The top 10 returning Big 12 players
As draft season ramps up, it’s important to not forget that there are still many talented players in college football that will be back with their schools come the 2017 season. Last week we listed the top 25 returning college football players for 2017, and since then we’ve been taking a look at the best returning players from every conference. Today, we’re going to look at the top 10 returning players for the Big 12 conference:
1. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
Mayfield not only earns the top spot here on the returning Big 12 players list, he ranked No. 1 on our Top 25 returning players in all of college football. Last year Mayfield won the PFF College Offensive Player of the Year and Best Passer awards and led the nation with a 96.3 overall grade. Mayfield is one of the best quarterbacks under pressure, leading the nation last year with a 119.9 quarterback rating on plays when he was under pressure. There are very few weaknesses in Mayfield’s game, and that makes him far and away the best returning Big 12 player for the 2017 season.
2. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
If there’s a quarterback who could unseat Mayfield as the best of the best in the Big 12 next year, it’s Rudolph. Finishing 2016 as the second-highest-graded quarterback in the country at 92.3, Rudolph looked at times like the best QB in the nation. He’s one of the best deep-ball passers in the country, leading the country with a 125.4 quarterback rating on deep throws. Rudolph was a little inconsistent at times last year but when he’s at his best, he’s as good as Mayfield and can challenge him as the best QB in the Big 12.
3. Texas OT Connor Williams
Williams had success in 2015 as a true freshman, but he really took a big step forward last year. He allowed just one sack (in the final game of the season) and a mere four additional QB hurries this year. But he was arguably even better when run blocking, opening some big holes and sealing off second-level defenders for RB D’Onta Foreman’s 2,000-yard season. He finished with a run-block grade of 83.6, which ranked third in the nation in 2016. He’s the best returning offensive lineman in the country this season, and will be key for the Longhorns’ offense in 2017.
4. Oklahoma ED Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
The Sooners didn’t get much of a pass rush last year, but what they did get came almost solely from Okoronkwo. He finished 2016 with nine sacks, 14 QB hits and 36 hurries while rushing the passer just 262 times. His pass-rushing productivity of 18.6 ranked first in the NCAA among outside linebackers who rushed the passer at least 125 times. But he was no slouch in coverage or against the run either, ranking above-average in both aspects. But look for him to rush the passer a little more often next season and make a big impact for the Sooners defense.
5. Oklahoma State WR James Washington
The Big 12 conference has always been known for big talent among their receivers, and Washington leads the pack for 2017. His 690 yards on deep receptions (20-plus yards downfield) leads the nation among returning receivers this year, working as a perfect receiver for Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys’ offense. He was one of just two receivers in college football to catch more than 70 passes and average more than 19.0 yards per reception. Washington is the most talented receiver in the Big 12, and could very well rank among the best in the country in the 2017 season.
6. TCU RB Kyle Hicks
The Big 12 saw its fair share of talented running backs last year that won’t be back in 2017. But one of those great players that will be back is TCU’s Hicks. Last season Hicks finished second in the Big 12 with 424 receiving yards, and was one of six backs to rush for over 1,000 yards. He’s a very elusive back, having forced 51 missed tackles last year on 251 touches. He’s an all-around complete back that can do anything he’s asked to do. TCU has high hopes for next season, and much of that will revolve around the most talented RB in the Big 12.
7. Kansas State OT Dalton Risner
The second tackle to make this list — who also may be one of the top three tackles in the country — is Risner of Kansas State. He allowed just one sack, one hit and eight hurries when pass-blocking last season. He also finished with a very strong run-blocking grade. Risner was the anchor of Kansas State’s strong offensive line last season, and he’ll look to do the same again in 2017.
8. Texas DI Poona Ford
Texas is a sleeper pick in the Big 12 next year, and much of that is because of potential improvement from a young defense. They’ll be led up front by Ford, who was a dominant run stopper last season. His run-stop percentage of 12.0 ranks fifth in the nation among returning defensive tackles, and only one player had more than Ford’s 36 solo run stops. He wasn’t a slouch rushing the passer either, finishing with a sack, four hits and 14 additional hurries.
9. Kansas DI Daniel Wise
It’s no secret that Kansas doesn’t really have a ton going for it going into 2017, but one name fans can get excited for is Wise. Wise isn’t a dominant run stopper like Ford, but he can hold his own. His 21 solo run stops last year ranks 19th among returning defensive tackles. But Wise is just as good a pass-rusher as he is a run stopper. He had three sacks last year and 24 total pressures, which also ranks 19th among returning defensive tackles.
10. West Virginia S Kyzir White
The Mountaineers had a 2016 season beyond almost anyone’s expectations, and that was largely due to the play of their talented defense. While a few strong players will be gone in 2017, one that they’ll be happy to have back is White. One of the highest-graded returning safeties in college football, White graded above-average in all three phases of the game (pass-rushing, run defense, pass coverage). He really excelled in coverage, allowing just 7.9 yards per reception, and not giving up a touchdown all season. He added 19 solo run stops, as well as three sacks and eight total pressures rushing the quarterback.