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Big 12 Football: Ranking the Top 25 Players Heading into 2014

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2014

Big 12 Football: Ranking the Top 25 Players Heading into 2014

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    Baylor's Bryce Petty (left) and Shock Linwood are among the Big 12's best players heading into the 2014 season.
    Baylor's Bryce Petty (left) and Shock Linwood are among the Big 12's best players heading into the 2014 season.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Football in the Big 12 Conference has taken a reputation hit since the 2013 season ended, the product of only three players from the league leaving early for the NFL draft and a grand total of just 17 getting drafted overall.

    Take those numbers for what you will, but one thing is certain: Those that will represent the Big 12 on the field this fall will be far more prized by professional scouts and teams. Bleacher Report NFL expert Matt Miller has four from the league projected in his early 2015 mock draft, double the tally that was taken in the first round this past draft, while many others are drawing interest for their future pro potential.

    For now, though, they're all still college players, and together should make the Big 12 a heck of a league to watch this year.

    Here's our look at the 25 best Big 12 players heading into the 2014 season.

25. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Freshman

    Height, weight: 6'2", 195 pounds

     

    The first entry on this list gets his spot based on hype and potential, because Joe Mixon has yet to play a snap for Oklahoma. But as the top-rated incoming recruit in the Big 12, Mixon's reputation has earned him this spot.

    A 5-star athlete from California, Mixon picked the Sooners over Florida State, Washington and Wisconsin. He has a great chance to start as a true freshman since Oklahoma graduated its top three running backs and its fullback from the 2013 team.

24. Isaiah Johnson, S, Kansas

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'1", 210 pounds

     

    Kansas was Isaiah Johnson's third school in as many years, having spent a year at FCS Western Carolina (but not playing because of an injury) and one at a junior college before coming to the Jayhawks in 2013. They probably wish he'd come to the team sooner after last year's performance, which saw him earn the Big 12 coaches' pick for Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

    Johnson had 73 tackles, second-most on the team, and led the Jayhawks with five interceptions.

23. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'5", 315 pounds

     

    Give credit to Baylor's bevy of explosive skill position players, for it's due. But don't forget about the big boys blocking up front and giving time to Bryce Petty and his weapons to fire on all cylinders, most notably two-year bulwark Spencer Drango.

    Drango has been the Bears' starting tackle since the first game of his redshirt freshman season in 2012, and during that time Baylor has finished either first or second nationally in total offense. Opponents have had only 41 sacks in those two years, with very few coming through Drango's path.

22. Chris Hackett, S, TCU

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2", 195 pounds

     

    TCU's opponents completed just over 50 percent of their pass attempts last season, resulting in only 225 yards per game. The Horned Frogs' secondary was one of the most solid in the country in 2013, and as much credit goes to Chris Hackett as any other player.

    Hackett had three interceptions last year, tied for second on the team, while also breaking up five other passes. But he was more than just a pass defender, finishing second on the team with 88 tackles, which included two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Hackett also forced two fumbles and recovered three loose balls, contributing to TCU's defense in every way imaginable.

21. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'0", 230 pounds

     

    How important was Ben Heeney to Kansas' defense last year? Injuries kept him out of two games, yet he still led the Jayhawks with 88 tackles.

    Heeney also had 11.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions, showing his continued development from just a forward rusher to someone who plays the whole field. The two-time Big 12 second-team linebacker has been an anchor in the middle of Kansas' defense and will be heavily relied on this fall.

20. E.J. Bibbs, TE, Iowa State

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    Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'3", 261 pounds

     

    Tight ends don't have a storied history at Iowa State, but that could all change with another year from E.J. Bibbs. The junior college transfer posted one of the best seasons for a tight end in Cyclones history with 39 receptions and 462 yards along with two touchdowns.

    Bibbs was a reliable option for ISU's quarterbacks, catching at least two passes in every game in 2013, the only player to do so. He's a big target who should get lots of looks this fall.

19. Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'1", 193 pounds

     

    Jaxon Shipley may never lead any league in receiving, but he'll also probably never be considered a disappointment when it comes to his production. Instead, Shipley has shown some of the most consistent numbers of any wideout in the country.

    He has 159 career receptions at Texas, collecting more than 1,900 yards in the process. For his career he has 10 touchdown catches, though during 2013's down offensive year for the Longhorns he found the end zone only one time. As the leader of the receiving unit this fall, though, expect that scoring tally to go way up.

18. Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4", 273 pounds

     

    With as great a linebacking corps as Oklahoma had last season, its defensive line didn't have a lot of pressure on it to perform. But that didn't stop Charles Tapper from being among a number of breakout stars on the Sooners' defense, especially when it came to disrupting the quarterback.

    Tapper, who started 12 games at end, had 5.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss among his 49 tackles. But where he seemed to cause the most havoc was in flushing opposing passers, as he led Oklahoma with eight quarterback hurries.

17. Le'Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'5", 320 pounds

     

    Le'Raven Clark can play almost any spot on the offensive line, something he's shown in his Texas Tech career and may continue to do so this fall.

    As a redshirt freshman he started every game for the Red Raiders at right guard, then in 2013 started all 13 contests at left tackle. And now, with highly regarded junior college left tackle Dominique Robertson joining the team this summer, Tech offensive line coach Lee Hays is toying with the idea of moving Clark back to guard or to right tackle.

    Regardless of where Clark plays, he's been a rock as a run-blocker and in pass protection.

16. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'9", 275 pounds

     

    Shawn Oakman was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school, listed as the nation's 15th-best strong-side defensive end...way back in 2010. That started a two-year hiatus from football in which Oakman first redshirted at Penn State and then, after transferring to Baylor, sat out another season per NCAA rules.

    Given all that time to stew, Oakman played with an intensity and fervor in 2013 that you'd expect from someone forced to sit out for two years. Though a backup all year long, Oakman still managed to finish among the Big 12 leaders in tackles for loss with 12.5. He'll likely start on the right side of the Bears' defensive line this fall, which should make for some exciting rushes off the edge.

15. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 5'10", 196 pounds

     

    Since his first tackle as a true freshman, Karl Joseph has been developing his reputation as one of the hardest hitters in college football. In the 24 games since, like that first one as a starter, Joseph has been a fixture in West Virginia's secondary.

    Joseph has 172 tackles in his two years with the Mountaineers, and last season he not only showed off his hitting but his nose for the ball by leading the Big 12 with four fumble recoveries. He'll move from free safety to the bandit position this fall, a spot that should further his renown as a punisher.

14. Dominique Alexander, LB, Oklahoma

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'0", 219 pounds

     

    On a defense full of playmakers, Dominique Alexander found a way to stand out in his first year of college last season. Now that he's a known quantity, though, he's apt to perform even better than he did in 2013.

    After limited play during the first five games, Alexander moved into the starting lineup against Texas and remained in that spot the rest of the season. With 80 tackles, one sack, 3.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, he was named the Big 12's Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

    With fellow linebacker Frank Shannon's status uncertain for the 2014 season, Alexander's impact on the Sooners defense might be amplified even more.

13. Quenton Bundrage, WR, Iowa State

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    Chris Jackson/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2", 191 pounds

     

    On a team that finished in the bottom half of FBS in most offensive categories during a 3-9 season, it's hard for there to be many players with big numbers. Yet Quenton Bundrage managed to establish himself as a go-to receiver and one of the toughest to stop in the Big 12.

    Bundrage had 48 catches for 676 yards and nine touchdowns for Iowa State last year, with the scoring total setting a single-season school record. He set the tone early in the best of venues, catching seven passes for 146 yards and three TDs in the Cyclones' loss to in-state rival Iowa in early September, then had two more multi-touchdown games, including a pair in ISU's season-ending overtime win at West Virginia.

    With ISU bringing former Kansas coach Mark Mangino in as offensive coordinator this season, Bundrage should soar even higher.

12. Sam Carter, S, TCU

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'1", 215 pounds

     

    Despite a losing record, TCU's secondary produced a first-round draft pick in 2013 in the form of Jason Verrett. It could have another high pick coming out of there this fall if Sam Carter continues his career trajectory.

    Carter has started 26 games in his career, including the last 25 as TCU's dependable strong safety. Last year he led the Horned Frogs with five interceptions, while also registering four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, and was a big part of why TCU tied Kansas State and Texas Tech for the fewest pass plays allowed of more than 20 yards.

     

11. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

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    eric gay/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4", 320 pounds

     

    While Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed got most of the attention coming off the edge, it was Malcom Brown plugging up the middle that was one of the most important parts of Texas' defense improving as the 2013 season went along.

    Brown—not to be confused with the Longhorns' running back, Malcolm Brown—started all 13 games last season and registered 13 tackles for loss to go along with two sacks. His long reach enabled him to bat down five passes on the year.

10. Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'1", 202 pounds

     

    Trevor Knight only threw for 819 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman in 2013, yet he enters this fall as one of the most talked-about quarterbacks in the country. Why?

    Just ask Alabama, against whom he went off for 348 yards and four TDs in Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl win over the Crimson Tide. That game not only springboarded Knight into early Heisman discussions for 2014, but also confirmed what many experts felt about the young passer who had been inconsistent during his opportunities throughout most of last season.

    Knight was in a season-long battle for the quarterback job with Blake Bell, only playing in eight of Oklahoma's 13 games. He got the nod against Alabama because of his ability to throw and run, as shown by his 445 yards and 6.6 yards-per-carry average during the year, and it's why even with a shaky spring game performance Knight is on pace to have a great 2014 season.

9. Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 5'8", 200 pounds

     

    Baylor's offense didn't have a featured running back last season, though Lache Seastrunk ended up with the most carries, yards and touchdowns. But not far behind was Shock Linwood, who in his redshirt freshman campaign gave the Bears a lot to look forward to.

    Sturdily built for such a short rusher, Linwood's power matched with his quickness made for rough sailing when opponents tried to tackle him. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns, finishing with 881 yards despite very limited activity in Baylor's final three games.

    With Seastrunk off to the NFL, Linwood figures to move into the primary rusher role and should thrive in Baylor's wide-open system with a full load of carries.

8. Cedric Reed, DE, Texas

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'6", 271 pounds

     

    Texas failed to produce an NFL draft pick for the first time since 1937 this past season, but odds are that won't happen again in 2015. And the man to end that skid, Cedric Reed, is apt to return the Longhorns to its past draft glory with a very high selection.

    Reed had a career year in 2013 with 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles, recording two sacks in three different games. Though Texas' defense was maligned at times last year, Reed's play was never criticized, which is why he's high on many draft boards. Bleacher Report's Zach Shelton notes that he was one of only two FBS players (along with first-round pick Khalil Mack of Buffalo) to have five sacks, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups.

    Now under the tutelage of noted defensive guru Charlie Strong as his new head coach, Reed should once again thrive in the pass-rushing department. Along with some improvement in the run-stopping department, he should live up to the hype that has USA Today's Brent Sobleski listing Reed as the projected No. 19 pick in next year's draft.

     

7. Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'2", 245 pounds

     

    Ryan Mueller began his Kansas State career as a walk-on, and a redshirted one at that. He's set to finish his run with the Wildcats this year among the program's all-time leader in sacks.

    Mueller was voted by the Big 12's coaches as the conference's top defensive lineman last year, when he had 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss among his 62 tackles (53 of which were solo). The 11.5 sacks tied the school record, and with another year like that in 2014 he would finish in the top three in K-State history.

    A semifinalist in 2013 for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the nation's top former walk-on, Mueller should be a front-runner for that award this season as he pilots the Wildcats' defense against a laundry list of high-flying offensive opponents.

6. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'4", 240 pounds

     

    A broken foot robbed us of seeing what Devonte Fields could do for an encore performance last season, while it also provided Big 12 opponents with a respite from the explosive defensive end's talents. But all signs point to Fields returning as strong as ever in 2014, so offensive coordinators should prepare accordingly.

    Fields had 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as a true freshman in 2012, earning the Big 12's Defensive Freshman of the Year award. Two of his four tackles in 2013 were for a loss before he suffered the broken foot during TCU's third game, knocking him out for the year as a medical redshirt.

    His absence was a major blow to the TCU defense last year, but with him back on the edge the Horned Frogs will once again sport one of the league's fiercest pass rushes.

5. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'10", 225 pounds

     

    Antwan Goodley won't wow anyone with his height, as he's about as tall as most of the defensive backs that line up opposite him every Saturday. Where he makes up for that, though, is with a solid, power-packed frame that enables Goodley to play like a 6'4" wideout.

    Last year he was the main receiving target in a Baylor offense full of weapons, hauling in 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns. No. 2 receiver Tevin Reese graduated, and while there are others waiting in the wings to pick up the slack it will be Goodley who once again carries the torch for the Bears' receiving corps.

    And the scouts will be watching. Mike Huguenin of NFL.com listed Goodley as one of the most explosive athletes in the game, citing his combination of speed (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and strength (he's reportedly squatted 660 pounds).

4. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'4", 215 pounds

     

    Everything about Davis Webb should be bigger in 2014, and that starts with his weight. Last month, Webb told Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that he lost more than 40 pounds just before the start of the 2013 season because of a stomach virus, and wasn't able to regain most of that mass as the year went along.

    That weight loss may have attributed to Webb's early struggles in his first year of college, but even with those circumstances he managed to post the best numbers ever for a Texas Tech freshman quarterback. Despite only playing in 10 games (two of which were for minimal action), he tallied 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns, including a stellar 403-yard, four-TD performance in Tech's bowl win over Arizona State after having not played in more than seven weeks.

    Webb completed 62.6 percent of his passes, and while some negative plays cut into his effectiveness at times, he emerged from the Red Raiders' muddled quarterback race to be the No. 1 guy at the end. With his former challengers having all left the team, Webb has the whole offense at his disposal, which should lead to a massive year.

3. Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'0", 220 pounds

     

    Play well throughout the season and you get noticed. But play well in a big game, on a national stage, against a worldly opponent and that attention gets magnified immensely.

    Eric Striker is the product of such an approach, as he blew up for Oklahoma during its Sugar Bowl romp against Alabama. Striker sacked A.J. McCarron three times and also forced a fumble in that game, and the college football world took notice, so much so that his name appears on at least one first-round mock draft for 2015.

    Though undersized, Striker is one of the fastest linebackers in the game, allowing him to register 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss last season. With the Sooners set to field one of their best overall defenses in recent memory, one that has them firmly planted in the playoff discussion, Striker has a chance to continue to shine under the spotlight.

2. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'11", 175 pounds

     

    When Tyler Lockett arrived at Kansas State he was a known quantity, but it was more for his lineage than his on-field abilities. But now the son and nephew of two of the Wildcats' most prolific offensive and special teams players ever has established his own reputation after a breakout 2013 season.

    Lockett caught 81 passes for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, finishing the season with a flourish by hauling in 10 catches for 116 yards and three TDs in K-State's runaway bowl victory over Michigan. He also had a career game in a loss to Oklahoma, when he had 12 catches for 278 yards and three scores.

    Now he enters his final year with a chance to become the Wildcats' all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, records held by father Kevin Lockett, as well as receiving TDs. Along the way he'll pass uncle Aaron Lockett's career tally for receiving yards.

1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'3", 230 pounds

     

    Bryce Petty spent two years as a backup in Baylor's quarterback-friendly system before finally getting the call in 2013, and his performance was worth the wait. As a junior he threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns against just three interceptions, while also rushing for 16 TDs in leading the Bears to their first conference title since 1980.

    It was the perfect set of circumstances for Petty to leave school and head out on a pro career, but instead he chose to return for his senior year and by doing so instantly put Baylor into the national title picture.

    His numbers from a year ago make it seem like they'll be hard to improve on, but coach Art Briles believes Petty can do better because this year it won't feel like unfamiliar territory.

    "Last year, he had to live the experience,” Briles told Chuck Calrton of the Dallas Morning News. “Now he’s got the experience. Last year, every time he did something, it was the first time he had done it. Now he can process. He can and will be better.”

    Petty's blend of big-armed throwing and sneaky elusiveness—he tends to only run in the red zone—make him the Big 12's most dangerous weapon in an offense full of them.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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