Mailbag: Defending the Top 25

There weren't a lot of complaints about the list -- at least not as many as I expected. They really centered on a few guys, and I'll discuss them all in this mailbag.

Dennis in Airville, Pa. asks: David: I wonder how close Rex Burkhead came to making your top 25 list. You had Roy Helu and of course that made Burkhead less viable. But both are good receivers, can run the Wildcat, excellent runners, etc. In the end, if Nebraska's OL is as much improved as it seems it might be, couldn't both be top 25 players?

DU: Burkhead wasn’t very close, just because he was only a factor in three games last season. Blame injuries all you want, but there’s no way he could have made the list. He wasn’t close this year, but I put him on my list of guys who could be on the 2010 postseason Top 25. As I said in that post, Burkhead and Helu both making the list is a real possibility. They should both get a ton of carries and could even both flirt with 1,000 yards thanks to the offensive line, which should be very, very good.

Brandon Welch in San Diego writes: Kendall Hunter is way better than Demarco murray

DU: No, he’s not.

Jason Lewis in Kansas City, Mo. asks: David,I enjoyed reading your ranking of the Big XII's best players. I do believe one player was missed and should have at least been mentioned on your special teams snubs. That player is Niles Paul. Former NFL scout Gil Brandt from NFL.com just rated him the best receiver in next years draft. With a conservative offense and bad quarterback play he still put up some decent numbers last year. Plus he is a very dangerous kick returner. What are your thoughts on Niles Paul?

Todd Erskine in Albion, Neb. writes: Niles Paul is stronger, faster, had more yards on one fewer reception than Jeff Fuller with a far inferior quarterback and yet Fuller is on your list and Paul is not.

DU: I made it clear that this list isn’t about future NFL prospects, and check Brandt’s list again. It’s all seniors, and Jeff Fuller and Ryan Broyles, the only two receivers on my list, are juniors. And both are significantly better than Niles Paul. Fuller is bigger, Broyles is faster, and both put up better numbers than Paul. The only other Big 12 receiver on Brandt’s list is Texas Tech's Detron Lewis, who joined Paul on my list of guys who just missed the cut.

Broyles missed almost two full games with a fractured shoulder blade and vastly outperformed Paul. Fuller missed all of four with a broken leg and was limited in a couple others , and had similar production.

As for saying the talent around him limits his production, that’s a poor excuse. I’m not saying they have similar talent levels or making a direct comparison, but in Calvin Johnson’s final year, his offense at Georgia Tech was terrible, but he still had 1,202 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Poor overall offense (Georgia Tech had the No. 67 offense nationally in 2006, Johnson’s final year) doesn’t mean individual talent can’t still shine. Zac Lee was actually a better quarterback than Georgia Tech’s Reggie Ball. Ball completed 44 percent of his passes in Johnson’s big final season and never completed more than 50 percent of his passes in a season over his career. Despite Ball's struggles, Johnson still had over 800 yards receiving in all three years he played.

Kevin in Temple, Texas writes: I love reading the Big 12 Blog! I have to wonder if you even do any research on your picks? or do you shoot from the hip? With that said: You have Jerrod Johnson as the #1 best player in the Big 12. The NFL has Prince Amukamara as there #1 preseason draft choice. You have him at 13! Like I said maybe you should do some research before you write things out for us to read next time.

DU: I linked the article you’re referencing last week, and like the Niles Paul answer earlier, this isn’t a list of NFL Draft potential. That said, your terminology is a bit skewed. Amukamara graded out as the No. 1 overall prospect by scouts, but look at last year’s top 3 from those same scouts: Ndamukong Suh, Greg Hardy and Brandon Lafell. Suh was obviously everything people thought he was, but Hardy fell to the third round and LaFell was drafted in the sixth. On-field performance this year trumps these lists.

Additionally, that list is limited to seniors, and Texas cornerback Aaron Williams -- the only cornerback I ranked higher than Amukamara -- is a junior. It’s early, but Williams being drafted above Amukamara is still very possible if he comes out in the same year.

Part of my approach in putting these lists together is drafting players as if I'm building a dream Big 12 team from scratch. Would you really draft a cornerback in the top 5? Quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers are more important to their teams. I barely decided to keep Williams in the top 10 for that reason.

Tanner Fields in Seguin, Texas writes: How in the world could you have not included Baron Batch on the Top 25 Player list? He tied for second in TDs and was 5th in rushing last year, plus over 300 rec yards. I was also interested in hearing what consideration you gave to Detron Lewis and Steven Sheffield. Both should put up huge numbers next year.

DU: Batch is a great back, and he’s probably at the top of my list of guys who got snubbed from the Top 25. But what running back would you take off my list and replace with Batch?

Batch put up big overall numbers, but my thought process was this: If you put Batch into the system of the other five running backs above him, he wouldn't perform as well. The five above him in Batch's position -- catching a lot of balls in the open field and running against five and six defensive back defenses -- would outperform him. That's obviously a subjective way of viewing it, but you can't just take numbers and rank players at face value.

All five of those guys I included are better backs and when it comes to taking guys like Tanner Hawkinson or Blake Gideon off the list, you circle back to the arbitrary nature of this whole process. What exactly makes a running back better than a safety or offensive lineman?