With spring ball done, we've updating our Big 12 position group rankings. The series continues on Thursday with defensive backs:
1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking 1): Underscoring the depth the Mountaineers have across the defensive backfield, Jeremy Tyler emerged this spring to push Freshman All-American Dravon Henry for the starting position at free safety. Even if he doesn’t win the job, Tyler figures to be one more defensive back the Mountaineers will be able to count on this fall. Dana Holgorsen recently said that his team is “in a position defensively unlike any” he has had at West Virginia. Having the top secondary in the Big 12 is a big reason why.
2. Oklahoma State (2): Cornerback Ashton Lampkin has made a healthy return from an ankle injury that plagued him all last year. But he’s going to have to fight to regain his starting job from Ramon Richards, who continued to surge, picking off Mason Rudolph in the spring game. In Lampkin, Richards, All-Big 12 hopeful Kevin Peterson and Indiana transfer Michael Hunter, the Cowboys have four cornerbacks they can utilize without much drop-off.
3. Kansas State (3): Oklahoma State might have the Big 12’s deepest set of corners, but K-State owns the best tandem in Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns. McDaniel tackles like a safety; Burns is one of the fastest players in the league. Because of them and All-Big 12 safety Dante Barnett, this has a chance to be among the best defensive backfields Bill Snyder has ever had. But much of that will hinge on how nickelback Nate Jackson and safety Kaleb Prewett perform as first-year starters.
4. TCU (4): Gary Patterson came out of spring ball pleased with the development of his young corners, notably sophomore Torrance Mosley, who earned a starting job opposite returning starter Ranthony Texada. Veteran Derrick Kindred also seems primed to take over as the anchor of the unit at free safety. With Kevin White, Sam Carter and Chris Hackett gone, the Horned Frogs might not be quite as tenacious in the secondary as they were a year ago when they ranked third in the country in defensive completion percentage. But given how the defensive backfield came together over the spring, Patterson seems optimistic the drop-off won’t be dramatic.
5. Baylor (5): The Bears are excited about the potential of new starting nickelback Travon Blanchard. Both Blanchard and Patrick Levels turned heads this spring. So did Tion Wright, who is trying to unseat Ryan Reid for a starting job at cornerback. The Bears have to be better here in order to defend their Big 12 crown again. If the returning starters don't get it done, others like Wright will get their chance.
6. Oklahoma (7): New secondary coach Kerry Cooks seems to have already made an impact for a defensive backfield that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year. The Sooners came up with five interceptions in the spring game, and generally looked more poised and better positioned than they were for much of the 2014 season. Sophomore Steven Parker has a chance to become an All-Big 12 performer down the line. If fellow true sophomore Jordan Thomas can continue his development opposite Zack Sanchez at corner, the Sooners could have the most improved secondary in the league .
7. Texas (6): The Longhorns really need senior Duke Thomas to step up and become a lock-down cornerback. There’s plenty of budding talent around him, especially in John Bonney, Jason Hall and a stellar incoming defensive back class. Thomas, however, will have to be the stabilizer while the rest of the group settles in.
8. Texas Tech (8): Starters Justis Nelson, Nigel Bethel, Keenon Ward and J.J. Gaines are all back and seemed to benefit from new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. Due to problems elsewhere on defense, Bethel, Nelson and Tevin Madison were put on islands too often last year, which is one reason why Tech allowed 16 pass plays of 40 yards or more. Gibbs will be asking his secondary to take chances to force turnovers. But different coverage schemes also should take some of the pressure off the relatively young corners.
9. Iowa State (9): This should be the strength of the Iowa State defense. Kamari Cotton-Moya, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, overcame a scary head injury early on spring ball to return to the field. Nigel Tribune will be entering his third season as a starting cornerback. Given how Brian Peavy and Jomal Wiltz impressed during the spring, the Cyclones should feel confident about their pass defense heading into the season.
10. Kansas (10): The Jayhawks still face a major rebuilding effort here. Junior-college transfer Brandon Stewart has shown promise; Matthew Boateng played as a true freshman last year; Fish Smithson has experience. The secondary, however, underscores where the Jayhawks are at the moment in the first year of the David Beaty era — a long way to go.