For the past two weeks, we took a look at one player each Big 12 team can't live without. Here are the players we consider the most indispensable heading into 2016. We conclude this series with the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Most indispensable: DE Noble Nwachukwu
Having Nwachukwu to build around could be critical for West Virginia after losing Karl Joseph, K.J. Dillon and Nick Kwiatkoski off last year’s star-studded defense. The fifth-year senior is coming off a junior campaign that featured 47 tackles including 13 for loss, 8.5 sacks, six hurries, one forced fumble and a pass breakup. He ranked fifth in the Big 12 in sacks and 12th in tackles for loss.
The only returning Mountaineers defender with more than 20 career starts, Nwachukwu brings plenty of experience with 26 straight starts for West Virginia. And in the Mountaineers’ defensive system, which is built around attacking an offense, Nwachukwu’s pass-rushing prowess is a valuable asset.
West Virginia does feature experience at defensive line with Christian Brown and Darrien Howard returning alongside Nwachukwu. Yet no Mountaineer provides the pass-rush threat Nwachukwu brings. In fact, Brown’s two sacks are the next-highest total from a returning defender and all other Mountaineers returnees combined for less than half (four sacks) of Nwachukwu’s 2015 production.
Heading into his final season, Nwachukwu gives West Virginia an experienced playmaker to build around on a defense full of inexperienced players at linebacker and in the secondary. He also provides a pass-rush threat that other Big 12 teams would love to add to their arsenal to face a conference full of explosive skill-position players. One of the Big 12’s best defenders, Nwachukwu is West Virginia’s most indispensable player thanks to his playmaking and experience on a defensive unit that enters the season with an experience vacuum.