In a season where the conference lacked a superstar like Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray, the Big 12 had a bit of a renaissance year, going back to the roots of playing defense and running the football to win games.
That is certainly something the Big 12 did this season, as the Big 12’s 5-2 (.714) record in bowl games this season was tops for Power Five conferences. However, when it comes to the NFL Draft, the conference is set to have a down year, as there’s not one player from the conference listed as a first-round pick on the majority of big boards or mock drafts.
With that being said, there are certainly still players from this conference that are ready to make an immediate impact on an NFL roster.
Here are the top five players from the Big 12 Conference to keep an eye on during the 2022 NFL Draft.
Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor
Tyquan Thornton exhibits elite speed, recording a 4.28 in the 40-yard dash, but is smaller in stature at 6-2, 181 pounds. His athleticism makes him a true deep threat at the next level, but succeeding in the NFL has proven tough for the majority of players his size. Thornton’s talent is through the roof, especially when it comes to creating separation along his routes. Thornton has a good catch radius and has shown the ability to make tough catches, and that combined with his speed makes him worth taking a risk in the third round.
Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma
Listed at 6-3, 248 pounds, Nik Bonitto turned some heads when he recorded a 4.54 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine last month. Bonitto has elite athleticism on the edge, but lacks the size to be considered a three-down rusher right now. What can’t be denied is his natural ability to rush the passer and use a wide repertoire of moves to get in the backfield. In 2021, Bonitto was an All-Big 12 selection after recording 39 tackles, seven sacks, one forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries. If he can add some weight to his frame and keep his athleticism, Bonitto should eventually be a starter at the next level.
Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor
Jalen Pitre was a star for the Baylor Bears in 2021, recording 75 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, with seven passes defended and two interceptions. Simply put, Pitre did it all for the Bears and earned Consensus All-American honors for his efforts. He is an instinctual player and has a high football IQ that helps him diagnose schemes quickly. His unofficially 4.46 40-time is good, but Pitre has shown some rigidity in his movements which could make it tough for him to cover NFL wideouts in space. Nonetheless, his intelligence and athleticism have made him flash to this point and it should lead to him being taken off the board sometime in the second or third round next week.
Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
Perrion Winfrey was supposed to be a mid-round draft pick after the season he turned in, recording just 23 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. There are rumblings around Norman that the S&C program that Oklahoma was implementing last season led to some issues with players in the trenches, particularly a lack of strength and size. So when Perrion opted out of the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, he tried to make up for the lost time. It’s safe to say whatever he did worked, as he dominated in Mobile, earning Senior Bowl MVP honors, and then turned in a 4.89 40-yard dash at the Combine. His explosive and violent play in the trenches will make him a commodity in the second round, and at 6-4, 290 pounds, he has some room to grow as an interior defensive lineman.
Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
Breece Hall is undoubtedly the top prospect coming out of the Big 12 this year and has an illustrious career to back up that statement. His biggest downside is the workload he handled at Iowa State over the past three seasons. The first unanimous All-American in Iowa State history is the top running back in the year’s class, exhibiting elite speed at the position (4.39 40-time) and has the size necessary to be a hig-volume back at the next level. His patience as a runner and breakaway speed made him a nightmare in college and must be tantalizing for teams in need of a running back. I would be shocked if Hall makes it out of the second round, but in recent years it’s been the trend not to take a running back in the first round. Hall is a first-round talent, but he likely won’t be taken there.
Brian Asamoah, LB, Oklahoma
Listed at 6-0, 226 pounds, Brian Asamoah was one of Oklahoma’s most consistent defenders in 2022, leading the team with 90 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and one sack in 12 games. If he can develop more patience and control as a defender, he could serve as a role player at the next level.
Erik Ezukanma, WR, Texas Tech
Ezukanma led Texas Tech in receiving over the last three seasons with 138 receptions for 2,165 yards and 15 scores, but lacks a polished route tree due to the scheme in Lubbock. He has the talent to be a starting wideout in the NFL, but it seems to me he needed another year to develop. His strong hands and quickness will likely have him off the board early in Day 3.
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB, Oklahoma State
If it weren’t for his size, Malcolm Rodriguez would be in the conversation for a first-round grade. Rodriguez’s film shows play after play that he was one of the best linebackers in football last season, but at 5-11, 232 pounds, he is being judged off of his stature and not his production. In 2021, Rodriguez recorded 129 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, three sacks, and four forced fumbles. While he lacks size, Rodriguez can play, and somebody will call his name before the fifth round.