Two significant decisions have led to this position for Dezjhon Malone: flipping from nearby Fresno State to San Diego State during his recruitment, then moving from safety to cornerback during the fall 2021 camp season.
Both choices have now positioned the West Fresno native as an early contender for the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the 2023 season.
Dezjhon Malone’s Production at SDSU Came After Bold Switch
Before cracking the starting lineup, the 6’2″ Malone had this stat line in the 619 in 2020: two games played, not one tackle. And those games only saw him on special teams.
But since his move from safety to manning one of the perimeter spots on the field, the switch has elevated Malone to become one of the MWC’s top defenders and an early threat to claim the conference’s top defensive nod.
Malone went on to start in the last 11 games of the 2022 season for the Aztecs. In that period, he snatched 43 tackles, 34 solo stops, then showed his ball skills with five pass breakups and three interceptions.
Malone proved his consistency by snatching between 3-6 tackles in nine of the Aztecs’ games last season. But his one six-tackle day came against No. 14 ranked and reigning Pac-12 champion Utah.
He also reached the 3-6 tackle plateau facing five different bowl teams, including the MWC title game reps Boise State and Fresno State — further proving his sure tackling ability against the toughest teams on the Aztecs’ schedule.
On the coverage end, though, Malone’s height and lengthy arms make him a prized gift at CB for an SDSU defense that, annually, produces one of the conference’s best units. One notable player he picked off? Boise State’s much-hyped towering dual-threat Taylen Green.
There’s another reason behind the three picks — teams began to rarely test his side. On film, Malone was only caught surrendering two touchdowns total on his side. One came against Utah near the goal line with no safety help and facing 6’5″ Devaughn Vele. The other came visibly on a botched free play as SDSU jumped offsides against Nevada — culminating in confusion between Malone and the deepest safety near him, and the Wolf Pack scoring on a 20-yard strike…their only touchdown of that evening.
But one of his better coverage nights was against MWC champion Fresno State despite blowing an 18-point lead to fall 32-28. Malone faced four different future NFL rookies that night in Jake Haener (New Orleans Saints), Jalen Moreno-Cropper (Dallas Cowboys), Zane Pope (Kansas City Chiefs rookie camp invite), and Nikko Remigio (Chiefs rookie invite).
Malone only surrendered three receptions on his side. And, all of Haener’s touchdowns came throwing away from Malone’s side. Even a high-powered offense like the Bulldogs had respect for Malone.
Malone Has ‘NFL Size,’ Analyst Says
Malone is someone who uses his blend of size, speed, and length to win his one-on-one reps and likely future NFL teams. So much so, that CFN’s own Joe Broback is one who believes the Aztec is an NFL-caliber defender — even calling him the fifth-best SDSU returner this fall.
“Malone gives you that size that NFL scouts really want,” Broback said. “Honestly, this is a deep secondary and one of the best secondaries in college football that doesn’t get enough love. And Malone is just one of those guys that we’re going to talk about.”
Malone isn’t just the latest star on a defense that’s frustrated offenses in the MWC over the years, but there’s one more advantage he has on the field.
Malone Knows Wide Receivers Very Well, Being a Former Wideout Himself
While he was putting together his recruiting resume at Edison High in Fresno’s west side, Malone also showed some explosive plays on the other side of the ball.
That means he comes equipped with his own knowledge of how wideouts will think and what routes are their strengths. It gives Malone a cerebral edge in attacking WRs.
It additionally makes Malone one of the few defensive backs who can win the mind games battle with a receiver in the MWC.
Is Malone the Favorite to Win MWC DPOY?
He’s for sure in the mix. However, it’s a deep field of defenders coming back in 2023.
For starters, Fresno State’s top ballhawk and 2022 MWC champ, Cam Lockridge, is back and fresh off a five-interception campaign. If he tops that mark, he’ll emerge as the heavy favorite to win the award.
Wyoming has its own contenders for the award. In the trenches, Jordan Bertagnole and Devonne Harris return. Easton Gibbs is also back at linebacker — he delivered 121 tackles last season to place second in the MWC.
DJ Schramm of Boise State is a steady veteran presence. But now, he’s in season three with former BSU linebacker great Andy Avalos as his head coach. Schramm, who also played high school football in the Fresno region at Clovis West, has a chance to flourish even more under the linebacker guru Avalos.
There’s even a new SDSU teammate of Malone’s who counts as a threat to snatch the award: New Mexico linebacker transfer, Cody Moon. He was a tackling machine playing for a similar 3-3-5 scheme the Aztecs run and now gets a deeper and more talented defense to work with, plus has Malone on the backend.
Regardless, Malone should definitely be on the shortlist of early MWC Defensive Player of the Year contenders for the 2023 season. And two pivotal changes have led to his DPOY chances.