With spring ball now a month away, we’re ranking position groups in the Big 12 over the next two weeks. These evaluations will be based on past performance, future potential and quality depth of the entire group. Our outlooks will look different after the spring, but this is how we see them for the moment.
We continue the series with defensive backs:
1. Kansas State: D.J. Reed, the reigning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, also is one of the top one-on-one cover corners in the league. Duke Shelley will be a three-year starter opposite him. Free safety Kendall Adams came on strong during the second half of the season, and the Wildcats signed the No. 1 juco safety in the country in Elijah Walker to take over for Dante Barnett at strong safety. This has the look of a complete group.
2. TCU: After getting lit up early on in the year, the TCU secondary settled down and played well down the stretch, holding opponents to less than 200 yards passing over its final four games. Niko Small had a solid all-around season at free safety. Versatile safety Nick Orr was a second-team All-Big 12 pick. And Ranthony Texada bounced back from knee surgery to give TCU a No. 1 corner. Getting corner Julius Lewis for a healthy full season after he suffered an Achilles injury last offseason should be big as well.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners have the pieces to boast the top secondary in the league, but inconsistency, such as when they surrendered 734 passing yards to Texas Tech, knocks them down a couple of notches. Steven Parker is as experienced as any safety in the league, while Jordan Thomas is a lock-down corner when he's locked in. Oklahoma still needs better play from its other corners, but incoming ESPN 300 signee Justin Broiles could help in that endeavor.
4. Texas: The Longhorns feature four corners with starting experience in Davante Davis, Holton Hill, John Bonney and Kris Boyd. If all four play up to their potential, Texas will have the deepest corner contingent in the league. It's time for Brandon Jones and DeShon Elliott, both former elite recruits, to take over at safety, though Jason Hall has the most experience of that bunch. Considering P.J. Locke's prowess at nickel, there's no reason this shouldn't be a dominant group.
5. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose ESPN.com Big 12 defensive player of the year Rasul Douglas, but they get back Dravon Askew-Henry, who himself is an All-Big 12 caliber safety. Askew-Henry, a starter as a true freshman, missed all of last season due to a preseason knee injury. He and Kyzir White have the potential to form the league's best safety duo.
6. Oklahoma State: Like outgoing All-Big 12 safety Jordan Sterns, Tre Flowers can be an enforcer and is terrific helping up against the run. The Cowboys need more out of their cornerbacks though, and outside of Ramon Richards, there isn't much experience there.
7. Iowa State: The Cyclones had a stingy pass defense last season, especially when second-team All-Big 12 safety Kamari Cotton-Moya was on the field. Brian Peavy has been solid at corner in two seasons, and Tennessee transfer D'Andre Payne was a strong addition at the nickel.
8. Baylor: Travon Blanchard is one of the top returning defensive players in the conference. But the Bears also must replace longtime starters Orion Stewart and Ryan Reid. As a result, the Bears really need a big jump out of somebody like corner Grayland Arnold, who chipped in as a true freshman last season.
9. Kansas: Mike Lee was a huge pickup for the Jayhawks last season, winning a starting job as a true freshman. But Kansas must replace outgoing tackling machine Fish Smithson in its secondary, which will be a difficult task. Getting immediate impacts from juco transfers Shakial Taylor, Hasan Defense and Antonio Cole will be critical.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders graduated three starters off a secondary that gave up more passing yards than any other defense in the Big 12. Jah'Shawn Johnson will be a three-year starter. After him, the Red Raiders desperately need their incoming juco class to produce, notably cornerbacks Octavious Morgan and Jaylon Lane.