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 backs:
1. Oklahoma (pre-spring rank: 1): The Sooners keep this spot with one of the top groups of defensive backs in the nation. Safety Steven Parker is exceptional, cornerback Jordan Thomas could be the Big 12’s best and safety Ahmad Thomas brings experience and playmaking alongside Parker. Nickelback Will Johnson should be even better in his second season in the program, and Dakota Austin seems ready to replace Zack Sanchez at the other cornerback. This is a deep and talented group.
2. Oklahoma State (2): Safety Jordan Sterns is one of the Big 12’s top defenders, entering his senior campaign with back-to-back seasons recording 100 tackles or more. Tre Flowers is solid alongside him, with Auburn transfer Derrick Moncrief also in the mix to earn playing time. On the outside Mike Gundy’s squad has a pair of returning cornerbacks in Ashton Lampkin and Ramon Richards, but keeping Lampkin healthy could be key as injuries have riddled his career thus far.
3. TCU (3): The Oklahoma schools have strong secondary units, but don’t be surprised if TCU is the Big 12’s best by the end of 2016. Ranthony Texada and Kenny Iloka are returning from injury to join versatile coverman Nick Orr and playmaking Denzel Johnson. Redshirt freshman Jeff Gladney took some steps forward in the spring to land alongside Texada at cornerback, while sophomore Niko Small is also fighting for playing time. TCU is known for having a terrific secondary, and this season should be more of the same.
4. Texas (4): The Longhorns have the Big 12’s top sophomore duo at cornerback in Davante Davis and Holton Hill. If both can make a major jump in their second season, Texas could have a pair of lockdown cornerbacks to build around. Safety Dylan Haines is a ballhawk at the back, Jason Hall brings a physical tone and P.J. Locke has loads of potential at nickelback. Safety Brandon Jones, the No. 49 player in the ESPN300, has the talent to force himself into the lineup early and amp up the competition.
5. Baylor (5): If the top four weren’t so solid, Baylor may have made a move up these rankings. The Bears lost Xavien Howard but have a young group of secondary players who are coming off impressive redshirt seasons and strong springs, with Jameson Houston as the best of the bunch. Travon Blanchard and Orion Stewart have secured a spot among the Big 12’s best defensive backs, while Chance Waz and Ryan Reid bring experience and playmaking to the table. Baylor will lean on this unit more while rebuilding its defensive line, but this group appears up to the challenge.
6. Iowa State (6): Another team that could be on the rise, Iowa State has plenty of talent to handle the pass-happy offenses in the Big 12. Cornerback Brian Peavy is looking to build upon a stellar redshirt freshman season, safety Kamari Cotton-Moya brings a physical edge to the unit, and cornerback Nigel Tribune brings 26 games of starting experience to the table. Add spring breakout star D’Andre Payne into the mix and the Cyclones could skyrocket up this list during Matt Campbell’s first season in charge.
7. Kansas State (7): The Wildcats have a pair of quality building blocks in safety Dante Barnett and cornerback Duke Shelley. Kendall Adams is a strong pairing alongside Barnett, while Donnie Starks was impressive in 13 starts a year ago. The key could be Barnett returning to his pre-injury production as he was one of the Big 12’s top safeties before a shoulder injury took away his 2015 season.
8. West Virginia (8): Safety Dravon Askew-Henry, a two-year starter, is hoping to replace Karl Joseph and become another Mountaineers safety who is known as one of the Big 12’s best. Jeremy Tyler, the other starting safety, has the playmaking skills to make a name for himself and minimize the impact of K.J. Dillon's departure. On the outside, the spring saw senior cornerback Nana Kyeremeh take a step toward helping to replace Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut — West Virginia’s starting duo in 2015 — while Rasul Douglas and Antonio Crawford also will battle for playing time.
9. Kansas (10): The Jayhawks are poised to start five seniors in the defensive backfield, including Fish Smithson, the playmaking safety who finished the 2015 season with 111 tackles, a pair of interceptions, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. The Jayhawks could have a decent secondary, particularly if some younger defensive backs step up to provide quality depth.
10.Texas Tech (9): Nigel Bethel’s spring absence was not ideal, as he was one of the Red Raiders’ top defenders a year ago. But Jah’Shawn Johnson returns as one of the Big 12’s top safeties and a tone-setter on the defense. Three seniors, Justis Nelson, Thierry Nguema and Keenon Ward fill out the rest of the starting secondary, but the depth chart remains fluid heading into the preseason and the unit as a whole needs to improve considerably for Texas Tech to make a run at a Big 12 title.