Our Big 12 position rankings wrap up with the secondary. In the pass-happy Big 12, there’s arguably no more important position in the conference on the defensive side of the ball. Teams will deploy anywhere from four to six defensive backs, depending on the scheme, down and distance. So let’s get to our rankings heading into the 2018 season.
Plus, if you missed our other position group rankings in the Big 12 Conference, here they are:
1. Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders return the majority of their pieces in the secondary from last fall. The defensive backs at Tech were a big reason the Red Raiders led the conference in turnover margin last season. Yes, consistency needs to improve a bit from this unit, but when you welcome back players like Jah’Shawn Johnson, Justus Parker, Damarcus Fields and Vaughnte Dorsey, the group has incredible ability and potential to improve even further. Parker tied for the lead in interceptions in the Big 12 last season and also forced the most fumbles in the conference. Johnson is a wily veteran who was in the top 10 in tackles in the conference last year. JUCO transfer Adrien Cross might help add some depth along with Thomas Legget and Kisean Allen. There is a lot to like about what David Gibbs’ defense has going on in the secondary.
2. Iowa State Cyclones
The Cyclones have the most experience at cornerback in the conference with seniors Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne. The two helped an ISU defense that allowed the fewest passing yards in the Big 12 by a wide margin at just 213 yards per game, compared to TCU, who was second in the conference, giving up 245 per contest. The two have started a combined 54 games and give ISU a pair of lockdown corners. At safety, Iowa State is likely to turn to Lawrence White, with JUCO transfer Greg Eisworth in Ames after transferring from Trinity Valley C.C., where he was ranked the No. 3 JUCO safety in America. Braxton Lewis and De’Monte Ruth provide depth and ability as well in the secondary.
3. Texas Longhorns
DBU? That’s what Texas believes after Tom Herman recruited arguably the best secondary class ever with the likes of Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster, two of the top three safety prospects in America. But let’s not forget about DeMarvion Overshown, Anthony Cook, and Jalen Green, three other freshmen who can compete right away. That’s in addition to solid returnees in Brandon Jones, P.J. Locke, Kris Boyd and Davante Davis. This unit is absolutely loaded. However we’ve said this before about position groups at Texas. Still, no team has more talent at defensive back in the Big 12 right now. But it’s time to prove it.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
This is a unit shy on experience, but full of potential. Cornerbacks Parnell Motley, Tre Norwood and Jordan Parker will play, but who makes room for stud freshman Brendan Radley-Hiles, who was one of the top cornerback recruits in the country last season. Justin Broiles and Tre Brown add depth as well. Robert Barnes was a former five-star recruit who played in 10 games at safety last season and is expected to anchor the unit this fall, along with Kahlil Haughton, who is the only senior expected to see significant playing time in the secondary. If things break right, this could end up as one of the top secondaries in the conference.
5. TCU Horned Frogs
Jeff Gladney and Niko Small are returning starters for a unit that had the best pass defense efficiency in the Big 12 Conference last season. Safety Innis Gaines came on strong in his sophomore season, playing in 14 games and starting the Alamo Bowl, helping seal the win with an interception against Stanford. Keenan Reed and Noah Daniels are hopefully prepared to step to the plate at the cornerback position. Also at the safety position, the staff has high hopes for La’Kendrick Van Zandt, who played a bit his freshman season. And speaking of freshmen, TCU’s second-highest rated prospect was a safety in Atanza Vonger from Grand Prarie, Texas.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
It’s a tale of two positions in the secondary for Oklahoma State. The tandem of A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams could end up as the best 1-2 punch at the position in the Big 12 this fall. The potential is real. Don’t forget, Oklahoma State’s pass defense efficiency, probably a better measure for a defense like OSU based on its offense, was third in the Big 12. But what’s going on at safety remains to be seen. New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles also uses a 4-2-5 defense, so expect more d-backs on the field at all times. The Pokes will be relying on Kenneth Edison-McGruder, Malcolm Rodriguez and Thabo Mwaniki at the safety spot.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
This is another area of the WVU defense that has talent, but not much depth if things go wrong or an injury is suffered. Kyzir White, Elijah Battle and Mike Daniels are gone. Derek Pitts made the move from safety to cornerback, and should be joined by Hakeem Bailey, along with Jake Long and Keith Washington. Dravon Askew-Henry holds down the fort at safety after earning Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention last season. The No. 2 JUCO safety in America, Josh Norwood, should be alongside Askew-Henry this fall, with Kenny Robinson and true freshman Kwantel Raines, potentially the next in a long line of NFL studs from Aliquippa, PA.
8. Kansas State Wildcats
K-State returns a lot experience from last season, but they lose arguably their most important piece with D.J. Reed off to the NFL. Plus, it’s a defense that ranked last in the conference in allowing the most passing yards per game in the Big 12. But Duke Shelley, Kendall Adams and Denzel Goolsby have the ability to turn this unit around. K-State also welcomes in Darreyl Patterson, one of the better JUCO cornerbacks in the country last season. More will be expected from Eli Walker as well this fall. Plus, expect to see A.J. Parker see more time and maybe even freshmen like Lance Robinson, Wayne Jones and E.J. Thomas.
9. Baylor Bears
My gut tells me I should have Baylor higher on this list, but I just don’t know who to bump down as a result. Grayland Arnold and Harrison Hand could turn out to be one of the better 1-2 duos at cornerback in the Big 12 by the end of the fall. Both were in the top 12 in passes defended last season. Derrek Thomas, Jameson Houston and true freshman (4-star prospect) B.J. Hanspard should add nice depth as back ups. Safety is more concerning though. Blake Lynch should lead the unit after playing basically every other position on the field, and be joined by Verkedric Vaughns, Chris Miller, and maybe freshman Christian Morgan from Porter, TX.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
KU returns a lot of players in the secondary, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Mike Lee, Hasan Defense, Tyrone Miller, Shakial Taylor and Bryce Torneden are back, but need to reclaim their spots. Beaty and his staff brought in plenty of competition from the JUCO and high school ranks. KU’s top prospect was four-star cornerback Corione Harris from Louisiana, who is expected to compete right away. At the JUCO level, KU added two more cornerbacks that were top 20 players at the position in Elijah Jones and Elmore Hempstead. Safety is a bit more concerning where Mike Lee leads the unit, but he had his issues last year after being named a Freshman All-American in 2016. However, he has some help at the JUCO ranks as well with Jeremiah McCullough and Davon Ferguson from Hartnell College.
**Sign up here for our HCS weekly e-mails for a chance to win FREE Heartland College Sports and Big 12 team gear!!**