It had been 11 years since a Washington State football player was selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
On Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals and Deone Bucannon ended that drought.
Bucannon, a physical strong safety from Fairfield, Calif., who started 43 games during a four-year career at WSU, was selected with the 27th overall pick during Thursday’s first round.
Bucannon becomes the first WSU player drafted in the first round since Tacoma native Marcus Trufant was selected 11th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 2003. The Cougars had 14 players drafted between Trufant and Bucannon, none of them taken higher than the third round.
At 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds, Bucannon spent his career intimidating opposing receivers and discouraging them from catching the ball over the middle by delivering highlight-reel hits on a regular basis. He added bulk each year he was in Pullman, especially prior to his senior season, when he entered training camp with bigger biceps and the same punishing style of play.
That physical transformation, more than anything, helped turn him into a first-round NFL safety.
“I feel like that helped my overall game, being able to take on blocks, helped my explosiveness,” Bucannon said late Thursday night from his home in California. “Getting in the weight room and the strength coach, coach (Jason) Loscalzo, getting me to another level — I think that was the biggest thing from my junior year to senior year.”
He was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2013 — a handful of All-America lists honored him, too — after leading the conference with 114 tackles, also snagging six interceptions to bring his career total to 15.
For much of his collegiate career, Bucannon was a bright spot on a struggling defense. As such, he accumulated more tackles than is customary for a safety. Bucannon’s combined tackle total (368) ranks fourth-best in WSU history, and his solo tackle total (268) is second only to Anthony McClanahan.
Arizona’s secondary is already packed with talent. Bucannon said he’s excited to contribute however he can.
“I went down there and I felt like they were the most interested out of any team that I visited,” Bucannon said. “We had great talks and I knew it would be a great fit. The supporting cast they already have over there with Tyrann Mathieu, Antonio Cromartie, Patrick Peterson. Those are all guys I can learn from and get a lot of great things to improve my game.”
Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who chose to trade Seattle’s 32nd pick to Minnesota in exchange for the 40th and 108th overall picks, raved about Bucannon’s skills while lamenting the fact that he was drafted by a division rival.
“He’s a great kid,” Schneider said. “He’s really, really tough, very aggressive, great range. I wish they would have taken a punter.”
Bucannon was one of just three Pac-12 players drafted in the first round (and one of nine defensive backs), joining UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr (9th overall to Minnesota) and Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks (20th overall to New Orleans).
The University of Washington did not have any players selected in the first round. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a Gig Harbor native, and running back Bishop Sankey are each projected by many analysts to be drafted during Friday’s second or third round.