The Big 12 is full of players that keep defensive coordinators up at night.
Yet some are easier to handle than others.
Former Kansas State standout Tyler Lockett is the perfect example. Teams could scheme to take Lockett out of the game on offense, only to see him change the game with a punt return. Or they could kick away from him only to see the Wildcats’ all-time leading receiver change the game with a big play through the air. It didn't matter how teams aimed to stop him, Lockett consistently found a way to impact games in many different ways during his four seasons in Manhattan, Kansas.
With Lockett now calling Seattle home, the Big 12 still features several multidimensional threats who could change games in 2015. Here’s a look at five offensive playmakers who will change games -- one way or another -- this fall.
Corey Coleman, Baylor receiver
Baylor has become great at finding ways to get the ball in the hands of Coleman, one of its top playmakers. Deep passes, swing passes and handoffs make Coleman tough to handle when BU has the ball and he tops it all off by being one of the conference’s top threats on kick returns.
Much like Lockett, Coleman began to make a name for himself as a returner, with a 97-yard kickoff return against Iowa State as a redshirt freshman. As a sophomore, he became one of the Big 12’s top pass-catchers with 1,119 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Art Briles' team even lined him up in the backfield, giving him 11 carries for 53 yards and one score in 2015.
Don’t be surprised if Coleman’s role expands even further as a junior. He has emerged as a centerpiece of the offense, particularly with Antwan Goodley’s departure, but his ability to line up at several different positions makes things more difficult on defensive coordinators. Even if teams find ways to take him out of the game on offense, he still could impact the game with a kick return (27.85 career average). He should be one of the nation’s most dynamic offensive threats in the fall.
Aaron Green, TCU running back
The Horned Frogs running back could be the Big 12’s hardest player to corral in the open field. Green is the ideal complement for returning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Trevone Boykin as both players can turn a short gain into a momentum-changing touchdown in a matter of seconds.
Green finished with over 100 all-purpose yards in four of TCU’s final five games, including 171 all-purpose yards against Kansas State and Iowa State. He finished with 1,088 all-purpose yards despite never having more than eight touches in the Horned Frogs' first seven games.
The Nebraska transfer’s numbers could explode as a senior after passing the 1,000-yard mark in all-purpose yardage in what amounted to half a season as a primary playmaker for Gary Patterson’s squad a year ago. A regular season full of consistent touches could bring 2,000 all-purpose yards into his sights.
Alex Ross, Oklahoma running back
With a unique combination of size, speed and acceleration, Ross returns as one of the Big 12’s top dual threats. He has cemented a spot among the nation’s top kick returners while also providing a big-play threat on offense for OU.
Ross -- who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 31.22 yards per kick return -- returned 39.1 percent of his kickoff returns at least 30 yards during his sophomore campaign. On offense he averaged a team-high 6.76 yards per carry and had six plays of 30 yards or more.
Ross faces plenty of competition at the running back spot with Samaje Perine as the star attraction and Joe Mixon in the role of dynamic newcomer. Even with the added competition, Ross’ proven playmaking ability should get him time on offense while he continues to put fear in the hearts of special-teams coordinators around the Big 12.
Wendall Smallwood, West Virginia running back
The junior has been a productive player during his first two seasons in Morgantown, West Virginia, showing the versatility to line up at running back or receiver and make plays through the air or on the ground.
Smallwood’s 31 catches were second among Big 12 running backs and his 722 rushing yards rank him No. 7 among returning rushers in the conference. His six receptions for 73 yards in the 2014 season opener against Alabama showed his ability to be a receiving threat against any defense.
If he wants to cement himself as one of the Big 12’s top playmakers in 2015, Smallwood needs to rise to a different level as a junior. WVU’s offense could be searching for big plays and coach Dana Holgorsen is confident Smallwood can be that guy despite the dynamic ball carrier entering his third season with just three career touchdowns.
DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech running back
Washington plays with a toughness that belies his size while bringing quickness and versatility to Tech’s offense. The Big 12’s top returning dual threat led all Big 12 running backs with 328 receiving yards in addition to his 1,103 rushing yards in 2014. He averaged 6.56 yards per touch from scrimmage as a junior.
His final two games of the 2014 season could be a glimpse at what he will bring to Kliff Kingsbury’s team this fall. Washington’s 237 yards from scrimmage (186 rushing yards) in a 34-31 win over Iowa State was followed by a 172-yard performance which featured 107 receiving yards against Baylor in the season finale.
As good as Washington is, he could see his opportunities slightly decline in 2015 as the Red Raiders' depth behind him becomes an asset. Justin Stockton should be better as a sophomore and redshirt freshman Demarcus Felton has served notice he plans to make an impact this fall. Nonetheless, the Big 12’s most versatile running back should find himself in the mix to earn All-Big 12 honors during his final season.