Oklahoma Sooners: Sterling Shepard

Early-season pros and cons for OU

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Quarterback Trevor Knight has command of the offense like never before, Oklahoma’s defense could be even better than expected and the Sooners have a terrific trio of running backs.

Nonconference play is over and we’ve learned a lot about the Sooners, good and bad. Here are three positives and three negatives for the Sooners as OU turns to Big 12 play against West Virginia with its visit to Morgantown, West Virginia, on Saturday.

Positives

Trevor Knight has continued to improve: Through three games, Knight has already surpassed his 2013 passing yardage total. The sophomore’s 860 yards has surpassed his 819 passing yards in eight games a year ago. His 286.7 passing yards per game average is a clear sign of his improvement during his second season in crimson and cream. More importantly, his pass yardage total has increased every week during the 2014 season and he’s been much more consistent after an up-and-down debut season.

The Sooners' defensive changes have made the unit even better: Linebacker Eric Striker spent the spring working at nickelback, defensive end Geneo Grissom moved to linebacker and Julian Wilson moved from nickelback to cornerback. All three moves have paid off for OU’s defense and helped the Sooners get their best 11 defenders on the field more often. Striker can make plays all over the field yet remains a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and offensive tackles. Grissom looks comfortable in coverage yet still rushes like a defensive end and Wilson brings terrific size to the perimeter while solidifying the void created by the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin.

The running game will be able to carry the load again: Even with the progress of Knight, OU’s offense remains built upon its offensive line and running backs. The Sooners' offensive front has consistently won in the trenches while OU is able to deploy fresh legs at defenses, with Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine each averaging at least 5.5 yards per carry. Much like a year ago, the Sooners may not end up with a 1,000-yard rusher but could easily average 200 rushing yards per game in 2014.

Negatives

Third-down offense: If OU expects to win a national championship, its third-down offense must get better. The Sooners have converted 38.5 percent on their third-down conversion attempts, sixth in the Big 12 and tied for 83rd among FBS teams. It’s a clear sign Knight still has room to grow as the sophomore is 13-of-26 on third down. As OU enters Big 12 play, there will be times when a critical third-down conversion is needed so this is high on the priority list.

Another big-play receiver: Sterling Shepard has been everything expected as OU’s No. 1 receiver. The junior is averaging 5.7 receptions for 111.7 yards per game as the main man in OU’s passing game. But a consistent No. 2 target has yet to emerge. Durron Neal has been solid with 15 receptions for 183 yards and could end up being a terrific complement to Shepard. And converted quarterback Blake Bell should become a bigger part of the offense as the season progresses. Yet what will the Sooners do, and who will Knight turn to, when defenses take Shepard away during Big 12 play?

Punt returns: The Sooners rank dead last in punt returns at 4.1 yards per return. After seeing Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders change games with their punt return skills during the past two seasons, OU is counting on Shepard to impact games on punt returns. He has five returns for 35 yards (7 yards per return) through three games. Shepard was a stellar punt returner in high school and has proven his big-play ability with his run-after-catch skills on offense, so it could simply be a matter of time before he makes an bigger impact on punt returns.
 

Dorial Green-Beckham has joined Oklahoma’s football program after visiting the campus in Norman, Oklahoma, on Thursday. The former Missouri receiver is slated to sit out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer rules but will likely try to get a waiver to be eligible to play immediately.

OU’s pursuit of Green-Beckham makes sense on many levels. The Sooners were one of the finalists for Green-Beckham when the receiver was making his final choice out of high school, OU is searching for proven playmakers at receiver and Green-Beckham’s talent is unquestioned.

Unless he allows his off-the-field struggles to continue to derail his future, Green-Beckham is a future NFL player. His physical gifts make him one of the top talents in college football with his tremendous size, athleticism and ball skills. There are no doubts he has the ability to change games with his talent.

Yet OU’s decision to add the elite receiver could end up being the wrong move.

Everyone deserves a second chance, and it’s too early to simply write Green-Beckham off as a troubled individual with no hope for the change that maturity and personal growth would bring. At 21 years old, he still has time to mature. Bob Stoops and the Sooners' coaching staff are banking on his maturation process going smoothly at OU.

But adding Green-Beckham to the mix brings distractions and questions that make it easy to ask the question: Is he worth it?

Although inexperienced, the Sooners are not in horrible shape at the receiver position. Junior receiver Sterling Shepard has the ability to put up numbers second to none in the Big 12 this fall and will enter the season as quarterback Trevor Knight's No. 1 target. Behind Shepard, the Sooners have several talented underclassmen with terrific potential, including sophomore Derrick Woods, redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood and several others. The 2014 season is an opportunity for those receivers to grow, mature and improve.

Green-Beckham’s off-the-field problems are well-documented, and on the heels of Texas Tech’s dismissal of Nigel Bethel II for allegedly punching a Tech women’s basketball player, Green-Beckham’s addition could be considered a bad PR move for OU. Like it or not, it looks like OU is taking a “win-at-all-costs” mentality.

The Sooners will contend that is just surface-level conjecture. Under Stoops, the Sooners haven’t hesitated to give players second chances and strive to help instead of discard players when they run into off-the-field struggles. OU clearly believes it can help Green-Beckham by giving him a new environment and chance to redeem himself while he provides a significant boost to the team's national title pursuit. And the former Missouri receiver sounds like he understands he could be looking at his final chance.

“I appreciate this opportunity from Coach Stoops and the University of Oklahoma,” Green-Beckham said in a statement issued by the university. “There are people here who will help me build a strong foundation. I’ve disappointed myself and others in the past. I know that I have a lot of work to do and I’m ready to get started. OU is a great program and I feel privileged to be part of it.”

The Sooners have the talent to compete for national championships, even without the ultra-talented former Tiger, during the next few seasons. If the Sooners come up short in their title pursuits, it’s unlikely we’ll point to a lack of production from their receivers as the culprit. In addition, it’s quite possible Green-Beckham, regarded as a top prospect for the 2015 NFL draft, never plays a down in Norman if his waiver appeal for immediate eligibility is denied and he declares for the draft after sitting out the 2014 season.

Thus, there are major questions about the decision to add Green-Beckham, particularly with a best-case scenario that likely includes just one season of production from the Missouri native before he heads to greener pastures in the NFL.
It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Who could be the third receiver to earn All-Big 12 honors alongside Kansas State's Tyler Lockett and Baylor's Antwan Goodley in 2014?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon — Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant

Grant is arguably the Big 12’s most explosive player. The Red Raiders receiver is a quick, dynamic playmaker who will be one of the focal points of Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive attack this fall.

[+] EnlargeJakeem Grant
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJakeem Grant is only 5-foot-6, but should put up huge numbers in Texas Tech's offense.
And, with Texas Tech losing 45 percent of its 2013 receptions in Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, it should be Grant’s time to shine. At 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, Grant isn’t going to overwhelm defenders with his size the way Amaro did, or outmuscle defenders with his bulk and ball skills the way Ward did, but he can be a one-on-one mismatch who is difficult to stop.

The junior receiver seems ready to handle a bigger role in the attack after a strong spring, and he had some of his best games against Tech’s best competition in 2013, recording 29 receptions for 313 yards in a four-week stretch against Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.

After making 65 catches last season -- a total that ranks third among the Big 12’s returning pass-catchers -- Grant could approach the 100-reception mark this season with the stability of Davis Webb as the lone guy under center for Texas Tech and a larger piece of the passing offense on his shoulders. That means Grant’s name could be next to Lockett and Goodley when postseason honors are handed out in December.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard

Grant is a fabulous, electric talent. He was awesome in the National University Holiday Bowl, when he reeled in two touchdown passes. And he might have been even better during the spring, when he was dominant on several occasions, including Tech’s spring game, when he hauled in five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma's Sterling Shepard caught 65 passes for 796 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
But I’m going with Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard here, who has a longer track record of consistent excellence.

Sure, Grant had better overall numbers last year. But Shepard’s statistical shortfall had more to do with Oklahoma’s inconsistent quarterback play than his ability. Even as the Sooners rotated through three quarterbacks to varying success, Shepard found a way to make an impact. He made the game-clinching touchdown catch in the victory over Notre Dame. He helped set the tone in the victory at Kansas State by snagging the opening-drive touchdown. He caught seven passes for 112 yards in the Sooners’ stunning win at Oklahoma State. And he caught a touchdown in the Allstate Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

With Jalen Saunders gone, Shepard will take over as the Sooners’ go-to receiver. And with quarterback Trevor Knight finally asserting himself in the Sugar Bowl, Shepard should have a passer equipped to get him the ball.

The Sooners also have no other returning receiver with more than 18 career receptions, which means Shepard will be targeted early and often. At the same time, there figures to be enough receiving talent surrounding Shepard that defenses won’t be able to completely key on him. Oklahoma’s balance with its rushing attack should also free up Shepard.

Grant might have a higher ceiling because of his athleticism and big-play potential. Grant also could put up bigger numbers in Kliff Kingsbury’s high-flying, pass-first offense.

But outside Lockett and Goodley, there is no more reliable receiver in the league than Shepard, who has been Mr. Dependable since the moment he stepped on Oklahoma’s campus. That is why I'm predicting he will be the one to finish All-Big 12 at receiver alongside stalwarts Lockett and Goodley.
During the summer months, ESPN.com will take a closer look at each scholarship player on Oklahoma’s roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we will analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series will follow the roster numerically through our final analysis of No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard will be the focus of Oklahoma's passing game.
No. 3 Sterling Shepard, receiver, 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, junior

Impact thus far: Shepard has been outstanding since he stepped on campus. In 2013, he started 12 games, finishing with 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns. He added six carries for 44 yards and another score as a sophomore. … As a true freshman, Shepard started four games and played in all 13. He had 45 receptions for 621 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.

Impact in 2014: Shepard will be the centerpiece of the passing attack as OU’s No. 1 receiver. He’s extremely competitive and can impact games even when he’s not touching the football thanks to his willingness to block and the defensive attention he will command. He could expand his impact even more as a junior if he adds punt-return duties.

Long-term upside: Shepard has all-Big 12 potential and, if he continues the progress he’s made during his time in the program, he should see his name among the Big 12’s and possibly the nation’s top receivers as early as this season.

Evaluation grade for Shepard: A. The junior arrived in Norman, Oklahoma as an Under Armour All-American, and the Sooners did an excellent job projecting Shepard into their offensive system, particularly his ability to play bigger than his size. His blocking and willingness to go over the middle are overlooked but valuable traits.

Development grade for Shepard: A. He showed he was ready to play as a true freshman, and OU found a way to get him on the field despite having three receivers who eventually got drafted (Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders) already on the roster. Four-receiver formations became commonplace -- particularly in the home stretch of the 2012 -- in large part to get Shepard on the field because they knew he could contribute.

Quotable: “Sterling is a consistent, big-play guy that he can make long plays out of short plays. With his speed and quickness -- all those things -- he’s a big-play threat.” — OU coach Bob Stoops.
This week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners.

Most indispensable player: Receiver Sterling Shepard

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard's production will be vital to Oklahoma's success in the passing game in 2014.
2013 stats: Caught 51 passes for 603 yards and seven touchdowns.

Why Oklahoma can’t afford to lose him: A strong case could be made for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight here. He was spectacular in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and has the skill set to be a star in college football. But it’s difficult to slap the “indispensable” label on a player who has only started and finished three games in his college career.

Last season, Oklahoma’s most indispensable player was do-everything receiver Jalen Saunders. This season, the Sooners’ most indispensable player figures to be another do-everything pass-catcher.

Shepard has been a key part of the Oklahoma offense from the moment he stepped on campus. Through two seasons in Norman, Shepard already has 96 receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns.

With Saunders now a member of the New York Jets, Shepard will take over as the Sooners’ go-to playmaker at receiver. But unlike Saunders, who had Shepard and Lacoltan Bester alongside him, Shepard won’t have an experienced receiver flanking him. That makes Shepard all-the-more indispensable.

After Shepard, Durron Neal is Oklahoma’s second-leading receiver from last season, and he finished with only 13 receptions. Neal also missed spring practice with knee and ankle injuries.

Elsewhere, the Sooners are loaded with inexperience at receiver. Jordan Smallwood, Dannon Cavil and K.J. Young redshirted last season. Austin Bennett and Derrick Woods have been used sparingly. Mark Andrews, Jeff Mead, Michiah Quick and Dallis Todd are incoming true freshmen.

In fact, outside Shepard, the only two returning Sooners who had touchdown catches last year are fullback Aaron Ripkowski and place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt.

That’s why Shepard is so valuable.

He gives the Sooners an unequivocal tone-setter and leader for its extremely young group of receivers. And he gives Knight that one dependable target every budding quarterback requires.
On Wednesday, we ranked the Big 12 position-by-position from strongest to weakest.

Last season the strongest position of the league was defensive back, headlined by Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Ahmad Dixon, Aaron Colvin and Ty Zimmerman, among others.

But those players are all gone. So what will be the strongest position in 2014?

With such players such as TCU’s Devonte Fields, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Texas’ Cedric Reed returning, we believe it will be defensive line.

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What will be the Big 12's strongest overall position in 2014?

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But do you agree?

Maybe you think it will be another position such as receiver, which includes All-American hopefuls Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, and a host of potential 1,000-yard threats such as Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley.

Perhaps it’s your opinion that the strength of the Big 12 will be at linebacker, where Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU bring their entire units back, and virtually everyone else has at least one proven performer returning.

Maybe the conference’s best unit is the offensive line, with experienced centers BJ Finney (Kansas State), Dominic Espinosa (Texas) and Tom Farniok (Iowa State); talented tackles Spencer Drango (Baylor), Le'Raven Clark (Texas Tech) and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma); and versatile stalwarts Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Quinton Spain (West Virginia) and Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State).

Or with Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, do you believe quarterback is on its way back to becoming the dominant position in a league that not long ago was the nation’s preeminent conference for that position?

Tell us by voting in the weekly Big 12 poll.
Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Since last week we’ve been examining at the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big 12 team going into the fall.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners:

Strongest position: Defensive line

Pretty obvious choice here for Oklahoma, considering how this unit played in its greatest test yet against Alabama.

Eric Striker gives the Sooners an All-Big 12 defensive end who still has two years left to get even better. He's a playmaker, and senior Geneo Grissom proved against the Tide, with his two sacks and two fumble recoveries, that he can be, too.

We got to see Jordan Phillips in only four games last fall before he was shut down for the season, but the defensive tackle was one of OU's most promising defenders when he was on the field. The trio of Phillips, Chuka Ndulue and Jordan Wade is potent. Keep them healthy, and they can develop into a fearsome group.

What makes this group really stand out, and what probably gets overlooked, is the depth you don't see. While these starters form one of the conference's best defensive lines, the guys behind them will continue to develop in the background.

Some will be called upon when injuries hit, but having young linemen such as Matt Dimon, D.J. Ward, Dwayne Orso Jr. and Courtney Garnett waiting in the wings will mean an exciting future for this line.

Weakest position: Wide receivers

You can't lose a great talent like Jalen Saunders and key seniors Lacoltan Bester and Jaz Reynolds and not be a little concerned with this group.

The Sooners are essentially working with four experienced receivers going into 2014, led by Sterling Shepard. He can't do it all by himself. Among Durron Neal, Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett, quarterback Trevor Knight is going to need to find a couple guys he can trust. There are some redshirt freshmen waiting for their turn, too.

The good news is help is on the way, and it might be elite help. The Sooners signed three skyscrapers in Mark Andrews (6-foot-6), Jeffery Mead (6-6) and Dallis Todd (6-5) and then inked a four-star speedster in Michiah Quick on signing day. Three of those incoming freshmen are ESPN 300 recruits with big expectations.

If a couple are ready when they show up in Norman, this group will instantly get a lot better.
Several players will decide the success of the Oklahoma Sooners this fall.

Some will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the 2014 squad. This week we’ll count down the five most important players on offense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production. On Thursday, we continue with No.2.

No. 2: WR Sterling Shepard, junior

2013 role: Shepard was valuable as OU’s No. 2 receiver as a sophomore, finishing with 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns. He was particularly productive on third down, with 14 receptions for 227 yards and four touchdowns. Some of Shepard’s best games came when OU needed him most -- against Notre Dame (five catches, 83 receiving yards, one touchdown), Oklahoma State (seven catches, 112 receiving yards) and Alabama (seven catches, 63 yards, two touchdowns).

Expected 2014 role: Leader. No. 1 target. Top playmaker. OU will be counting on Shepard to fill the void left by NFL draftee Jalen Saunders. He will need to take his game to another level to help give OU the passing game necessary to chase a College Football Playoff berth.

Why he’s important: He’s the only proven receiver on the roster. Shepard has the talent to be an All-Big 12 receiver, but OU needs him to perform like one. If not the Sooners could be in trouble, with the rest of the receivers on the roster combining for 17 catches in 2013. He also needs to be a strong leader for a young group of receivers, both vocally and through his actions.

If he was missing: Without Shepard, the Sooners have nobody that has proven they can be trusted in big games at the receiver spot and quarterback Trevor Knight would have zero experienced targets to throw to this fall. OU’s offense would be severely handicapped, and a lack of balance could become a major problem until another receiver stepped up to fill the void. OU has some talented receivers, but none have proven they can produce like Shepard, a former Under Armour All-American.

The list

No. 3: OL Daryl Williams
No. 4: OL Nila Kasitati
No. 5: FB Aaron Ripkowski
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

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Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon

Imaginary Big 12 players draft, Part I

May, 13, 2014
May 13
9:15
AM ET
The NFL draft came and went it, but we thought it would be fun -- and possibly revealing -- to conduct a draft of our own of returning Big 12 players. We stole a version of this idea from our colleagues at the ACC blog, who apparently had stolen it before that from the guys over at the Big Ten site.

Anyway, the rules are fairly simple. All players currently on a Big 12 roster are eligible. No departing seniors or early entrees to the draft. No incoming freshmen or jucos scheduled to arrive in the summer. The premise is to fill out a 22-man lineup.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty accounted for 46 touchdowns last season.
As you’ll be able to see, the strengths of the league quickly begin to manifest (last year it was cornerback; guess where it is this year) as a run on a certain position ignites early. You’ll also be able to see the positions that got put off for later, seemingly due to a lack of high impact relative to other positions, or to an indiscernible difference between players of the same position (just like with the NFL draft, where are the running backs?).

Keep in mind, this is NOT a top-25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league is, and the different ways of putting together teams from the current pool of players.

Rounds 1-7 are below. We’ll pick up with Round 8 on Wednesday.

Round 1

Jake Trotter: QB Bryce Petty, Baylor

Brandon Chatmon: WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Max Olson: DE Devonte Fields, TCU

Analysis: "There's really no wrong answer when it comes to choosing one of the Big 12's elite defensive ends. Went with Fields because reports of his comeback this spring were consistently encouraging and we know he has All-America potential." -- Olson

Round 2

Olson: WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Chatmon: DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

Trotter: LT Spencer Drango, Baylor

Analysis: "In the first round, I got the league's top returning QB. With plenty of WRs still on the board, and Brandon and Max going all in on their pass rush, I went ahead and snagged the league's top pass-blocking tackle to protect Petty's blindside. Let's just hope that back is 100 percent by August." -- Trotter

Round 3

Trotter: OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

Chatmon: DE Cedric Reed, Texas

Olson: DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Analysis: “After securing a big play receiver and returner, I’m looking to create pressure on the quarterback. Tapper and Reed should help get it done. Both guys have the ability to win their individual battles consistently, yet haven’t maxed out their potential either. A solid 1-2 punch to build my defense around.” -- Chatmon

Round 4

Olson: QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech

Chatmon: LT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

Trotter: DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

Analysis: "Did I reach for my quarterback here? You could make the argument, especially if you're a Trevor Knight lover. But Webb is precisely the kind of quarterback I wanted to run my offense. He has a ton of poise and confidence for a sophomore." -- Olson

Round 5

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDevonte Fields' comeback this spring has been impressive.
Trotter: RT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma

Chatmon: DT Malcom Brown, Texas

Olson: LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma

Analysis: "Really wanted Brown here to complete a monster defensive line. Good job, BC. Instead I went with Shannon, who's probably the best of the available linebackers (though this is a risk pick with his status currently in limbo). This defense is going to be loaded at every level. You'll see." -- Olson

Round 6

Olson: CB Quandre Diggs, Texas

Chatmon: DT Chucky Hunter, TCU

Trotter: WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

Analysis: “I’m loading up on defensive lineman. I want to create havoc for any quarterback who steps on the field against Brown, Hunter, Tapper and Reed. I like creating nightmares.” -- Chatmon

Round 7

Trotter: WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma

Chatmon: CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia

Olson: SS Sam Carter, TCU

Analysis: "In Grant and Shepard, I snatched up two of the league's budding stars at receiver for Petty. I'll have to come back and get some bigger receivers later. But good luck blitzing Petty against this offensive line with those two dynamos operating out of either slot.” -- Trotter
Days after last season ended, we released a Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll. Following the many developments of signing day and spring practice, we’ve updated the poll:

1. Oklahoma Sooners (previous rank – 1): With the bulk of its defense coming back and the league’s most experienced offensive line, Oklahoma gets the top spot. Yet despite the preseason hype coming off the trouncing of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, this is not a team without questions. No returning running back had more than 23 carries last year. No returning receiver (outside Sterling Shepard) had more than 13 catches. And though he torched the Crimson Tide, quarterback Trevor Knight has only five career starts and has been prone to getting nicked. That said, there’s plenty of young talent at the skill positions. If a few of those players emerge, and Knight builds off his Sugar Bowl performance, this could be a team that contends for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor Bears (2): Baylor won the 2013 Big 12 title without a player selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft over the weekend. That speaks to the talent the Bears have back in quarterback Bryce Petty, wideout Antwan Goodley and left tackle Spencer Drango. It’s also not unthinkable that Baylor could lead the nation in scoring again. Petty should be even sharper in his second season as the starter. And running back Johnny Jefferson and receiver Corey Coleman seem primed to make an impact as the next wave of prolific Baylor playmakers. The defense will ultimately determine whether the Bears can defend their crown. The back seven is a work in progress. But Art Briles believes he will have a dominating defensive line. If so, Baylor could become the league’s first repeat champ since 2008.

3. Kansas State Wildcats (3): After rebounding to win six of its final seven games to end last season -- including destroying Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, K-State carried plenty of momentum into the offseason. With only 10 returning starters, there are some holes that need to be filled. But the Wildcats feature some of the best returning standouts in the league in quarterback Jake Waters, wideout Tyler Lockett and defensive end Ryan Mueller. If highly touted juco transfers Terrell Clinkscales, D'Vonta Derricott and Danzel McDaniel successfully step into some of those voids defensively, and an adequate successor to outgoing running back John Hubert surfaces, the Wildcats will have a say in the conference race.

4. Texas Longhorns (4): Discerning what team to rank fourth was the most difficult part of putting this list together. A case could be made here for Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or even TCU with its returning defense. But I couldn’t shake the memory of Texas obliterating both the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs last year while starting Case McCoy at quarterback. Given all the turnover Oklahoma State has, the Longhorns ultimately got the slight nod at fourth. With veterans littering the roster, Texas is solid pretty much everywhere -- well, everywhere except quarterback. But if the Longhorns can get anything out of the position -- David Ash? Max Wittek? Jerrod Heard? -- they could be a load in Charlie Strong’s debut season.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6): The Red Raiders climbed a spot thanks to the rapid development of sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Including the National University Holiday Bowl and Tech’s three open spring scrimmages, Webb tossed 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. With added weight and swelling confidence, Webb has been performing like an all-conference-caliber quarterback since the bowl game. Webb will have plenty of big-play weapons to operate with and his protection should be better, as well, with 75 career starts returning along the offensive line. Whether Tech truly emerges as a dark-horse contender, though, hinges on whether its four juco defensive linemen can remedy an ailing run defense that ranked ninth in the league last year.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5): After getting picked in 2010 by some to finish last in the Big 12 South, Oklahoma State reeled off 11 wins. Two years ago, the Cowboys got no love in the preseason again, and won eight games with three different quarterbacks. The recent track record in Stillwater suggests this is not a team to overlook in 2014. But if the Cowboys are going to surprise again, they’ll have to do so with a host of new faces. One reason for optimism is junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who this spring rekindled his freshman form, when he led the entire Big 12 in Adjusted QBR. The Cowboys love Walsh’s toughness and leadership. If he can recapture the throwing accuracy that escaped him last season, Oklahoma State could be a factor.

7. TCU Horned Frogs (7): The biggest development for the Horned Frogs this offseason occurred after the spring when they added Matt Joeckel. The Texas A&M quarterback transfer, who will be eligible this season, is familiar with the offense new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed this spring, and could give TCU just the jolt it needs at quarterback. The other big development this spring was the reemergence of 2012 AP Big 12 Defensive Player of Year Devonte Fields, who had a nightmare 2013 season. If Fields returns to wreaking havoc off the edge defensively, and Joeckel gives the offense above average quarterback play, TCU could finally be a force in its third year in the Big 12.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers (9): Dana Holgorsen is not lacking offensive firepower, with the league’s deepest running back stable and the entire receiving corps returning. With seven starters back on the other side, the defense has a chance to be much improved in the new Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime, too. West Virginia, however, gained little clarity about the quarterback position this spring, with Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery and the other contenders failing to make a move up the depth chart. To challenge to finish in the top half of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will have to get more out of their quarterback than they did last year -- regardless of the other pieces.

9. Iowa State Cyclones (8): Buoyed by a new play-caller and 10 returning starters, Iowa State could boast its best offense since Seneca Wallace was behind center over a decade ago. Mark Mangino has a proven track record as a coordinator, and plenty of weapons to utilize in running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs. The offensive line is seasoned, and sophomore Grant Rohach might finally be Iowa State’s long-term answer at quarterback following a strong spring. The defense, however, is an even bigger question mark coming out of the spring. Projected starting linemen Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed and safety Devron Moore left after getting homesick. The Cyclones had been stout defensively under Paul Rhoads and coordinator Wally Burnham up until last season, when they ranked last in the league.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (10): Coming out of the spring, the Jayhawks have some definite strengths they can point to, notably linebacker Ben Heeney and cornerback Dexter McDonald. Elsewhere, Kansas still has catching up to do before breaking out of the cellar. At least now the Jayhawks have a long-term quarterback to build around in sophomore Montell Cozart, who was named the starter after shining in the spring game.

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
9:00
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A recap of what we learned about Oklahoma this spring as the program prepares to build upon its 11-2 season a year ago.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. OU’s defensive front should be dominant. The Sooners return all of their contributing defensive linemen and are likely to add a healthy Jordan Phillips. OU will go six or seven deep along its defensive line and at least half of those defenders could end up playing on Sundays.

2. The Sooners want to be as versatile as possible on defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops shuffled around his best players, putting defensive end Geneo Grissom in a stand-up linebacker role and linebacker Eric Striker in the nickelback role at various times. The goal is to get the team's top 11 players on the field in every situation.

3. The offense remains a work in progress. OU’s offense wasn’t particularly balanced in 2013, finishing 90th among FBS teams in passing yards (199.1 per game). It didn’t look like much had changed during the spring game. OU needs a strong, consistent passing game to emerge, like it did in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, if it hopes to win a Big 12 or even national title this fall.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Will Trevor Knight become a consistent passer? The sophomore quarterback passed for 348 yards in the Sugar Bowl but averaged 67.3 passing yards per game in the other seven games he attempted a pass. Knight looked like a star against Alabama and gets the chance to show he can be a consistent star this fall.

2. Who will make game-changing plays on offense? As a proven playmaker, junior receiver Sterling Shepard is a given. After him things get unclear. Talent is not an issue but proven production, or lack thereof, is a problem. The defense will be able to carry the Sooners through some games but if championship aspirations are real, OU needs game-changers to emerge at running back and receiver.

3. Can any true freshmen make an impact? A roster full of talented returnees could make it tough on true freshmen to make an impact but receiver Michiah Quick, running back Joe Mixon, running back Samaje Perine and safety Steven Parker II could prove good enough to play right away at positions of need.

One way-too-early prediction:

Oklahoma’s three-game stretch to begin October will define its season as it travels to TCU, battles Texas in Dallas, then hosts Kansas State. The stretch is sandwiched between a pair of bye weeks which should make things easier on Bob Stoops’ coaching staff, but none of those games will be easy. How the Sooners handle them will show if they have what it takes to jump into national title contention.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Wednesday with receivers (and tight ends). These outlooks could look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.

2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.

3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.

4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.

5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.

6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.

7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.

8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.

10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.

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