The Big 12's top 15 players in 2014
MAY 22, 2014 12:41a ET
The annual exodus of talent always makes preseason best player lists tougher to piece together than postseason lists.
How do you factor in injuries without overvaluing them? Preseason lists, after all, should take each player's entire career under consideration, whereas postseason lists should only consider the newly completed year.
So who are the Big 12's top 15 players entering the 2014 season? As always, putting this list into order and cutting certain guys off the list was brutal, but here's how the conference's best talent shakes out.
Disagree? Send me your thoughts and arguments for injustice on Twitter and I may tackle them in a Mailbag later on.
1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: Petty is the Big 12's only real Heisman candidate to begin the season, and for good reason. The reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year will be a second-year starter at QB and likely first-round pick next year after throwing 32 touchdown passes and running for 14 more while tossing just three interceptions in 2013.
2. Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State: He's the Big 12's most dangerous player with the ball in his hands and makes his quarterback, Jake Waters, look very good very often. Lockett led the Big 12 in receiving yards per game in 2013, and averaged better than 140 yards a game in the final four games of the season, catching seven scores over that span. He's also the league's best kick returner. Bill Snyder is currently searching for ways to clone more Lockett boys.
3. Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State: Mueller slowed a bit down in the season's final month, but won the Big 12's Defensive Lineman of the Year trophy after making 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2013. K-State's defense has been gutted, but Mueller provides a cornerstone along the defensive line. Is there a reason why nobody's called him "The Guerilla Ginger" yet? I'm hereby constructing that bandwagon. Hop on, everybody.
4. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor: "Receiver trapped in a running back's body" is an apt description of the 5-10, 225-pound Goodley, the Big 12's leading returning receiver who led the league with 13 touchdown grabs last season. I talked with at least three Big 12 defensive coordinators who were flabbergasted at his progression from 2012, when he had just 17 catches for 171 yards and was an afterthought in Baylor's offense to quickly becoming one of its most valuable assets.
5. Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma: Striker is a pest for offensive lines, who better figure out where he is on every snap next season, lest they face the same fate as AJ McCarron in the Sugar Bowl. Three of his 6.5 sacks last season came against the Crimson Tide, but Striker managed at least one tackle for loss in six consecutive Big 12 games as a sophomore in 2013. He's also campaigning for captain status on the Big 12 All-Name Team.
6. Cedric Reed, DE, Texas: Reed's exploits are well known in Big 12 circles, but he wowed Charlie Strong and his staff this spring. That could point to a breakout season on a national level for Reed, who was overshadowed last season by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. His 2013 season might have been the quietest 16.5 tackle-for-loss, 10-sack season ever.
7. Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma: Eight of Tapper's nine tackles for loss last season came in Big 12 play. Not many guys earn All-Big 12 first-team designation as a first-year starter along the line of scrimmage. Tapper did. Striker's a great name for a linebacker, but Tapper should just be glad he's not an MMA fighter. That'd be the worst name-occupation combo since Kansas quarterback Kale Pick.
8. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas: With Calvin Barnett gone, Brown gets my vote as the Big 12's best hole-plugging pocket collapser. Brown earned quality reps as a freshman in 2012 and could blossom into a bona fide star this season alongside Reed on the Big 12's best defensive line.
9. B.J. Finney, OL, Kansas State: It's a tight race, but for now, Finney gets my vote as the Big 12's best offensive lineman. The fourth-year starter has been a huge part of K-State's strength in the running game over the past few years. He's also--and stop me if you've heard this in the Little Apple before--a former walk-on. Bill Snyder, you fabulous gray wizard.
10. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas: Some guys seem like their magnetized to ball carriers, and nobody in the Big 12 personifies that more than Heeney. He's made 199 tackles over the past two seasons, and picked off three passes with 11.5 tackles for loss last season, despite missing two games with injury. No matter what happens this year, nobody's coming close to topping Heeney's beard game. You could misplace a small child in that thing.
11. Le'Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech: The former freshman All-American was immune to the sophomore slump and turned in a solid 2013 for one of the Big 12's best passing offenses. Kliff Kingsbury has plenty to be concerned about with his second team in Lubbock, but left tackle is nowhere to be found on that list, thanks to Clark.
12. Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: Gray's been sidelined all offseason after tearing his Achilles tendon against WVU, but he sounds like he may be ready to return to the field early in the 2014 season. Malcolm Brown is a stud, too, but Gray is Texas' most balanced back and conjures up images of Ricky Williams. He was on pace to be the Longhorns' first back over 1,000 yards since Jamaal Charles before the injury. He averaged almost five yards a carry for an offense that struggled to pass the ball for much of the season.
13. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU: I went back and forth about whether or not Fields should be included here after a disastrous 2013 season railroaded by suspension and injury. Fields has had his share of off-field issues, but you can't deny talent, and reviews from TCU's staff have been nothing but glowing this offseason. Fields has a lot to prove despite winning the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year trophy back in 2012, and doing so probably means ignoring every 2015 mock draft with his name in the first round. There are plenty.
14. Spencer Drango, OL, Baylor: Drango's absence after a back injury was part of why Baylor's offense slowed late in 2013. He's a huge talent at left tackle who was overshadowed a bit last season by NFL-bound Cyril Richardson. I wouldn't be shocked to see him garner some Outland Trophy buzz this season. He must break you.
15. Sam Carter, S, TCU: The Frogs' secondary lost first-round pick Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode, but Carter's the Big 12's best returning safety and one of the league's hardest hitters. The 6-1, 215-pounder has prototypical size for his position and picked off five passes last season, returning one for a touchdown. He also made 7.5 tackles for loss and had four sacks.
Who got snubbed? Who's too high? Anyone too low?
Send me your grievances on Twitter and I may address them in a later Mailbag if enough similar complaints emerge.