Arizona cornerback Dane Cruikshank's biggest challenge is to improve his ability to track and deflect passes.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Who will be the most valuable Arizona Wildcats football players of 2017?

That’s what we’re aiming to find out over the next few weeks.

It’s a completely subjective exercise, of course, and it’s important to note that everyone on the roster – from the starting quarterback to the scout-team walk-ons – has value. But it’s informative to project who the most valuable players will be, and that’s what we’ll attempt to do in this series.

Before we continue, some disclaimers:

“Most valuable” does not necessarily mean “best.” Rather, we’re defining it as the contributions and traits that most influence winning football. They include talent, leadership and projected role and production.

Newcomers were not eligible for the list. Although many might become major contributors this year, especially on defense, their roles are just too difficult to predict in June.


Ht/Wt/Yr: 6-1, 204, redshirt senior

Comment: From a purely physical standpoint, Cruikshank has everything you’d want in a top college cornerback. He has excellent size and very good speed for his size.

The question is whether Cruikshank can convert those attributes into consistent production.

Cruikshank accumulated promising raw numbers last season, his first as a member of Arizona’s active roster. (Cruikshank transferred from Citrus College in 2015 and redshirted that season.) Starting all 12 games, Cruikshank had 60 tackles (including 53 solos), seven passes breakups (second on the team) and two interceptions (tied for first).

What those stats don’t reveal is how often Cruikshank was in perfect position to defend a pass … but had trouble locating the ball. It happened repeatedly, and it has to be the aspect of his game that Cruikshank works on the most this offseason.

Which leads to more questions …

Is that something that can be fixed? Can Cruikshank be taught techniques that will enable him to get his head around, locate the ball and knock it away at the last instant? Or is that an instinctive skill that Cruikshank simply doesn’t possess?

You’d like to think it’s the former – that new cornerbacks coach Marcel Yates can train Cruikshank through countless practice reps to improve his play and ball recognition. If Yates – Arizona’s defensive coordinator, who this offseason shifted from coaching linebackers to defensive backs, his longtime forte – can work his magic, Cruikshank can become one of Arizona’s most valuable contributors in 2017.

You’d also like to think Cruickshank will be more comfortable being a Wildcat this season. Although he was a redshirt junior in ’16, it was his only his second year in the program and the first in which he played a meaningful role. There’s an adjustment period associated with that. Cruikshank should be well past that stage when training camp starts in late July. He should be ready to become a leader.

As mentioned, Cruikshank has all the measurables, which enable him to be physical near the line and to run with just about anyone down the field. He has the potential to be Arizona’s No. 1 cornerback. But as of now, that's all it is - potential.