt, including two starts in 2023. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound pass rush specialist totaled five sacks and six tackles for loss, showing he can make an impact play when called upon. Okunlola will be a candidate to start on the weak side of CU’s defensive line and will most certainly factor into CU’s pass rush packages in 2024.

DL Eric Brantley Jr.

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Rated as a three-star prospect in high school, Eric Brantley Jr. is my dark horse pick to make an impact as a true freshman. During his senior season at Valdosta High School in Georgia, Brantley racked up 98 tackles, 34 TFLs and 12 sacks.

CB Cormani McClain

Mandatory Credit: Christopher Creveling-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Christopher Creveling-USA TODAY Sports

This one’s another no-brainer, as Cormani McClain is a former five-star recruit who has gained some size this offseason. McClain started in four games while playing in nine last season and got some valuable experience. I expect McClain to be a starter in his sophomore season.

DBs Carter Stoutmire and Jaden Milliner-Jones

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I listed these two together because Stoutmire and Milliner-Jones are essentially in the same spot heading into 2024. Both players saw time as true freshmen and made an impact as three-star prospects. I also believe that they each have the size and ability to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield. One or both can carve out a path to playing time in 2024.

Further reading

READ: Jaylen Ellis forecasts Colorado teammate Omarion Miller to become college football’s best WR

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Story originally appeared on Buffaloes Wire