Should Utah’s Cole Bishop Be A Favorite to Claim 2023 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year?

The Utah Utes are in great hands with a hard-nosed hybrid defender in Cole Bishop. But is he their best chance at snatching the top defensive award in the Pac-12?

Since their arrival to the Pac-12, the Utah Utes have produced just one Defensive Player of the Year winner in Devin Lloyd. But now, the Utes’ 2023 defense has a chance to create their second DPOY holder in the last three seasons in the form of their former three-star safety, Cole Bishop.

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Cole Bishop Gives Utah Their Top Returning Tackler From 2022

While Utah has to replace cornerback Clark Phillips after the 2023 NFL Draft, the Utes are still strengthened by the return of Bishop.

Once a former three-star prospect out of Peachtree City, Georgia, plus ranked as the 48th overall Peach State prospect in a class that featured Jake Garcia and the No. 1 overall prospect Amarius Mims, Bishop has established himself as a savvy tackler.

But he’s not just chasing and catching up to wide receivers or tight ends who try to sneak behind the secondary with the football. Bishop uses his 6’2″, 203-pound frame to rattle offenses behind the line of scrimmage, proven by his team-high six tackles behind the line of scrimmage among secondary players.

Bishop is unafraid to channel an inner linebacker and halt short-yardage situations. That already makes him a future prospect defensive coordinators, or even general managers with a past background in playing defense, can fawn over once he’s available for the draft.

Bishop Has Stepped Up in Utah’s Most Pivotal Contests

But here’s what else makes him a legitimate threat to snatch the conference’s top defensive honor: His play versus some of the toughest opponents Utah has had to face.

It all began against Florida down in Gainesville — with 12 tackles and seven solo stops, which ended up being season-best totals. But he didn’t stop there.

Facing the 2021 Mountain West Conference runner-up and perennial bowl contender San Diego State, Bishop snatched nine tackles with five solo stops. Then, during a three-week gauntlet that involved 10-3 Oregon State, nationally ranked USC, and UCLA, Bishop went on to surpass the five-tackle mark against all three.

And of the trio, he exacted revenge on USC for the Pac-12 title with nine stops, including seven solo tackles.

Tackling is obviously his primary strength, but his eyes and brain additionally make him a hard assignment for offenses. Facing Stanford and future Day 3 Draft pick at quarterback, Tanner McKee, Bishop starts off showing man coverage. But once he discovers the running back is being used as a blocker, Bishop immediately switches to blitzer, and the play ends with the sack of the 6’6″ passer.

And going back to his inner LB, Bishop shows the sideline-to-sideline destruction coveted by linebacker coaches from his safety spot here against Arizona State:

Finally, Bishop shows he’s more than a hitter. As the deep safety facing two streaks from the Oregon Duck receivers to the right of him, Bishop maintains his eyes and footing and stays over the top of his zone, ending with him denying a goal line trip for the Ducks.

Bishop shows the traits that make him the ideal hybrid OLB/safety Utah needs for this defense. But is he facing a clear path to DPOY of the Pac-12?

Bishop Likely Fighting With Deep Group of Edge Rushers For Award

For Bishop to give Utah its second-ever Pac-12 DPOY, he will have to fend off a deep group of defenders who can attack the passer in this conference.

It begins with Washington’s Bralen Trice. He collected nine sacks en route to his All-Conference First Team honors. Now that he’s back for a second season under second-year defensive coordinator William Inge (who was once the LB coach for a young Khalil Mack at Buffalo), Trice could see a spike in production and elevate his chances for the award.

Staying in the Apple State, Ron Stone Jr. of Washington State is another likely candidate to be on the shortlist for the award. Suiting up for defensive whiz Jake Dickert as his head coach, Stone Jr. has 20.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks in his career. Another season with Dickert, plus with Daiyan Henley off to the league, could catapult Stone into the conversation for the Pac-12’s top defensive honor.

But arguably, the heaviest favorite for the nod is UCLA’s Laiatu Latu. He busted out with 10.5 sacks, 12.5 TFLs, and nine QB hurries. An even more breakout in 2023 will make him hard to beat for the award.

In the end, though, Pac-12 teams can’t overlook the versatility and physicality of Bishop. If there’s someone representing the Utes fully capable of being recognized for the award, it’s the former three-star talent from Georgia.