True, there were a lot of tackles to be had during Deone Bucannon’s four years playing safety at Washington State, a time when the Cougars went 15-34 and won just eight conference games.
Still, Bucannon left the Palouse with some eye-popping numbers, including the second-most solo tackles in school history (268) and fourth-most tackles overall (348). That included a Pac-12-leading 114 as a senior in 2013.
Along the way, Bucannon established a reputation as one of the most-ferocious hitters in the conference, once earning a half-game suspension for a late hit on Eastern Washington’s Greg Herd.
Bucannon arrived at the NFL Combine last week, though, saying he wanted to prove to scouts he has a little bit more to his game.
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He started to show that during the Senior Bowl, when the consensus was that he’d performed a little better in coverage than expected.
“It was a great opportunity to show scouts not only that I am a hitter but that I can also turn around with the receivers, as well,’’ Bucannon said.
Then, at the combine, he put up some different numbers that also caught attention. First, he measured 6 feet 1, 211 pounds to rank as one of the bigger safeties available. Then he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash that was the third-best among safeties and 13th among all defensive backs. A 36.5-inch vertical jump was also an above-average number for safeties.
“Excellent speed for a big safety,’’ said draft analyst Dan Shonka of Ourlad’s.
None of it surprised Bucannon, who had predicted before his workouts that anyone who viewed him as a lumbering big safety would be sorely mistaken.
“I feel like with my big frame and my bigger body it’s kind of clouded a lot of people who don’t see the fluidity,’’ he said. “But I feel like I am actually moving better than a lot of people think and I am going to continue to get better as far as that aspect.’’
His combine speed has helped Bucannon become something of a mover on mock drafts since then, emerging as a player some think could be taken as early as the mid-second round.
Bucannon is used to exceeding expectations, though. He was a consensus three-star recruit at Vanden High in Fairfield, Calif., who committed to the first Pac-12 school that offered him a scholarship shortly after taking a visit to WSU.
That background has him sounding like a lot of Seahawks when he talks about his relative lack of attention out of high school.
“I only had three or four offers,’’ he said. “It makes you go into a game and you have a chip on your shoulder like ‘you should have recruited me.’ But I’m happy that I went to the school that I went to, that I went to Washington State. I loved it there. I wouldn’t change it even if I could go back.’’
Even, he says, the sometimes-tumultuous coaching change from Paul Wulff to Mike Leach after his sophomore season.
“I feel like everybody has their own path and everybody encounters obstacles,’’ he said. “It makes you the person that you are, depending on how you react and grow from those certain rocky points, and I feel like those points in my career definitely helped me and got me to where I am today. It was a big transition, but it helped me a lot to mature and make me into a better player.’’
He’ll keep ties to WSU for a while as younger brother David was a redshirt-freshman safety for the Cougars in 2013.
Being in the same state as the Seahawks meant he also got a lot of good looks at the team as it won the Super Bowl this season with the best defense in the NFL. He laughs that he didn’t necessarily become a Seahawks fan, saying that in keeping with how he is often perceived, he often prefers to root for the underdog.
“But if I am watching the game, there are only two people I’m watching — Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor,’’ he said of Seattle’s two safeties.
As predominantly a strong safety, he played more like Chancellor at WSU. But he says of Thomas’ role with the Seahawks that “that’s a dream position for any safety, being able to patrol the backfield and see things before they happen and be able to read and react off of your athleticism.’’
Ultimately, he hopes the NFL sees him as someone who maybe won’t play exactly like those two, but can fill either role.
“Players like Kam Chancellor, they are definitely giving us (big safeties) a chance, and I really appreciate it,’’ he said. “But I feel like I can do the same things that smaller safeties do, as well.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699