2024 Mountain West SAF Rankings: Does Ike Larson or Wyatt Ekeler Sit at No. 1?

    As the last line of defense, safeties have a lot on their plates. Who lands atop the 2024 Mountain West SAF Rankings?

    The top safeties don’t just secure the back end of a defense; they provide alignment versatility, run support, and downfield coverage protection. The top of the 2024 Mountain West SAF Rankings boasts all that and then some.

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    Mountain West 2024 SAF Rankings

    10) Camryn Bracha, Fresno State Bulldogs

    Prior to joining the Bulldogs last season, Camryn Bracha played two seasons at Fresno City College. He led the team in tackles, interceptions, and blocked kicks in 2022, resulting in all-conference and all-state honors, alongside the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

    Bracha battled a leg injury in his first campaign with Fresno State but still earned four starts. With all three safeties who saw significant snaps no longer on the team, 2024 should serve as Bracha’s national introduction.

    9) Johnathan Baldwin, UNLV Rebels

    In his second year starting, Johnathan Baldwin took his game to new heights. He improved as a tackler and run defender, crashing downhill and wrapping up ball carriers.

    He still allowed a few too many deep balls, but coverage numbers can fluctuate year to year. Plus, Baldwin dealt with an injury toward the end of the season and struggled when he returned. A fully healthy campaign will help maintain the Rebels’ assent while the offense undergoes a bit of retooling.

    8) Peter Manuma, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

    Peter Manuma has started in Hawaii’s secondary since stepping on campus as a true freshman in 2022. In the last two years, he has recorded 157 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, five more PBUs, and two forced fumbles.

    He played the majority of his snaps in the box in 2023, and despite standing 6’0″ and 190 pounds, he more than held his own in run defense. Manuma’s third year may be when his combination of physical ability and experience combine for explosive production.

    7) Ty Benefield, Boise State Broncos

    The only reason why Ty Benefield isn’t higher on the list is because he was the team’s third safety last season, and both of the starters are returning. But what he put on film as a true freshman is utterly unfair.

    MORE: 2024 Mountain West LB Ranking

    Benefield generated three sacks, one INT, and five PBUs, and with another offseason to hone his craft and 6’2″ frame, his ceiling may not be high enough.

    6) Jack Howell, Colorado State Rams

    If it were not for Wyatt Ekeler and Isaac White sharing the same defensive backfield, Jack Howell and Chase Blackburn would be the conference’s best safety tandem. While Blackburn covers the deep third, Howell does the dirty work underneath, returning as the MWC’s leader in total tackles (114). Whether it’s serving as a box add-on or carrying vertical threats from the second level, Howell can do it all.

    5) Seyi Oladipo, Boise State Broncos

    Covering two-way go’s from the slot is one of the toughest roles on defense, but Seyi Oladipo makes it look easy. Across three seasons, he’s produced four INTs and 13 PBUs, even notching 8.5 tackles for loss in 2023. He keeps plays in front of him and can run with nearly every pass catcher who lines up across from him.

    4) Henry Blackburn, Colorado State Rams

    Most college football fans likely remember Henry Blackburn as the Colorado State defender who laid a controversial hit on Colorado two-way start Travis Hunter early in the season. But Blackburn is much more than that one moment. He snatched three picks alongside 7.5 TFLs, including 2.5 sacks, as a team captain last season.

    The range he provides at free safety allows defenders to play aggressively underneath and makes him a threat against the run when crashing down.

    3) Isaac White, Wyoming Cowboys

    Equipped with two years of starting experience, easy-to-see football IQ, and sideline-to-sideline range, Isaac White is one of the most reliable safeties in the Mountain West. Wyoming asks a lot of their third level, leading to White lining up in the box, deep third, and slot a relatively even amount.

    He grew as a coverage defender last year, conceding zero touchdowns and a long reception of just 19 yards. A repeat performance with fewer missed tackles will lead to All-Mountain West recognition.

    2) Ike Larsen, Utah State Aggies

    The leading returner at the position in INTs (four), Ike Larson put on a show as a redshirt sophomore. Not only did he make the All-Mountain West first team, but he was an honorable mention All-American for CFN.

    Larsen is at his best closer to the line of scrimmage, where he can use his ball skills, burst, and instincts to full effect. There was transfer talk, but he quickly shut that down, although he’d have no shortage of Power Five offers to consider.

    1) Wyett Ekeler, Wyoming Cowboys

    Hey, that last name is familiar! Yes, Wyett Ekeler is the younger brother of NFL running back Austin Ekeler, but he’s also an impressive athlete in his own right. He starred as an RB in high school, rushing for 1,435 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior. Yet, the Cowboys viewed him as a defensive back — even though he virtually hadn’t played defense before — and Ekeler met the challenge head-on.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Mountain West Power Rankings

    He spent his first two years in Laramie transitioning to the defensive backfield before becoming a starter in 2022. In the past two seasons, he has logged 150 tackles, three INTs, 14 PBUs, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. But beyond the numbers, Ekeler is the No. 1 tackling safety in the conference, is a plus run defender, and doesn’t get burnt in coverage.

    2024 Mountain West SAF Rankings | 11-20

    11) Jett Elad, UNLV
    12) Jaiden Francois, Utah State 
    13) Rodney Robinson, Boise State
    14) Keyshawn Cobb, Nevada
    15) Dalesean Staley, San Diego State
    16) C.J. Boyd Jr., Air Force
    17) Robert Rahimi, San Jose State
    18) Christian Ellis, New Mexico
    19) William Nimmo Jr., San Diego State
    20) Kitan Crawford, Nevada

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

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