From a pure statistics standpoint, we saw some historically bad defenses this decade. As you can imagine, that made it pretty difficult to come up with a list of five without over-stretching. Luckily, the top three were no-brainers. The last two spots, though,... eehhHhhHHhHHHHhHhh. I struggled. I chose to go by career production and stats which was unfair to guys like Bruce Jones, who only played for two years. Jones didn’t have the stats to land him on the list, but that’s because folks learned not to throw the ball his direction.
While the defenses were pretty bad this decade, I think the players on this list all deserve a lot of respect and credit for what they did with their careers. Most, if not all, played under multiple defensive coordinators during their careers. The process of learning new systems over and over while moving positions has made for some poor chances for athletes... remember that whole Chad Glasgow and 4-2-5 disaster in 2011?. I cannot stress to you how hard that is, and how much better off Texas Tech should be in the next decade with a little more consistency with the staff and systems in place.
5. Justis Nelson, 2013-2016
Career stats: 158 total tackles, 122 solo tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions
Listen, he may have been one of the most frustrating defensive backs in the decade at times, but going by production, Nelson is deserving of this ranking. The three-star prospect from Mesquite was recruited by the Tuberville staff, but played for the Kingsbury’s staff. Nelson wasn’t highly recruited, but the unique aspect of his size (height of 6-foot-2) made him an attractive add as a defensive back. While Nelson got burned a lot deep, he was as consistent of a tackler as Tech has seen on the outside. 2015 was his best year, where he logged 44 total tackles, 32 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss and two interceptions.
Career highlight has to be the end zone interception against Arizona State in the 2013 Holiday Bowl that secured Texas Tech’s first and only bowl victory of the Kingsbury era.
4. D.J. Johnson, 2009-2012
Career stats: 239 total tackles, 188 solo tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 8 interceptions
My personal favorite on this list. I really think you need a guy like D.J. on every team, and I was also convinced the dude was the second coming of Dwayne Slay (which is lofty expectations for any Tech DB). A three-year starter, D.J. Johnson kind of gets forgotten since he played alongside Cody Davis, but make no mistake, he was just as productive. Johnson logged 239 tackles, 188 solo tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and eight interceptions. The Austin native was a fluid athlete with great size and speed for the safety position. He was a two-time All-Big 12 conference selection, with his best season coming in 2012 with 90 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and two interceptions.
If there was a highlight in D.J.’s Texas Tech career, he has to be his interception that helped set up the game winning field goal in the 2012 Meineke Car Care Texas Bowl (back when we used to go to bowl games on a regularly scheduled basis).
Interception at about the 9:00 mark, but watch the whole thing. I miss this Texas Tech offense.
3. Jah’Shawn Johnson, 2014-2018
Career stats: 312 total tackles, 210 solo tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles
If this list was being made for the best trash talker or hardest hitting DB, Jah’Shawn would be the undisputed number one. Johnson certainly had the production and fearless hard-hitting ability that made him one of the most respected safeties in the league. Even though he was a bit undersized for the position, the Ennis product made himself known to Red Raiders quickly in his career with his outstanding closing speed and being able to fly downhill to make big tackles in space. I don’t really remember anything getting behind Johnson when playing in deep zone coverage, which for a safety is a really great thing. A four-year starter and two-time captain, Johnson finished his Tech career with 312 tackles, 210 solo tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 6 interceptions.
If there is a memorable moment in Johnson’s career, it’s certainly the strip fumble he caused against Arkansas in 2015 to seal the win. Jah’Shawn was always fun to watch, a great leader, and Tech was lucky to have him when they did.
(Play starts at about the 1:18 mark)
2. Douglas Coleman III, 2016-2019
Career stats: 137 total tackles, 108 solo tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 11 interceptions
Another four-year starter, Coleman made a name for himself as a turnover machine. Honestly, when I made this list, the one thing I pictured was his infamous turnover against Texas in 2016, where he stripped D’Onta Foreman of the ball at the goal line and ran 100 yards for a touchdown.
While that was an amazing play, it was just the norm with Douglas Coleman. He was a turnover machine from the first season in 2016 to his senior season in 2019 where he finished tied with the most interceptions in the country with eight. He finishes his time at Tech with 63 total tackles, 50 solo tackles and 11 interceptions. While the Tech defense wasn’t anything special this decade, Coleman was a great asset in the defensive backfield and should certainly get some looks at the next level.
1. Cody Davis, 2009-2012
Career stats: 362 total tackles, 286 solo tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions
I don’t think this is disputable. I don’t even think there is an argument that someone else deserves the first spot on this list. As a four-year starter at Texas Tech, Cody Davis left as one of the most accomplished safeties in school history. After red-shirting the 2008 season, Davis quickly cemented his place as an integral part of the Tech defense. In 2011, Davis became just the third Red Raider over the last 12 years to record at least 80 tackles in three consecutive seasons. His 2012 campaign was his best, with 101 tackles logged, 4 tackles for loss and three interceptions.
I think his highlight play is the 99-yard interception touchdown return to bring the Texas State Bobcats back to earth (first play highlighted in the video below).
Although he was not drafted, he was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2013, where he would spend five seasons. He was signed by Jacksonville in 2018, where he is listed as a free safety and special teams contributor.