There is a common misconception about football in the Big 12 conference. National pundits and common fans alike talk about the Big 12 as an offensively dominant conference, which is true. The falsehoods start with discrediting the defensive talent and schemes throughout the conference.
Yes, a lot of points are scored in the conference. But it actually has more to do with the elite, and I truly mean elite, offensive talent and schemes in the league. Let’s make something clear, I’m not saying these guys are talented college football players. The amount of NFL-caliber offensive talent in the conference may be stronger than ever.
Defensively, there are solid NFL prospects to be found. Potentially just as much as any conference not named the SEC. Defenses don’t struggle because of lack of talent (or scheme, see: Iowa State), it’s just nearly impossible for any collegiate defense to slow down the Big 12 offenses.
Here are all of my scouting observations of the Big 12 from this season:
5 Best Prospects
Dalton Risner: Risner is one of the premiere offensive line prospects in the NFL Draft, who has experience at multiple positions. The three-time All-Big 12 first team player will likely be considered in the first round to be a franchise right tackle, due to his mauling ability as a run blocker.
Yodny Cajuste: Cajuste is right up there with Risner as a prospect, with experience at guard and left tackle. A consistent wall in the pass game with power in his punches, Cajuste will also be an early round pick and a potential candidate to bump back inside at the next level.
Rodney Anderson: Anderson entered the season in the running for RB1, and did nothing to lower his stock before a midseason injury. If his medicals check out, he will be considered in the first round. With a great physical profile and athleticism, the NFL is going to value his ceiling.
Charles Omenihu: Omenihu entered the season as more potential than player, but his production started to match his ceiling this season. With great natural tools because of his length; Omenihu's leverage, active hands and motor have helped him accumulate 8.5 sacks this season.
Kris Boyd: Boyd has excellent athleticism for the cornerback position, with natural transitions and smooth feet. With solid length and a certain unmatched feistiness, Boyd competes at the catchpoint and downhill as a tackler.
3 Most Overhyped Prospects
*Sorry everybody, I just can’t be negative enough to come up with 5 “overhyped” prospects:
Ben Banogu: Banogu’s pass rushing can come and go too often, and his lack of secondary moves is a concern. While he will likely be drafted and has swift athleticism, he still needs development to become an NFL edge rusher.
David Sills V: Sills is a fine NFL prospect, but will surely be overvalued because of his collegiate production. His route running has flaws, as he doesn’t have the most efficient breaks and doesn’t run a full route tree. His body control allows him to win above the rim, but he needs to refine the other aspects of his game to become more well-rounded.
David Long Jr.: This is coming on the heels of David Long Jr. being named Big 12 defensive player of the year. While Long plays at the line of scrimmage and beyond and is a sound tackler, there are still concerns over his size and coverage ability.
5 Most Improved Prospects
Antoine Wesley: "Twizzy" is easily the most improved player in the conference from a production standpoint, as Wesley went from a non-factor into the Big 12’s leading receiver. With outstanding length and body control, Wesley is a high-point machine.
Hakeem Butler: Taking over the targets left by Allen Lazard, Butler has one of the best yards per reception in the FBS. His physical profile and size match his play strength, and he has an innate ability to high point passes and remain upright through contact.
Lucas Niang: Now the starting tackle for TCU, Niang had serious flashes of elite level play against the best competition he faced all season. With a solid combination against the run and pass, Niang’s massive frame will entice NFL teams if he decides to declare.
Neville Gallimore: From his defensive tackle position, Gallimore was more active this season and starting to play more in the opponent’s backfield. With fast, active hands and a strong base, Gallimore can stuff the run as well as pressure the pocket from the interior.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey: Humphrey more than doubled his yards and touchdowns in his breakout junior campaign, showing promising traits as a space player and ball carrier with size. Humphrey played himself into consideration for declaration into the NFL Draft.
5 Least Improved Prospects
Will Grier: Consider this the section of players that I liked a good bit, but didn’t develop to their potential this season. Will Grier didn’t do damage to his stock, but I don’t think he helped it with his play this season either. The same mechanical flaws, such as drifting away from clean pockets and floating balls as a result, were still prevalent on his film.
Patrick Vahe: Entering the season, I thought Vahe was one of the best interior offensive lineman in the conference. Unfortunately, he was getting beaten with a lack of anchor too often this season, and not dominating in the run game like his frame suggested he should.
Breckyn Hager: I love Hager’s motor, and he has a solid get-off at the snap. However, he’s a bit tight-hipped and struggles to corner the edge. While he will likely get a shot at an NFL training camp, he hasn’t shown much improvement in his game from previous seasons.
Gary Johnson: Johnson, similar to Hager, plays the game with intensity and a high motor. While he can read and react and stuff the run well, his lack of size can get him blown off the spot. Johnson likely can’t flow sideline to sideline fast enough to hold up at the next level.
Adam Holtorf: While Holtorf showed positive signs on tape last season, there was no progression to his game this year. Holtorf too regularly gives an extra step before anchoring in pass protection, and he failed to eliminate that weakness this season.
5 Best Developmental Prospects
Marquise Brown: Hello, wide receivers. The depth of the position in the conference is astounding, but more on that later. Nearly all of these guys narrowly missed on the top 5 prospects in the conference because I have questions about their all-around game, they need to continue their development. Marquise Brown is a nice example, as he’s an outstanding deep threat and ball carrier, but Oklahoma doesn’t ask him to run a full route tree. With a slight build, there will be durability concerns attached to him as well.
Denzel Mims: Mims entered the season highly ranked by yours truly, but only showed minor signs of development. His athleticism and ball skills are intriguing, but he can have some technique issues that limit the fluidity of his routes. To truly unlock his ceiling, these technique fixes will need to be cleaned up.
Collin Johnson: Johnson has one of the higher ceilings among wide receivers in the class, and developed his game this season. Still a slight work in progress, the next step in his game will be consistently attacking the leverage of defensive backs. Johnson started to show this ability more this season, but it can still come and go at times.
Jalen Hurd: With the transfer and position switch, Hurd’s athleticism was the juice behind his productive campaign. Along with Mims, Hurd can have some technique issues that could help progress his ability as a receiver. With obvious ability as a ball carrier and space player, as well as raw ball skills, landing spot can help Hurd become an above-average NFL wide receiver.
Scott Frantz: Starting opposite Dalton Risner, Frantz is slightly more raw but has nice power in his upper body. Frantz has a nice frame for the next level but needs consistency in his pass sets.
5 Prospects I Still Question
Ty Summers: Summers has seemingly been more athleticism and raw ability than production for his career. When given clear reads, he can react and bring power behind his tackles. Too often, he can fail to fill the correct gap or react to passing plays.
Dru Samia: Samia needs added weight to be a more effective to prevent him from being tossed around in the upper body. Despite his mobility, he isn’t as effective on zone runs as he should be, and showed minimal progression in this regard this season.
Andrew Beck: While Beck produced more positive tape catching the ball this season than the rest of his career, he mostly operates as an underneath target and run blocker. What limits his potential is average athleticism and a lack of pass blocking. He likely doesn’t quite have the ceiling of a TE1 for an NFL team.
Ben Powers: While Powers is built well and an effective puller, there is concerns with being more of just a positional blocker than someone who drives defensive lineman off the spot.
Dravon Askew-Henry: Askew-Henry feels like he’s been at West Virginia for years, but the safety has never really progressed his game beyond a likely Day 3 selection. With no traits that truly stick out, his ball skills and tackling are just decent in comparison to NFL-caliber defensive backs.
5 Sleeper Prospects
Daniel Wise: Wise returned to Kansas this season after flirting with the NFL Draft and likely improved his stock as a result. A bruiser of a defensive tackle, he brings energy and leverage on a snap to snap basis.
Jah’Shawn Johnson: Injuries sidelined Johnson for long stretches of this season, but on film he is a free safety with range. His closing speed and ability to fly downhill allowed him to rack up over 100 tackles in 2017.
Vaughnte Dorsey: The other half of the Texas Tech safety duo, Dorsey is a playmaker with a nose for the football. With excellent athleticism and an NFL frame, Dorsey’s play took a massive step forward this season.
Duke Shelley: Shelley is undersized, hence why he will be underrated for the next level. However, he perfectly projects as a nickel cornerback. With smooth transitions and an intensity when it comes to tackling, Shelley will be a contributor for an NFL secondary.
Alex Barnes: Barnes increased his production this season, finally having his elite frame and athleticism match his yardage. He does a great job of avoided low tackles for his height, and seems to have more burst than last season.
5 Prospects I’d Pound The Table For
Brandon Jones: My affection for Jones’ game is well-documented, as he can fill the alley and tackle with the best of them. Though his role likely doesn’t include any time at free safety, there is a natural spot for him to be a box safety or big nickel at the next level.
Dakota Allen: From his days on the documentary Last Chance U, Allen has been a great leader and stayed out of trouble. As a prospect, he has the athleticism and lateral range to project for nicely into the NFL.
Joe Dineen Jr.: While a different style linebacker than Allen, Dineen Jr. is a natural gap plugger with a nose for the football. His role on an NFL team will come down to his development playing the pass, but at the very least we know Dineen Jr. can stuff the run and play special teams.
Brian Peavy: One of the few natural cornerback prospects in the conference, Peavy can be a primarily zone cornerback at the next level. The way that Peavy attacks downhill is some of the best run support from a cornerback in the class, and he has the smooth hips to hold up vertically against NFL wide receivers.
David Montgomery: Montgomery is a truck of a running back, with a strong and compact frame build for contact. He shrugs off defenders and easily picks up yards after contact, while still offering ability in space or as a pass catcher. Get this man on my football team.
Other Notable Prospects:
Jordan Brailford: Everybody sing it with me “I’ve been getting dirty money Jordan Brailford.” His motor allowed him to rack up 10 sacks this season. While he isn’t the bendiest edge rusher, his active hands and pursuit should get him drafted.
Kolin Hill: Hill has NFL tools and length to his frame, but just finally starting producing as a pass rusher late in his redshirt-senior season. With 5 sacks in the final 5 games of his career, Hill may have done enough to warrant a draft selection.
Davante Davis: Across from Kris Boyd, Davis is a solid prospect in his own right. With proper size and athleticism, Davis is a competitor with plus ball skills.
Gary Jennings Jr.: David Sills’ counterpart, Jennings Jr. has good size, speed and vertical ability. His production got him a spot as Big 12 honorable mention, and he has produced draftable tape this season.
Eli Howard: More of a run stuffer than Kolin Hill, Howard is build like a gap plugger defensive end. His motor is solid, and he can pressure the quarterback a bit with inside moves.
JaQuan Bailey: Bailey has solid tape as an EDGE rusher for Iowa State. With a clean swim move, ability to convert speed to power and a tireless work ethic. Bailey has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Ray Lima: Lima is a sound defensive tackle with sturdy strength in his lower half, maintaining his ground and eating up blocks that allow his linebacker(s) to roam free.
Zach Shackelford: Shackelford can stall and anchor pass rushers and counter with driving defensive lineman. With active hands and feet, Shackelford does an excellent job of climbing to the next level to cut-off linebackers in the run game.
All-Big 12 Review
Kyler Murray was deservedly named offensive player of the year. His production speaks for itself, and gives Oklahoma their fourth consecutive offensive player of the year award. Murray is likely headed for the MLB after being taken 9th overall in their draft last season, but you have to imagine he will at least test the NFL waters just to be sure of his potential stock.
Brian Peavy was left off All-Big 12 first team defensive back in favor of two freshman, I simply don’t agree with this pick.
Pooka Williams and Justice Hill are exciting players, but David Montgomery was the juice behind Iowa State’s offense, and should have been named first team.
The wide receiver gauntlet in the conference came to task while naming the All-Big 12 teams. The first team wide receivers were Marquise Brown, Tylan Wallace, and David Sills V. The second team was Hakeem Butler, Jalen Raegor, and Antoine Wesley. This relegated Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Gary Jennings Jr., and CeeDee Lamb to honorable mention, leaving Denzel Mims, Collin Johnson, and TJ Vasher off of the team entirely.
Big 12 Championship Game Preview
The Red River rivalry rematch will take place in the Big 12 championship game on Saturday. While Texas won the first matchup on a last second field goal, Oklahoma has been the better team since that game. The keys to a Longhorn victory will come down to ball control and limiting the big plays.
Easier said than done considering the firepower on Oklahoma’s offense, if Texas’ secondary can contain Marquise Brown’s vertical receiving ability and keep Kyler Murray in the pocket, they will have a chance to outscore them.
This will come down to Kris Boyd and Davante Davis’ performance against the explosive wide receiver, as well as Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager’s ability to collapse the pocket on Murray.
While Texas is on offense, look for the involvement of Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey against the sub-par Oklahoma secondary.
While I prefer the Longhorns, the Sooners are playing for a potential spot in the college football playoff and are playing better ball as of late - Oklahoma 31 Texas 24
As always, thank you for reading along this regular season. You can follow me on twitter @BradKelly17.