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Maryland football’s defensive backs were riddled with injuries in 2016

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There was talent in the secondary, but the Terps couldn’t stay healthy.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26. With the regular season now firmly in the rear view, it’s time to enter postseason analysis mode. We’re doing a position-by-position evaluation of the team. Let’s look at the defensive secondary.

The players

Defensive back stats

Name Pos Year Games Tackles TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Name Pos Year Games Tackles TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Darnell Savage, Jr. S SO 12 52 3.5 1 1 4 0
Alvin Hill CB SR 13 43.5 2 1 2 4 0
JC Jackson CB SO 12 34.5 1 0 1 6 1
Josh Woods S JR 10 33 1 0 0 2 0
Jarrett Ross S SR 12 29 2 0 0 0 0
William Likely III CB SR 6 27 4 1 0 3 1
Qwuantrezz Knight S FR 11 21.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
RaVon Davis CB SO 12 20 1 0 0 4 0
Denzel Conyers S SR 3 12 0 0 0 0 0
Tino Ellis CB FR 12 7 0 0 0 3 0
Elijah Daniels S FR 7 5.5 0 0 0 1 0
Elisha Daniels CB FR 5 4 0 0 0 0 0
Antwaine Richardson CB FR 2 2 0 0 0 1 0

The numbers

DB S&P

Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Category Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing S&P+ 95.5 80 100
Passing Success Rate 41.80% 74 40.90%
Passing IsoPPP 1.28 8 1.49
Adj. Sack Rate 135.3 18 100

What we thought would happen

SB Nation’s Alex Kirshner expected Maryland to have two dominant corners in Will Likely, who was returning for his senior season, and JC Jackson, who transferred to Maryland in the spring and was cleared to practice in August.

The word from Maryland’s practice fields this August is that Jackson may be the best player on the team. Whether he’s that good nor not, Jackson is a clearly terrific athlete, and if he can’t cut it as a starting Big Ten cornerback, it’ll be a stunner.

If you stick Jackson opposite Likely, that’s probably two cornerbacks who can cover good receivers all by themselves a lot (not all) of the time. And if you’re a defense like Maryland’s that plans to play with just one high safety, that means everything.

Josh Woods looked like the favorite to start at one of the safety spots, with either Denzel Conyers or Darnell Savage likely to grab the other one.

What actually happened

Likely didn’t get to have the season he wanted, suffering a career-ending injury against Minnesota. He played mostly as a nickel corner and didn’t record any interceptions, but was one of the team’s leading tacklers.

Maryland’s other corners stepped up. Jackson was ruled ineligible for the season opener but played the rest of the way; he led the team with six pass break-ups. Hill, meanwhile, had the best year of his career and was the only Terp to snag multiple interceptions. That ballet class must have helped him.

Conyers and Savage beat out Woods for the job in camp, but Conyers suffered a season-ending injury at UCF early in the season. Woods initially started in his place, but struggled and ultimately ended up behind freshmen Qwuantrezz Knight and Elijah Daniels. Savage missed just one game with injury, which makes him look extremely durable by comparison.

However, even as the Terps reached deep into the bag, the pass defense was ultimately a strength for Maryland. The secondary was great at avoiding big plays (8th in defensive passing IsoPPP), although Boston College pulled off some big gains in the Quick Lane Bowl.

What might happen in the future

Jackson and Savage figure to be the anchors of this unit next season, but beyond that, there’s a lot of mystery.

Conyers could be granted a medical redshirt and return for his fifth year, in which case he’d likely start at safety. Plenty of second-tier guys from this season—Davis, the Daniels twins, Richardson, Knight, Woods, and Ellis if he stays on defense—will be ready to battle each other. Dimitri Lee, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, will also be eligible.

And then there are Maryland’s two best recruits for 2017 at the moment: corner Deon Jones and safety Markquese Bell. Both are high four-star prospects that could realistically start in the season opener at Texas. The Terps’ recruiting class also includes three-star corners Fofie Bazzie and Kenny Bennett, and JuCo corner Alex Woods. Athletes Dazz Newsome and Jalen Browder also seem like they’ll be defensive backs in college.

That name-dropping spree has 18 players in it. Some might transfer or redshirt, but it looks like this will be a deep group. There is sure to be competition at every spot in camp, and it helps that so many of the players competing saw the field this season. Maryland had to turn to plenty of youngsters in the secondary this year, which will lead to a more experienced unit in the fall. The Terps did well defending the pass in 2016, and that should continue in the coming season.