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Gionni Paul Loses Out Defensive Player of the Year to DeForest Buckner

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Utah senior linebacker Gionni Paul had a strong case to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, but apparently, his case was not strong enough because Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner won the award instead. Paul finished the year with 109 total tackles (second in the conference behind Stanford's Blake Martinez), four interceptions (which was tied for third in the conference), 12.5 tackles for loss (sixth in the conference), 3.0 sacks (tied for No. 39 in the Pac-12), two forced fumbles (tied for No. 4 in the Pac-12), three fumble recoveries (tied for first in the Pac-12), and a 54-yard fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. Buckner by comparison had 76 total tackles (No. 18 in the Pac-12), 16.0 tackles for loss (No. 3 in the Pac-12), 9.5 sacks (No. 2 in the Pac-12), and no interceptions, forced fumbles, or defensive touchdowns. Paul recorded more interceptions than half of the All-Pac-12 First Team defensive backs (only his teammate Marcus Williams had more with five and Washington's Sidney Jones was tied with Paul with four). Paul was tied for second in the nation in interceptions among linebackers. Buckner had more tackles for loss and sacks, but Paul had a greater impact and was always around the ball.

Buckner was dominant this year, there is no doubt about that, but I think a big reason why he won is he is projected to be a first round draft pick where Paul is not. Paul is undersized to be an NFL linebacker, where Buckner has prototypical size for an NFL defensive lineman. He was productive getting pressure on the quarterback. Paul however was more versatile, making plays in the backfield against quarterbacks and running backs, and making plays on the ball whether it be an open-field tackle, an interception, or forcing or recovering a fumble. It is not that Buckner is not deserving, he is a great player who had a good season. Paul just had a better season. Paul was the best player on one of the best defenses in the Pac-12.

Here are some highlights of Paul this season.

There is also this... Buckner trying to cover true freshman tight end Caleb Repp.