The biggest signing day needs around the Big 12
With National Signing Day fast approaching, college teams are working hard to get some of the top recruits in the country locked in to their program. With several underclassmen declaring this year, there are plenty of college teams with big needs heading into next year. While freshman recruits won’t necessarily fix these issues right away, it’s a good chance to take a look at where teams really need to improve. Today we’re going to look at the teams in the Big 12 to see what each team’s biggest need is going into next season.
Baylor: Wide receiver
Baylor had one of the strangest seasons in recent memory last year, one that they’d like to forget quickly. With a new coach and system, next year’s Bears promise to be quite different from recent years. One place they’ll need to improve on no matter what is the receiver position. The Bears are losing 150 catches, 2,024 yards and 21 touchdowns of production with the losses of WRs KD Cannon and Ish Zamora. They’ll hope to rely on players like Chris Platt and Blake Lynch, but neither showed much last year that gives a sign that they’ll be ready to carry the load in 2017. While they could very easily step up to the plate, there’s at least an opening there for a new player to jump in and help boost this receiving corps right out of the gate.
Iowa State: Offensive line
The Cyclones have plenty of issues on defense going into 2017, but by far the biggest issue is their lack of returning offensive linemen. The only returner that played significant snaps last year is RT Julian Good-Jones, and he graded poorly last season. Only one other returning offensive lineman played more than 100 snaps and that was Jaypee Philbert Jr., who played just two games (poorly) at left tackle before getting injured. This position group is probably the most likely in the conference to see significant freshman contribution next year as they try to find the five best players to anchor this offense. This remains one of the most intriguing position group battles to watch for this offseason, as it’s truly unpredictable at this point.
Kansas: Offensive line
Take your pick for Kansas’ biggest need next year, as everything other than defensive line needs a lot of work. But the Jayhawks’ offensive line was so bad last year that this must be their focus for next year. The retuning quartet of Hakeem Adeniji, Mesa Ribory, Jayson Rhodes and Larry Hughes were all among the lowest-graded at their position for the entire season. They combined to allow 12 sacks and 116 total pressures in the pass game, and struggled even more when run blocking. While Kansas’ receivers and running backs don’t exactly impress and the team still has issues at quarterback, none of that matters if this offensive line plays as badly as it did last year. If they can get this shored up, the rest of the pieces can start to fall for the Jayhawks.
Kansas State: Linebackers
Kansas State’s offense looks to be in good shape in the hands of QB Jesse Ertz, and the Wildcats return a large majority of starters. On defense they’ve got players like DI Will Geary, ED Tanner Wood and CB D.J. Reed that should carry them. But one position that they’re severely lacking is linebacker. Last year the Wildcats played Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore at inside linebacker almost 100 percent of the time. Both were crucial in making plays in the run game and were a huge reason the Wildcats defense was as good as they were. Going into this year, the most experienced LB they’ll have is Trent Tanking, who played 45 snaps last year. Kansas State’s defensive line should cause a ton of disruption in 2017, and they’ll count on their linebackers to clean up those plays as well as help out in coverage. With no real experience on the roster, this position is completely up for grabs.
Oklahoma: Offensive playmakers
While this may seem silly with the return of quarterback Baker Mayfield, he’s always had a great supporting cast to help him out. This year they’re losing RBs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, as well as WR Dede Westbrook, which is a massive amount of talent and production to replace. Running back Abdul Adams is the only returning back who had really any carries last year (53 for 283 yards), so they’ll need him or someone else to step up for the Sooners offense. At receiver they’ll see players like Mark Andrews, Jeffrey Mead and A.D. Miller return. But those three combined for just 53 catches for 784 yards, far less than Westbrook had alone. Andrews is definitely someone to watch, as his size will present a matchup nightmare for some teams, but the Sooners will need other receivers to step up as well and help replace the huge production that they’ve lost at the skill positions on offense.
Oklahoma State: Linebacker
The Cowboys offense appears to be in a position to be one of the best in the whole country next year. Now all they need to do is improve on defense and they could challenge for a College Football Playoff spot. While the defensive line and secondary are losing some key players, they’re also bringing back plenty of talent. The linebacker position is a different story. Last year they relied on the trio of Chad Whitener, Jordan Burton and Devante Averette to make big plays in the run game and take away the middle of the field in the passing game. All three will be gone next year, and the backups from last year didn’t exactly impress when called upon. Kenneth Edison-McGruder and Justin Phillips were the two backups with the most snaps, but neither graded particularly well. If they can improve this year or find some solid players with transfers or the freshman class, the Cowboys could have an underrated defense next year.
TCU: Deep threat receiver
TCU’s defense promises to be one of the strongest in the Big 12, as they return 11 players who played at least 250 snaps last season. On offense, the Horned Frogs get back much of the offensive line, as well as QB Kenny Hill and RB Kyle Hicks. WR KaVontae Turpin is a very strong player, but he’s more of a screen-and-run-after-the-catch kind of player. A receiver like Turpin works best in combo with a legitimate downfield threat to stretch the field. Returning WR Taj Williams led the team in deep receptions last year, but had only six for 275 yards. Overall TCU receivers combined to drop 45 passes last year, the most among any team in the country. If they can find a receiver who can consistently stretch the field and open up the underneath game for Turpin, this Horned Frogs offense could be very dangerous.
Texas: Offensive line
Despite a rough season that included a loss to Kansas, the Longhorns’ future looks impressively bright. The defense has a ton of young, strong pieces and QB Shane Buechele looks like he may be a future star quarterback. They have to replace workhorse RB D’Onta Foreman, which will be a lot easier if their offensive line can improve. The bright side is that essentially the entire offensive line returns, led by arguably the best tackle in the country in LT Connor Williams. The bad news is that none of those other returning players were particularly strong last year. The quartet of Patrick Vahe, Brandon Hodges, Zach Shackelford and Jake McMillon all graded average to below-average last year, particularly in the run game. With the way the rest of the team is set up, if the Longhorns’ offensive line can improve in any way, this team could find themselves contending in 2017.
Texas Tech: A defense
Texas Tech certainly has offensive line issues, and the team won’t have QB Patrick Mahomes to bail them out next year. But overall this offense is set up to succeed with QB Nic Shimonek at the helm. What they’ll need is improvement across the entire defense if they want to compete with some of the top teams in the conference. The defense had very few good players last year, and will need marked improvement at every level. The front-seven returns just five sacks and 70 total pressures, almost a quarter of which gathered by OLB Gary Moore alone. In the secondary, FS Jah’Shawn Johnson shook off a rough start and finished the final four weeks as one of the highest-graded safeties in the country in that span. But those three players can’t carry the load alone and they’ll need plenty of help from this defense to allow them to compete at any level next season.
West Virginia: Offensive line
While the Mountaineers will lose plenty of key defensive players this offseason, like ED Noble Nwachukwu and CB Rasul Douglas, they’ll return enough players that defense shouldn’t be an issue. On offense they’ll replace QB Skylar Howard with Florida transfer Will Grier, who’s arguably an upgrade. Big 12 newcomer of the year HB Justin Crawford will return, giving them one of the more talented runningback in the conference. But the Mountaineers are losing both C Tyler Orlosky and G Kyle Bosch, their two best offensive linemen and the only two to grade above average this season. Tackles Colton McKivitz and Marcell Lazard will need to step up in a big way this year, and we might even see some freshman come in and start on an offensive line that will be fairly inexperienced no matter what happens.