Over the next two weeks, we will be unveiling the 10 best players of every Big 12 roster at the moment.
We won't be including junior college or freshman signees who have yet to arrive on campus. And we are only looking at players who are with their teams this spring.
These lists are sure to change, but this is our best assessment for the moment.
We continue this series with the Kansas Jayhawks:
1. DB Fish Smithson: Led by Big 12 in tackles per game, finishing with 111 stops in only 11 games. More impressive, Smithson actually led all of FBS in solo tackles per game (7.9) as a junior. He also chipped in two interceptions and a 66-yard fumble return. Coach David Beaty considers Smithson the quarterback of the defense, and he will be a reliable leader this fall.
2. DT Daniel Wise: Though he only started seven of 12 games last season, it wasn’t hard to see Wise has potential. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound big man started to emerge midway through his redshirt freshman campaign, recording sacks in three straight games and a total of 26 tackles. He’s going to be a good one in time.
3. RB Ke'aun Kinner: Injuries slowed the junior college transfer during his debut season. He got off to a hot start, rushing for 295 yards over his first three games, but just 271 yards the rest of the way. He only had 75 carries in Big 12 play, but did show flashes against Texas (100 total yards) and TCU (80) and needs to be a big part of the Jayhawks’ offense this season.
4. QB Ryan Willis: A wrist injury is limiting Willis’ participation this spring, but he’s still high on this list based on the toughness he displayed as a true freshman starting quarterback in this tough conference. Willis was sacked 29 times over his eight starts but hung in there and kept battling, throwing for 1,719 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
5. LB Joe Dineen Jr.: The Lawrence native started off as a safety, running back and on special teams early in his career. He finally settled in at linebacker last season and did a nice job, finishing among the Big 12’s top 10 tacklers (86 tackles, 66 of them solo stops) and adding three sacks.
6. LB Marcquis Roberts: The South Carolina graduate transfer emerged as a key piece to Kansas’ defensive puzzle last season, logging 71 tackles, an 83-yard interception for a touchdown and two fumble recoveries. Roberts is actually a sixth-year senior now, after losing two seasons to injuries, and gives this unit valuable experience and playmaking ability.
7. WR Steven Sims Jr.: As a true freshman, Sims became a starter from Day 1 and caught a pass in every game he played. He finished with 30 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns, and looked like a nice find for Beaty’s staff. He’s a bit undersized, but Sims can definitely run and should be more dependable as a sophomore.
8. WR Jeremiah Booker: Another young wideout from the state of Texas, Booker has size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and ability. Teammates called him "Specimen" last season. He missed the first four games but came on strong once he did debut, catching 23 balls for 228 yards as a true freshman.
9. TE Ben Johnson: Kansas needs to get this guy the ball more often. Tight ends are a bit of a rarity in the Big 12 these days, but Johnson is a good one. The big 6-foot-5 target caught 13 passes and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in his junior year. He can give Kansas a nice advantage over the middle.
10. WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez: Now this guy is a wild card, and a fun one. Gonzalez used to play for Beaty at Texas A&M and caught 17 passes from Johnny Manziel during his stint in College Station. He sat out 2015 as a transfer and brings a whole lot of speed to this offense. Don’t be surprised if Kansas finds a bunch of different ways to get the ball in Gonzalez’s hands.