With spring ball having come and gone, we'll be updating our Big 12 position group rankings over the next two weeks.
We continue this series with the defensive line:
1. Oklahoma (pre-spring rank: 1): Injuries hit the Sooners' defensive front during the spring, but Oklahoma remains atop the rankings with everyone expected to return before the season kicks off. Charles Walker is one of the Big 12’s top defensive linemen, and defensive tackle Matt Romar returns as a anchor on the inside. Defensive end Matt Dimon, who started every game in 2015, returns to give the Sooners a talented and experienced front. And the depth on the roster is loaded with rising young talents including Marquise Overton and solid upperclassmen like Jordan Wade.
2. TCU (2): Three seniors should provide the foundation of the Horned Frogs' line, particularly if James McFarland, TCU’s leading sacker in 2014, returns to his pre-injury form after missing the 2015 season with a foot injury. Defensive end Josh Carraway and defensive tackle Aaron Curry join McFarland to give Gary Patterson’s defense a solid trio. Junior college transfer defensive end Mat Boesen should provide top depth on the outside, with Breylin Mitchell and Chris Bradley among the interior options. McFarland and Carraway could end up being the Big 12’s top defensive end duo, helping TCU secure the second spot.
3. Kansas State (3): Defensive end Jordan Willis and defensive tackle Will Geary return to give Bill Snyder’s team one of the Big 12’s top inside-outside duos. Willis had 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss, while Geary had 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2015. The Wildcats need to develop additional playmakers alongside that duo, with Tanner Wood and Trey Dishon among the defensive linemen the Wildcats may count on during the fall.
4. Texas (4): No group in the conference has a higher ceiling than Charlie Strong’s group of linemen. Junior defensive tackle Poona Ford should cement his spot among the Big 12’s top defenders, Paul Boyette Jr. is solid alongside him in the interior and Naashon Hughes is a disruptor on the outside. And the Longhorns have a star-studded group of defensive line signees, including ESPN300 prospects Jordan Elliott, Chris Daniels and Marcel Southall.
5. Oklahoma State (5): The Cowboys are another team that could rise up the list despite losing Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Emmanuel Ogbah. Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor returns after a breakout season, and with Motekiai Maile, Darrion Daniels and Vili Leveni Oklahoma State is poised to go four deep in the interior. Experience is limited on the outside, but there are plenty of talented defensive ends, including Trey Carter, Jarrell Owens and Jordan Brailford ready to step up.
6. West Virginia (6): Noble Nwachukwu is one of the Big 12’s top pass-rushers after recording 8.5 sacks in 2015, Christian Brown brings experience to the table and Darrien Howard seems ready to step in along the defensive interior. It’s not a dominant group, but it can be a solid unit especially if some young players like defensive end Adam Shuler step up to provide quality depth.
7. Baylor (8): The Bears must replace everyone along the defensive line, but the spring brought hope, particularly with a great first impression from ESPNJC50 defensive tackle Jeremy Faulk, who skyrocketed to the top of the depth chart. With Baylor starting to make a move toward more three-man fronts, Faulk’s emergence is huge. Defensive ends K.J. Smith and Brian Nance saw time behind Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer in 2015, combining for a pair of sacks and eight tackles for loss.
8. Iowa State (7): Defensive tackle Demond Tucker is the centerpiece and could be even better in 2016 after a season that finished with Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year honors after recording 13 tackles for loss. But the senior will need help for the Cyclones to rise up this list. Defensive end Jhaustin Thomas has loads of talent but needs to transform that talent onto the field consistently, while J.D. Waggoner is an experienced option to build around on the outside.
9. Texas Tech (9): Defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko provides a terrific force in the middle, but the Red Raiders will be counting on a redshirt freshman (Broderick Washington) alongside him. On the outside Gary Moore is a name to keep an eye on after he recorded three sacks and four tackles for loss in limited action a year ago.
10. Kansas (10): Defensive end Dorance Armstrong has star potential, while defensive tackle Daniel Wise started seven games as a redshirt freshman. The Jayhawks have several options inside and out, including defensive tackles D.J. Williams and Jacky Dezir and defensive ends Anthony Olobia and Josh Ehambe.