Thursday, July 9, 2015

My preseason All-Big 12 team

Who doesn't love a preseason ranking list? Granted they are often rubbish and the layouts make no sense in the context of the modern game.

Last year I had my first chance at submitting a preseason All Big-12 ballot at the Big 12 media days although I didn't get the same chance to provide input for the much more meaningful postseason All-Big 12 list. Anyways, this year I don't have a ballot so I'm going to offer one up here.

Since I'm not now constrained by their nonsensical offensive and defensive designations I'm going to offer my own positions in an attempt to provide comprehensive 11-man rosters that actually reflect the personnel that Big 12 teams will actually deploy in 2015.

1st Team Offense

Quarterback: Trevone Boykin, TCU
His combination of athleticism and arm strength is a deadly pairing in the Air Raid and he's the most well-established quarterback in the conference.

Running back: Aaron Green, TCU
Green took over at RB down the stretch last year and quickly piled up 922 yards on 7.1 yards per carry. His ability to jump step accelerate quickly through creases makes him particularly explosive in TCU's zone concepts.

Ancillary (TE/H-back/Fullback): Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State
I had Gronk on my 1st team ballot last preseason, although I overestimated his usage on RPOs as a receiver as well as how big of a role the run game would have in the Wildcat offense. Given the likely increased role that the QB run game will have in 2015 you can expect Gronk to be a big factor.

Deep threat outside receiver: KD Cannon, Baylor
Cannon is probably the best deep threat receiver in the conference, he can absolutely fly down the field and also has flypaper hands.

Slot Receiver: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
This little waterbug added vertical routes in the middle of the field to his reportoire last year which already included serving as a deadly weapon in the Tech screen game.

Possession Receiver: Corey Coleman, Baylor
Baylor doesn't exactly have "possession receivers" but Coleman is a guy that they'll look to target with screens, intermediate routes, and comebacks in addition to deep shots. He was close to dominant in this role last season when healthy.

Left Tackle: Spencer Drango, Baylor
The best pass-protection tackle in the league and a capable run-defender as well.

Left Guard: Blake Muir, Baylor
Attacking the left side of Baylor's OL will undoubtedly prove to be a challenge in 2015, particularly after they prepare this fall against their own "Rocket-Groot" defense.

Center: Joey Hunt, TCU
Although not massive or especially powerful, Hunt is very adept within TCU's zone running game and excels at getting low to help the guards drive defensive tackles off the ball before finding linebackers on the 2nd level.

Right Guard: Kent Perkins, Texas
A rare bright spot in Texas' 2014 season was when Perkins faced overmatched opponents and absolutely mauled them. At 6'5" 330 he's an impossible load for most B12 DTs and is now ready to make a leap in his 2nd year as a starter.

Right Tackle: Hal Vaitai, TCU
TCU's run game requires that the tackles have the quickness to handle blocking ends in space and control them without assistance. Vaitai was very strong here in 2014.

1st Team Defense

True Defensive End: Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
The massive end for the Cowboys was borderline dominant in 2014, even against the powerful OTs for Oklahoma who could not handle him.

Nose Tackle: Hassan Ridgeway, Texas
In addition to being capable of taking on double teams, Ridgeway had six sacks last year as a RS Sophomore. He's the best DT talent in the conference.

Defensive Tackle: Davion Pierson, TCU
Pierson was very strong in 2014 playing opposite Chucky Hunter and will now be asked to anchor a depleted TCU front.

Rush-End/LB: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
The Big 12's reigning sack leader from 2014 who was an absolute terror despite not playing with personnel that could protect him from the focus of protections, set him up to rush in obvious passing situations, or cover opponents long enough to give him time.

Cover-backer: Nick Kwiatkowski, West Virginia
I just coined this term for an inside linebacker who is asked to do more in coverage. Kwiatkowksi is a converted safety who excelled at pursuing the ball from the inside out in 2014. Think weakside linebackers here.

Plugger-backer: Ryan Simmons, Oklahoma State
I just coined this term as well for traditional, mike-type backers. Simmons is entering his 3rd year as a starter and is going to fly to the football in 2015 behind a solid DL with years of experience on knowing how to diagnose running plays.

Space-backer: KJ Dillon, West Virginia
I coined this term some time ago to describe nickel players that are basically linebackers with the athleticism to play in space. KJ Dillon is arguably more of a "big nickel" but either way he's the best in the conference with Sam Carter moving on to the NFL. He's physical, can blitz the edge, and can play man coverage on slot receivers.

Cornerback: Ranthony Texada, TCU

Best guess is that TCU plays a lot of "special" coverage against trips and just cancels out the field receiver with Texada. He should be brilliant in coverage this year, but he's too small to play boundary corner for Patterson.

Cover-safety: Steven Parker, Oklahoma
Granted that Parker is really a nickel, but this is how I condense a league that has at least 12 commonly appearing positions into an 11-man roster, by putting nickels that are going to be used more for their coverage than their linebacking on the edge in this spot. Parker flashed in 2014 and should excel in 2015, which will be of great help to the Sooner defense.

Support safety: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
This is my term for traditional safeties that will be asked to do things like filling the alley and playing in deep zone. Barnett is quick to support the run but very solid in deep coverage as well.

Cornerback: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
My cornerbacks can be trusted to play outside without a lot of help but unfortunately neither of these guys are the most physical CBs in the conference.

2nd Team Offense

Quarterback: Seth Russell, Baylor
I literally just erased my attempt to justify putting Pat Mahomes in this place, don't be shocked if the Tech QB dominates this year. But Russell's similar level of athleticism combined with the fact that he'll be playing on a loaded offense means that he's going to put up huge numbers.

Running back: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
This was a tricky one, as the Sooners are moving away from their 21 personnel downhill approach from 2014 to go Air Raid in 2015. Still, Perine should dominate between the tackles behind what will still be a solid OL. Shock Linwood will contend here as well.

Ancillary (TE/H-back/Fullback): Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
The flex TE for OU is going to be a difficult match-up outside and could be a real threat either catching balls in the red zone or blocking on the edge for perimeter screens.

Deep threat outside receiver: Josh Doctson, TCU
At 6'4" with good hands, Doctson is just really hard to handle out on the sideline. A nod to the B12's fastest WR, Kolby Listenbee here. You can't really play both Doctson and Listenbee with a safety over the top, which is going to make them a load in 2015.

Slot Receiver: Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
He was totally dominant at Blinn last year and has the kind of "all-spark" quickness in all directions that will make him murder in the slot for Lincoln Riley this year. Practice reviews from OU insiders describe Westbrook as better than Shephard...which is really saying something.

Possession Receiver: Sterling Shephard, Oklahoma
Yes, OU is loaded with skill talent and should be really hard to defend if they can find someone at QB that won't turn the ball over every third series.

Left Tackle: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
A close victory over Texas Tech's Le'Raven Clark awarded for Whitehair's run game prowess.

Left Guard: Boston Stiverson, Kansas State
If KSU doesn't find some success running the ball in 2015 my list is probably going to look really stupid. Study that playbook, Jonathan Banks.

Center: Kyle Fuller, Baylor
Ty Darlington at OU is like a slightly lesser version of Joey Hunt while Fuller brings a little more power to the equation with his ability to cave in DTs on down blocks in Baylor's gap-oriented run game.

Right Guard: Nila Kasitati
Kasitati owned a time-share at guard last year for Oklahoma and will take over as the featured run-blocker on their 2015 line. Perine will be running behind him all year long.

Right Tackle: Marquis Lucas, West Virginia
Lucas had a kid this offseason and is looking to have a big 2015 to set him up for pro opportunities. That's a powerful motivator for a guy that was already really solid. I'm not betting on anyone else.

2nd Team Defense

True Defensive End: Shawn Oakman, Baylor
The difference between Ogbah and Oakman is, somehow, about 5 inches/20 pounds and consistent effort and technique. Teams should be totally unable to run on Oakman this year but I'd like to see it first.

Nose Tackle: Andrew Billings, Baylor
The most powerful player in the Big 12 enters his 2nd year as a full-time starter and his junior year at Baylor. He'll have to be double teamed every play. Shout out to KSU's Will Geary here though, another very powerful plugger.

Defensive Tackle: Travis Britz, Kansas State
If Ridgeway ends up playing 3-tech instead of nose he'll command this spot. If he stays at nose there's a chance Texas' Poona Ford or Paul Boyette could grab this spot. In lieu knowing that information, Britz is a senior who's been very good now for two years.

Rush-End/LB: Eric Striker
Oklahoma has been forced to move him back to the line of scrimmage, although "extraordinary space-backer" was probably a better fit for his talents. I'd have him higher but I'm not sure how 5'10" 210 works against outside zone or power.

Cover-backer: Taylor Young, Baylor
"Rocket" could have well over 100 tackles this year playing behind Oakman and Billings and I'm betting he also adds around 5 sacks. Good chance he finishes above Kwiatkowski.

Plugger-backer: Elijah Lee, Kansas State
Head nod to Tech's Micah Awe and OU's Jordan Evans but KSU's pass-rush specialist is now going to be playing in the box as a linebacker where his length and explosiveness could lead to a big year. I'm guessing they let the other LB take on more of the coverage assignments but we'll see.

Space-backer: Denzel Johnson, TCU
Fantastic athlete who's been studying under Sam Carter for two years now and will finally take over here for the Frogs. He's a shoo-in to be an impact player.

Cornerback: Duke Thomas, Texas

Really the only hang-ups for Thomas are "can he avoid the mental errors that plagued him in 2014" and "what happens when he's 'the guy' charged with taking on opponent's best receivers?" He's a great athlete, a physical player, and he'll have a chance to make 1st team.

Cover-safety: Dravon Henry, West Virginia
Technically Henry is going to be playing a lot of deep centerfield but he'll also regularly be playing man coverage in DC Tony Gibson's aggressive blitz schemes. He was very solid last year as a true freshman, look for a jump in year two.

Support safety: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
This is his 4th year as a starter and Joseph has already safely established a reputation as one of the biggest hitters in the league. He's also versatile with the ability to play deep zone or man coverage. The West Virginia secondary is just plain loaded.

Cornerback: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
Lockdown corner who needs to have a full season free of either incidents or injuries. He's a big guy at 6'1" that the Mountaineers will undoubtedly find very valuable for handling all the big receivers in the league this year.

That's all folks, thoughts?

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