With spring ball over, we've been updating our Big 12 position group rankings. We continue the series on Monday by rating the conference's defensive lines:
1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears boast a pair of potential future first-rounders in tackle Andrew Billings and end Shawn Oakman, who also will be on the short list of Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year contenders. On top of that, senior end Jamal Palmer is back after tearing his ACL last year; Beau Blackshear will be a three-year starter inside. This might not just be the best defensive line in the Big 12, but its best position group overall.
2. TCU (2): While not necessarily star-studded, TCU’s defensive front is deep, seasoned and proven. Sophomore Chris Bradley emerged atop the depth chart at tackle this spring in place of Chucky Hunter, which was the only real question headed into the spring. The Horned Frogs have four defensive ends with battle scars, and a tackle in Davion Pierson who is one of the best in the league.
3. Oklahoma State (4): ESPN’s Todd McShay has defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah going in the top five of next year’s NFL draft. The reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year could still be just scratching the surface of his potential, considering he has only one season of starting experience. ESPN JC 50 signee Motekiai Maile impressed during the spring, and is the favorite to start inside alongside Vincent Taylor, whom defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer called his most improved player from last season.
4. Texas (3): Poona Ford and Hassan Ridgeway give the Longhorns an up-and-coming defensive tackle tandem that could be one of the best in the league by the end of the season. Whether he starts over Ford or comes off the bench, Desmond Jackson will still play a valuable role inside, too. End is more unsettled. The Longhorns need someone such as Caleb Bluiett or Derick Roberson to break out and supply a pass rush to complement the run-stuffers inside.
5. Oklahoma (5): The Sooners boast several players here who were highly touted coming out of high school. But Oklahoma needs that promise to turn into production. That includes Matthew Romar, Charles Walker, Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward, who have yet to really tap into their potential. More than anything, though, the Sooners need Charles Tapper to return to the menacing force he was in 2013 when he was the only underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors.
6. Kansas State (6): Travis Britz made a healthy return this spring from an ankle injury last year and will anchor the Wildcats once again on the inside. Marquel Bryant and Jordan Willis bring plenty of experience at end. The biggest concern for this unit will be depth; someone such as Demonte Hood needs to show he can be counted upon.
7. West Virginia (7): The Mountaineers should be solid if not flashy up front. Nose tackle Kyle Rose has 20 career starts. Assuming he isn’t suspended for long from an arrest over the spring, he’ll lead a line that includes junior ends Christian Brown and Noble Nwachukwu. Still, with Shaq Riddick gone, pass rush is once again a question in Morgantown. The Mountaineers are hoping that juco transfer Larry Jefferson can ultimately fill some of Riddick's production.
8. Texas Tech (8): There’s cautious optimism in Lubbock about the defensive line, which has a chance to be much improved in Davis Gibbs’ 4-3 scheme after a disastrous 2014 showing. Ends Pete Robertson and Branden Jackson could together total 20-plus sacks. But the key will be the tackles, where the Red Raiders will be leaning on former juco transfers Rika Levi and Keland McElrath, who underwhelmed last year. Both will be pushed by ballyhooed true freshman Breiden Fehoko, who Gibbs already has stated will play a pivotal role in the fall..
9. Kansas (9): With problems elsewhere, the Jayhawks will be asking their defensive line to set a tone. Three-year starter Ben Goodman can get after the passer; Andrew Bolton, T.J. Semke and Kapil Fletcher all have experience. New DL coach Calvin Thibodeaux actually has something to work with here.
10. Iowa State (10): The emergence of junior-college tackle Demond Tucker was the most encouraging development for Iowa State this spring. The Cyclones got overpowered up front all last year; that won’t happen again if Tucker proves to be as stout as he was in the spring. Iowa State still has issues at end, especially with starter Mitchell Meyers battling Hodgkin's lymphoma. But at least with Tucker, the Cyclones have a potential difference-maker on the inside.