PULLMAN – According to metrics compiled by Pro Football Focus, there hasn’t been a better linebacker in the nation than Washington State’s Daiyan Henley.
Through three games this season, Henley owns PFF’s top grade among all LBs in the FBS. He’s also the site’s No. 1-graded defender in the Pac-12.
The senior outside linebacker has been a superstar so far in his first and only campaign with the Cougars. He was nothing short of exceptional last weekend in WSU’s 38-7 rout of Colorado State.
Henley logged a career highs of 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles against the Rams. On Monday, the Pac-12 recognized Henley for his efforts, naming him the conference’s defender of the week. He was also recognized by the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which named Henley its national defensive player of the week.
“Regardless of position, few draft eligible prospects are off to a better start than (Henley),” Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy tweeted. “Daiyan Henley has quickly proven to be one of the top portal gets in all (college football) this year. (WSU’s) staff has done nice job of utilizing his untapped blitz ability.”
Henley is exceeding the high expectations that have surrounded him since he transferred to WSU this offseason out of Nevada, where he earned All-Mountain West honors last year. He ranks fourth in the Pac-12 and first among Cougars defenders with 30 tackles and leads the conference in both tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (four).
The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder from Los Angeles plays fast and aggressively. He covers ground quickly and has been especially bright when he’s sent on blitzes. His three sacks on Saturday were the most by a WSU defender since standout pass rusher Hercules Mata’afa tallied three against Utah in 2017. Henley didn’t record a sack at Nevada.
“We’ve done a good job of putting him in positive situations, but he put in the work,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said Monday of Henley. “He gained 25 pounds since he’s been here, and his speed and athleticism is matching what we all thought it could be.”
Henley began his collegiate career as a receiver/return man with the Wolf Pack, then transitioned to defensive back in 2019 before making the move to LB in 2020 under defensive coordinator Brian Ward – now the first-year DC at WSU.
“I’ve seen a lot of maturity,” Dickert said. “There’s a lot of playmaking, but he’s playing more like a linebacker. You watch his tape at Nevada – he was just playing old-school football, attacking the ball. Now, you’re seeing him playing linebacker with technique. His blitzing ability is off the charts.
“We’re going to continue to find ways to get him in one-on-one matchups. Whether it’s an offensive linemen, a tight end, a tailback – one-on-one, he’s hard to take care of.”
Henley paced a WSU defense that held the Rams to 249 yards of offense – 82 in the first half – and one touchdown late in the game. He was playing against his former coach. CSU’s Jay Norvell, the head man at Nevada from 2017-21, recruited Henley and mentored him for five years.
“He’s been as advertised,” Dickert said of Henley. “I’m excited about how he’s maturing and his leadership ability and how he handled last week. There were a lot of emotions in that game for him, and he went out there and played well and represented his family to a high degree.””
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