Big 12 News

Sooners Face Challenge After NFL Exodus

Lincoln Riley

The Oklahoma Sooners begin life without Baker Mayfield in the 2018 season. The quarterback excelled for three seasons for the Sooners, which earned him the status to be selected first overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 Draft. Mayfield’s brilliance drove his team to the CFB semi-finals last season where the Sooners played out a thriller against the Georgia Bulldogs.

Lincoln Riley’s team was beaten in the second round of overtime, narrowly missing out on a place in the Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Riley has a huge challenge ahead of him to rebuild the team, beginning with the loss of Mayfield. The team have also seen Orlando Brown depart from their offensive line after he was snapped up by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round of the draft along with tight end Mark Andrews. Big 12 Player of Year Ogbonnia Okoronkwo leaves a void on the defense. The linebacker was plucked by the Los Angeles Chargers in the fifth round.

It highlights the talent that Oklahoma has produced over the last few years, although the departures have left holes to fill. The Sooners’ loss could be Cleveland’s gain as they look to avoid another embarrassing campaign. We’ll now look at the men charged with replacing the influential players who have moved to pastures new in the off-season to ensure that Oklahoma has what it takes to tip the odds in their favor again. We’re sure betting fans would approve.

Offense

Mayfield’s form was instrumental to the success of the Sooners on the field. His ability to extend plays with his movement in the pocket was outstanding. It contributed to many of his 43 touchdowns, while his accuracy with the ball was noted, throwing only six interceptions in the 2017 campaign. He was able to improve every year and had the character for the big occasion. Stepping into the void will be junior Kyler Murray. The 20-year-old has not had a lot of time on the field since his high school days. He followed the same route as Mayfield, as both players were transfers. Murray has interestingly inked a deal with to play baseball for the Oakland Athletics after being selected in the draft. He has opted to play in his junior campaign.

The Sooners do return two excellent running backs. Rodney Anderson was extremely impressive last season, rushing for 1,161 yards along with another 281 receiving yards. He had 21 total touchdowns on the campaign. When the moment called for a big performance he delivered with a sensational outing against the Bulldogs. Anderson rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns in the semi-final, almost carrying his side to victory against a stout defensive unit. The expectation will be for Anderson to at least match his levels of production from last term, while the presence of Trey Sermon will ease the burden on the lead back after he enjoyed a fine season himself in 2017. Wideouts CeeDee Lamb, Mykel Jones and Marquise Brown will provide security for Murray in his passing options. Brown developed a strong rapport with Mayfield, while Lamb has the ability to enhance his glowing reputation after a brilliant outing in his freshman term.

Defense

Okoronkwo’s departure leaves a potential void in the linebacking corps. He was named as the Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year, alongside Malik Jefferson last season. Caleb Kelly will be one of the players charged with replacing his production on the field. He had issues in space last season operating on the strong side. Kelly could be shifted out of the role to make more plays attacking the line of scrimmage from the weak side, making more of an impact. Expect to see more tackles than his 56, although Kenneth Murray in the middle of the defense will also be eyeing an expansion to his role.

The defensive line has talent in the form of Kenneth Mann and DJ Ward. Both players flashed in the 2017 campaign, contributing more than a few plays behind the line. Ward was effective in quarterback takedowns, notching four sacks and adding another 7.5 tackles for a loss. Mann had the same number of sacks, although he added only six tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Amani Bledsoe’s progression will be interesting to watch as he enters his third year in the system.

Oklahoma has a couple of issues in the secondary, although the cornerback positions could be a strength of the defense. Parnell Motley could be on the trajectory to become a very good player after an excellent second season for the Sooners. He has strong fundamentals and will certainly lock down one side of the flanks. Tre Norwood and Tre Brown are battling for the other spot, although, given that the Sooners will be in the nickel defense a lot, it’s likely both players will see a lot of action. William Johnson and Steven Parker’s exits leave a hole at safety. Robert Barnes and Kahlil Haughton have a challenge on their hands keeping the big plays to a minimum. So, it’s yet to be seen how things will turn out.

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