Big 12 roundtable: Second-year players to watch

Texas' Malik Jefferson might be the Big 12's best defensive player, but Duke Shelley isn't far behind. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we focus on the recruiting class of 2015, including those who redshirted last year, those who played and those who could be X-factors:

Who is the Big 12 true sophomore to watch this season?

Max Olson: I know the obvious answer among that large group of Texas sophomores is Malik Jefferson, but how about Connor Williams? You don't see too many guys in this league take over the left tackle job and shine as a true freshman. Williams is mentally sharp, super athletic and plays with a mean streak. As long as he stays healthy, he could become a monster.

Brandon Chatmon: Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson has star written all over him, and I’m expecting him to start approaching those lofty expectations as a sophomore. He started nine games as true freshman, but that doesn’t mean he always knew what to do and where to be. After a full season understanding the demands of Big 12 football, I expect Jefferson to excel as a second-year sophomore and transform himself from a productive player to a potentially dominant one.

Jake Trotter: There are several more Texas sophomores I could including, including Patrick Vahe and John Burt, but I'll mention Kansas State cornerback Duke Shelley here. Jefferson might be the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but Shelley could be an All-Big 12 performer as a sophomore himself. Shelley flashed a ton of potential after being tossed into the starting lineup as a true freshman. He already appears to be one of the better cover corners in the league.

What about the redshirt freshman to watch?

Olson: Oklahoma saved some really intriguing redshirts for this season, and the guy at the top of the list for me is defensive tackle Neville Gallimore. The big fella (6-foot-3, 320 pounds) from Canada benefitted from a year of sitting out and is in better shape to help the Sooners this fall. He arrived in Norman with big expectations (No. 165 in last year's ESPN 300), and he'll start living up to them this year.

Chatmon: Sounds like West Virginia linebacker David Long is on a mission to make an impact as a redshirt freshman -- making him a great candidate to be a key player for West Virginia. Long’s situation is a good combination of potential meeting opportunity, as the Mountaineers lose three seniors at linebacker. He is poised to step up after a season as an understudy in 2015, and while he may not set the world on fire initially, Long's role could expand and increase as the season goes on and he starts to show why he was one of West Virginia’s most impressive redshirt freshman a year ago.

Trotter: With Ranthony Texada coming back from a knee injury and Julius Lewis out for the season already, the Horned Frogs were hurting for cornerbacks going into the spring. They aren't hurting so much anymore. That's due to the emergence of Jeff Gladney, who was forced to redshirt last year due to injury. He was probably the biggest standout of TCU's spring scrimmage, providing sticky coverage all day. In Gladney, converted receiver Tony James and, eventually, Texada, the Horned Frogs could be just fine at corner this season.

Which second-year player could be an X-factor?

Olson: I know technically he's a redshirt freshman this year, but I'm going with Kansas State QB Alex Delton because he did play in two games last year. Considering the challenges K-State faced at the QB spot last year, it's sort of a miracle Bill Snyder still took that team to a bowl. The Wildcats really need a (healthy) quarterback to elevate their offense, and Delton should eventually be that guy. Can he step up this spring and prove he's ready?

Chatmon: Oklahoma State receiver Jalen McCleskey seems prime to be an X-factor in the Cowboys' offense. Mason Rudolph and James Washington return as a dynamic duo that showed what it can do at its best against TCU (when they connected five times of 184 yards and three touchdowns), and Marcell Ateman looks ready to take advantage of his final season. That’s where McCleskey fits in with his quickness, speed and athleticism, which allow him to make teams pay for the attention they give Washington and Ateman on the outside. McCleskey won’t be the best receiver on the team, but he could be a critical big-play threat in this offense.

Trotter: Max took the guy (Delton) I was going to say, so I'll just mention a few names: Texas Tech RB Corey Dauphine, who will bring big-time speed to the Tech offense; K-State LB Elijah Sullivan, who flipped from Auburn to the Wildcats; Oklahoma DE Ricky DeBerry, who will be part of the contingent charged with replenishing the Sooner pass rush; Oklahoma State S Kenneth McGruder, who has already become a leader for the Pokes defensively; and Baylor RB JaMycal Hasty, who might not play a bunch because of Johnny Jefferson and Shock Linwood, but could make an impact when he does.