Oklahoma Sooners: Aaron Colvin

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.

SportsNation

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

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    32%
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    12%
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    8%
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    11%
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    37%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,613)

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.
All-Big 12 players such as Lache Seastrunk, Aaron Colvin and Ahmad Dixon had to wait until the final day to be drafted. Jackson Jeffcoat, James Sims and Josh Stewart settled for free-agent deals after going undrafted.

You have expectations going in, but truthfully, you just never know how the NFL draft is going to play out. The good organizations know, however, that you can't construct a contender without finding high-impact player in the draft's final rounds.

Borrowing a page from our friends over at ESPN.com's SEC blog, who authored this thoughtful post earlier this week, here's a reminder why you shouldn't sleep on the late-round choices.

Here are a handful of active players from Big 12 schools who were not selected in their respective drafts' first three rounds but have still managed to develop into big-time talents, starters and contributors. The round they were drafted in is listed in parentheses, and FA indicates the player was an undrafted free agent.
Last weekend, the Big 12 had 17 players get taken in the NFL draft. Wonder how they got there? Well, we went back and pulled the ESPN scouting reports on those players while they were still just in high school. Some were highly touted, and lived up to their potential. Some defied the odds.

CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Cleveland Browns (No. 8 overall)
Ranking: No. 39 ATH
What our scouts said then: “Gilbert is a dual-threat quarterback. ... is a player that will likely be moved to wide receiver or safety. He is a gifted athlete with good football awareness and an athlete that has his best football ahead of him. ... once he commits to the position full time at the next level.”
What happened: Gilbert quickly found a new position at cornerback, and was one of the best at that position in the country last year.

[+] EnlargeJason Verrett
AP Photo/Craig RuttleTCU CB Jason Verrett had no offers coming out of high school but developed into the Chargers' first-round pick
CB Jason Verrett, TCU: San Diego Chargers (No. 25)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: Verrett graduated high school as a running back with no stars and no offers. At juco, the coaching staff moved him to the secondary, setting the stage for him to become one of the best cornerbacks in college football.

TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: New York Jets (No. 49)
Ranking: No. 28 TE
What our scouts said then: “Amaro is a productive receiving tight end. He has good size and appears on film to have the frame to be able to add more good bulk with time in a college weight program. He will play and block from an in-line position, but at this point it seems the strength of his game is a receiver. Can be a productive receiver.”
What happened: Well, Amaro added 30 pounds of bulk and became one of the most productive receiving tight ends in college football history.

RB Charles Sims, West Virginia: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 69)
Ranking: No. 114 RB
What our scouts said then: “If a college program is patient with Sims' development, they are going to get a future workhorse in the backfield. Hands are soft adding to his upside as a future featured back. Potential sleeper on the national scene as well and could blow up with a big senior season and added size prior to next fall.”
What happened: At Houston, Sims was named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year after rushing for nine touchdowns. His final year, he transferred to West Virginia to raise his pro profile. Displaying those “soft hands” out of the backfield, Sims led all Big 12 running backs in receiving.

DE Will Clarke, West Virginia: Cincinnati Bengals (No. 88)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: Clarke committed to rival Pitt, but never signed there. Instead, in late March, he faxed his letter-of-intent to West Virginia. Clarke became a three-year starter at defensive end, and the first and only Big 12 defensive lineman to get taken in the draft.

WR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma: New York Jets (No. 104)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: After two banner seasons at Fresno State, Saunders transferred to OU and became one of the Sooners’ top playmakers. He had 1,136 all-purpose yards as a senior, and helped fuel OU’s late surge to the 2013 season.

CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma: Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 114)
Ranking: No. 40 S
What our scouts said then: “Colvin should be a very solid safety at the next level especially from the strong position and be a very solid zone pass defender.”
What happened: Colvin played a key part in the OU secondary for four seasons. He would have been a higher pick had it not been for a knee injury he suffered in the Senior Bowl.

OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor: Buffalo Bills (No. 153)
Ranking: No. 64 OT
What our scouts said then: “Great size and a large wing span which can be beneficial especially in pass protection. Wins most battles at the line of scrimmage when base and drive blocking. Richardson should develop into a very good tackle at the next level.”
What happened: Richardson actually settled in as one of the elite power-blocking guards in college football, and became an Outland finalist as a senior. Richardson didn’t have the best pre-draft workouts, but he’ll have a chance to play in Buffalo.

ILB Jeremiah George, Iowa State: New York Jets (No. 154)
Ranking: No. 55 OLB
What our scouts said then: “George plays inside linebacker but is a little undersized for the position at the major level of competition. However this is a very active, hard-hitting player with the athleticism we like to see in second level defenders.”
What happened: George never let his size be a hindrance, and had a spectacular senior season, leading the Big 12 in tackles and earning all-conference honors.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsLache Seastrunk was considered one of the nation's best RBs out of high school and lived up to that billing at Baylor.
RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Washington Redskins (No. 186)
Ranking: No. 6 RB (ESPN 150)
What our scouts said then: “Fast, explosive, electric, either way you slice it, Seastrunk is arguably one of this class' biggest game-breakers at the running back position.”
What happened: Seastrunk signed with Oregon, but took off after transferring to Baylor. Despite missing two games to injury, Seastrunk led the Big 12 with 1,117 rushing yards last year.

CB Demetri Goodson, Baylor: Green Bay Packers (No. 197)
Ranking: No. 11 point guard (ESPN 100)
What our scouts said then: “Demetri is a true leader, and has the proper mentality to play the point and run a team. He can really push the ball down the court and he gets wherever he wants with it.”
What happened: After starting two seasons of hoops at Gonzaga, Goodson transferred to Baylor, and found his new calling on the gridiron. He finally broke out as a senior last season, earning the starting nod at cornerback, where he improved with every appearance.

OL Tavon Rooks, Kansas State: New Orleans Saints (No. 202)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: After transferring in from Navarro Junior College, Rooks instantly became a two-year starter at right tackle for K-State.

OLB Will Smith, Texas Tech: Dallas Cowboys (No. 238)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: “Smith has large frame and shows promise on film. His taller frame and lack of ideal top-end speed and elusiveness may see him get recruited more at outside linebacker; his measurables could eventually be better suited on defense if his body continues to physically develop. Could be a late bloomer on the recruiting trail.”
What happened: Smith went to Riverside (Calif.) Community College, and indeed became a late bloomer. This past season, he finished second in the league behind George with 120 tackles, and was one of Texas Tech’s most consistent defensive performers all year.

WR Tevin Reese, Baylor: San Diego Chargers (No. 240)
Ranking: Unranked
What our scouts said then: No report
What happened: Reese played for plenty of scouts at Temple (Texas) High School, but only because they came to see his teammate, Seastrunk. Even though Reese was incredibly slight at less than 160 pounds, the Baylor coaching staff loved his explosiveness. He started four games as a true freshman, and eventually became a star in the league.

OLB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma: Denver Broncos (No. 242)
Ranking: No. 3 OLB (ESPN 150)
What our scouts said then: “Nelson may be a bit raw and inexperienced in linebacker play but after watching film on this guy it's hard not to see a special linebacker prospect. A defensive playmaker with the quick-twitched burst and striking short-area power you just can't coach.”
What happened: Nelson played a true freshman, but never really became a full-time starter until his senior year. He had a great first month, then suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.

FB Trey Millard, Oklahoma: San Francisco 49ers (No. 245)
Ranking: No. 59 ATH
What our scouts said then: “Overall, Millard brings a lot to the table physically for a program to mold and develop. Not going to wow you on film ... but grows on you the more you watch and just does a lot of the little things right.”
What happened: On his way to earning all-conference honors three times, Millard did many little things right at OU, whether it was blocking, catching passes or even carrying the ball himself. A senior injury hurt his draft stock, but he’ll have a chance to stick in San Fran.

SS Ahmad Dixon, Baylor: Dallas Cowboys (No. 248)
Ranking: No. 3S (ESPN 150)
What our scouts said then: “Dixon is an exceptional defensive back that really is a prototype free safety. A real hitter that is a true leader by the effort he gives every play.”
What happened: After flirting with Tennessee, Dixon became one of the most high-profile recruits ever to sign with Baylor during the Art Briles era. He became a three-year starter, and last season as an All-American was a key piece on Baylor’s first Big 12 title team.
Oklahoma won that Red River battle.

The NFL draft came and went last weekend without a player from University of Texas being taken for the first time since 1937. Meanwhile, OU had four Sooners selected on Saturday, including two fourth-round picks in Jalen Saunders and Aaron Colvin.

Here’s a breakdown of the Sooners selected and how they could fit with their new teams.

WR Jalen Saunders, 4th round, N.Y. Jets

The fit: The Jets should be a good fit for Saunders as they badly need guys who can change a game in one play. Expect him to help the Jets immediately on special teams.

Best-case scenario: Saunders takes over as the punt returner and finds a role in the offense as a slot receiver to complement Eric Decker and Stephen Hill.

Worst-case scenario: Questions about his size come to fruition as he’s manhandled by bigger cornerbacks, or worse yet, the injury bug hits.

CB Aaron Colvin, 4th round, Jacksonville Jaguars

The fit: It’s probably not the best fit for Colvin to go to a franchise that has struggled for years. The Jaguars’ probable on-field struggles could put a damper on a rookie season that will be spent on the sideline. That said, Jacksonville is trying to rebuild with young players and Colvin fits the bill.

Best-case scenario: At the organization’s request, Colvin takes his time rehabbing his ACL injury, which he suffered at the Senior Bowl in January, and returns to 100 percent before he gets on the field for the first time. Ideally, he could return late in his rookie season and get his feet wet down the home stretch.

Worst-case scenario: Colvin has some type of setback that puts his 2015 season in question, particularly if it is sparked by any type of impatience from the organization.

LB Corey Nelson, 7th round, Denver Broncos

The fit: The Broncos could end up with a steal in Nelson, who looked poised for a superb senior season before a pectoral injury. For Nelson, it’s a good situation because he has to potential to fill multiple linebacker spots and help on special teams for a team that needs to fill roster spots as cheaply as possible after a high-spending offseason.

Best-case scenario: Nelson becomes a staple on special teams while becoming someone the coaching staff thinks can help on defense in the future.

Worst-case scenario: Nelson doesn’t make the roster.

FB Trey Millard, 7th round, San Francisco 49ers

The fit: Much like Colvin, Millard is coming off an ACL injury. But the 49ers are the perfect fit for Millard, who is physical and versatile and should become a useful piece in San Francisco’s offense.

Best-case scenario: Millard takes his time returning to 100 percent. Once he returns the field, he essentially becomes Colin Kaepernick’s bodyguard in the backfield while becoming a key special team player.

Worst-case scenario: Millard never returns to the player he was before an ACL injury ended his senior season.

Undrafted Sooners signees

S Gabe Lynn, Detroit Lions: Lynn should get an opportunity on a Lions team in need of defensive backs.

C Gabe Ikard, Tennessee Titans: Ikard’s versatility could help him make the Titans roster, as he can play three spots in the interior.

WR Jaz Reynolds, Tennessee Titans: If Reynolds can maximize his physical ability, he could earn a spot on the roster or practice squad.

G Bronson Irwin, Green Bay Packers: Irwin, much like Ikard, could find himself on the Packers roster if he shows the versatility he did in crimson and cream.

RB Roy Finc, New England Patriots: If Finch can show his big-play ability as a returner, his chances of sticking in New England increase.

RB Brennan Clay, Denver Broncos: The Broncos are a solid fit for Clay, who was easily OU’s most complete running back last season and could earn himself a spot on the roster by being dependable at running back and making an impact on special teams.

RB Damien Williams, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have several young running backs who could make things tough on Williams, but he has NFL ability.

WR Lacoltan Bester, Houston Texans: Bester will have to impress on special teams first if he hopes to make the roster.

NFL draft breakdown: Big 12

May, 12, 2014
May 12
10:30
AM ET
Several former Big 12 stars watched their dreams come true with their selection in the NFL draft over the weekend.

None of those players went to Texas.

The Longhorns did not have a player drafted for the first time since 1937, leaving a lasting memory that could remain in Austin, Texas, until the 2015 draft.

Baylor led the league with five players selected, followed by Oklahoma with four. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the only Big 12 players selected in the first round.

Here's a closer look at some of the Big 12's draftees and storylines from the draft over the weekend.

[+] EnlargeCyril Richardson
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsGuard Cyril Richardson was the first of five Baylor players who were selected in the draft. The Bears had five of the league's 17 draft picks.
Interesting storyline: In addition to the Longhorns going without a player drafted, it was a lackluster weekend for the rest of Big 12 with a total of 17 draftees, including five on the first two days of the draft (Rounds 1-3). Five Big 12 players were selected in the seventh round, helping to increase what was looking like a ugly and disappointing number midway through the draft’s final day. The Big 12 had 22 players selected in 2013, with eight in the first three rounds and 17 in the first five rounds.

Strong statement: While his current team did not get any players drafted, Texas coach Charlie Strong watched his former school, Louisville, get more players drafted in the first round than the entire Big 12. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, safety Calvin Pryor and linebacker Marcus Smith each were selected in the first round after being recruited by and playing for Strong at Louisville. Linebacker Preston Brown was selected by the Bills in the third round, giving Louisville four players selected in the first three rounds. No Big 12 team matched that feat.

Best fit: It’s probably hard to find a rookie in a better situation than former Oklahoma State cornerback Gilbert, who was selected No. 8 overall by the Cleveland Browns. First, Cleveland clearly valued him, taking him in the top 10 after moving down, and he should slide right into the starting lineup for the Browns. Second, he will be the most overlooked top-10 pick in recent memory as all the attention during his rookie season is likely to be focused on former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Browns’ second pick of the first round. Third, he will get the opportunity to be mentored by Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden in a system that will allow his physical gifts to shine.

Immediate impact rookie: Former Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro could be the poised to have the biggest impact as a rookie. Amaro, the New York Jets' second-round pick, could become a big target who is a quarterback’s best friend, as Amaro proved to be during his standout 2013 season with the Red Raiders. If Amaro can hold his own as a blocker, he could develop into a lethal weapon on play action for Rex Ryan’s Jets.

Long-term impact: Former Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin won’t be earning Rookie of the Year honors. Selected in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Colvin is recovering from an torn ACL in January and could miss the entire 2014 season as he recovers from the injury. When he does get healthy, Colvin has the ability to be a starting NFL cornerback and could become a mainstay in the Jaguars secondary.

Potential steal: It's hard to understand why former Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk dropped all the way into the sixth round, where Washington drafted him to rejoin former teammate Robert Griffin III in the offensive backfield. He might not arrive in Washington and lock up a starting role, but it would be a surprise if Seastrunk, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry in 2013, doesn't makes an impact with his new squad.

Big 12 draft recap

May, 10, 2014
May 10
8:30
PM ET

Below is a recap of how the Big 12 fared this weekend in the NFL draft. Baylor led the league with five picks, and Texas failed to have a selection for the first time since 1937.

Round 1

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFormer Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was the top Big 12 player drafted, going at No. 8 to the Cleveland Browns.
CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Cleveland Browns (8th overall)
Should start immediately opposite Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden.

CB Jason Verrett, TCU: San Diego Chargers (25th)
His aggressive cover corner skills will instantly boost an ailing San Diego secondary.

Round 2

TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: New York Jets (49th)
The Jets needed weapons for their passing game, and they got a big one here.

Round 3

RB Charles Sims, West Virginia: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (69th)
Pass-catching skills makes him the likely third-down back in Tampa.

DE Will Clarke, West Virginia: Cincinnati Bengals (88th)
If he can develop his frame, he could be a factor down the line.

Round 4

WR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma: New York Jets (104th)
Brings major playmaking to the slot and the return teams.

CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma: Jacksonville Jaguars (114th)
Would have been a second-round pick if not for the Senior Bowl injury.

Round 5

OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor: Buffalo Bills (153rd)
A mauler who will probably need to trim down to succeed at the next level.

ILB Jeremiah George, Iowa State: New York Jets (154th)
Tackling skills could make him a force on special teams.

Round 6

RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Washington Redskins (186th)
Had to wait a while, but gets to join former Bear RG III in the backfield.

CB Demetri Goodson, Baylor: Green Bay Packers (197th)
The former basketball player has upside that intrigued the Packers.

OL Tavon Rooks, Kansas State: New Orleans Saints (202nd)
It's a mild surprise that he was the first and only K-State alum drafted.

Round 7

OLB Will Smith, Texas Tech: Dallas Cowboys (238th)
Big-time college tackler who will contribute on coverage teams.

WR Tevin Reese, Baylor: San Diego Chargers (240th)
Will be interesting to see if San Diego can take advantage of Reese’s top-end speed.

OLB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma: Denver Broncos (242nd)
Has a nose for the ball and probably would’ve gone higher had it not been for the pectoral injury.

FB Trey Millard, Oklahoma: San Francisco 49ers (245th)
A typical talented 49ers draft pick coming off an injury.

SS Ahmad Dixon, Baylor: Dallas Cowboys (248th)
Brings a physical presence, but improvement in coverage will determine whether he sticks on the defense.
The NFL draft is here.

It all begins tonight at 8 p.m. (ET) and the draft will continue through Saturday. Several Big 12 players should be selected in the next three days, so here is a team-by-team NFL draft primer, which includes each school’s top prospect, one sleeper/value pick and a list of each potential draftee. All projections are courtesy of ESPN Insider's draft board , and the potential draftees listed are players with an ESPN.com Scouts Inc. ranking of 31 or above. All draft projections are listed by day, i.e. Day 1 (Round 1), Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) and Day 3 (Rounds 4, 5, 6 and 7).

Baylor

Top prospect: G Cyril Richardson. The Bears’ All-American guard is projected to be an early Day 3 selection and could provide quality depth (or even start) during his first NFL season.

Sleeper pick: WR Tevin Reese. Slated as a late Day 3 selection, Reese could surprise with his speed and take the top off NFL defenses, particularly on a team with a strong running game.

Other potential draftees (projected selection): RB Lache Seastrunk (Day 3), S Ahmad Dixon (Day 3), CB Demetri Goodson (Day 3).

Iowa State

Top prospect: LB Jeremiah George. The Cyclones’ undersized but athletic linebacker didn’t wow scouts with his measurables but it would be unwise to brush him off as a player unable to make an impact on Sundays. He’s projected to go late on Day 3 and could, at the very least, carve out a special teams role.

Sleeper pick: None.

Other potential draftees: None.

Kansas

No Jayhawk is projected to be drafted or has a ESPN.com Scout’s Inc. rating of 31 or above.

Kansas State

Top prospect: S Ty Zimmerman. He was extremely productive during his time at KSU and is projected to go late on Day 3.

Sleeper pick: OT Cornelius Lucas. Projected to be a late Day 3 selection, Lucas would be worth taking a flyer on for most NFL teams due to his mammoth size (6-foot-8, 316 pounds).

Other potential draftees: None.

Oklahoma

Top prospect: CB Aaron Colvin. Projected to come off the board early on Day 3, Colvin would be drafted much higher if he hadn’t torn his ACL during Senior Bowl practices. It’s quite possible some team will eventually get Day 1 or Day 2 production from Colvin if they’re patient with his recovery.

Sleeper pick: FB Trey Millard. Another Sooner coming off an ACL injury, Millard is the type of guy who won’t get any headlines this weekend but will end up playing 10 years in the league as a key contributor on offense and special teams. He projected to be drafted on Day 3.

Other potential draftees: WR Jalen Saunders (Day 3), RB Damien Williams (Day 3), C Gabe Ikard (Day 3).

Oklahoma State

Top prospect: CB Justin Gilbert. Gilbert is projected to go in the first round and is considered one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft. He’s likely to be the first Big 12 player selected.

Sleeper pick: WR Josh Stewart. His physical attributes aren’t going to make NFL scouts drool, but Stewart seems to consistently find ways to make plays and could initially make an impact as a returner. He’s projected to be a late Day 3 selection.

Other potential draftees: None.

TCU

Top prospect: CB Jason Verrett. The elite cover cornerback sits right alongside Gilbert among the draft’s top cornerbacks. He’s projected to join Gilbert as a first-round selection.

Sleeper pick: None.

Other potential draftees: None.

Texas

Top prospect: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. He finished his Texas career with an extremely productive senior season. He’s projected to be an early Day 3 selection.

Sleeper pick: WR Mike Davis. He has a bunch of talent and upside but never really became a difference maker in the Big 12. Davis is projected to be selected on Day 3 and could be a steal if his NFL team can push him to maximize his potential.

Other potential draftees: OG Trey Hopkins (Day 3), DT Chris Whaley (Day 3).

Texas Tech

Top prospect: TE Jace Amaro. The Big 12’s biggest mismatch creator could transition into an individual matchup nightmare in the NFL as well. He’s projected to go early on Day 2 and will give some NFL team a unique weapon.

Sleeper pick: DT Kerry Hyder. The former foundation of the Red Raiders’ defensive line is expected to be drafted late on Day 3. He’s the type of player NFL teams can draft and hope for the best because he does have some NFL traits that could earn him a spot on a roster.

Other potential draftees: None.

West Virginia

Top prospect: HB Charles Sims. It’s quite possible Sims would be projected to go higher if the overall value of running backs as a whole was not trending down. One of the most versatile running back prospects, Sims is projected to be selected on Day 2.

Sleeper pick: DE William Clarke. The lanky defensive end prospect is projected to be drafted early on Day 3. His athleticism and instincts could make in him Saturday steal.

Other potential draftees: None.
The spring evaluation period is upon us.

Oklahoma has made a living out of evaluating and developing well, helping the Sooners go 51-15 during their past five seasons including four straight seasons with double-digit wins. During Bob Stoops’ tenure the Sooners have been able to consistently compete for championships thanks in part to their ability to land hidden gems like Aaron Colvin and Dominique Alexander. This week we’ll count down the top five, continuing with No. 2.

[+] EnlargeAaron Colvin
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAaron Colvin (14) has been one of Oklahoma's stalwart's in the secondary.
No. 2 Aaron Colvin, cornerback, Class of 2010

Recruiting rank: 78 (out of 100) ESPN.com scouts ranking, No. 40 safety

What we said: “Smart and instinctive and does a good job of reading combination routes. Colvin should be a very solid safety at the next level especially from the strong position and be a very solid zone pass defender.” -- ESPN recruiting analyst.

Other reported offers: Oklahoma State, Missouri, North Texas, UNLV

Career production: Colvin started 36 of 50 games in crimson and cream, finishing with 234 tackles including 15 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He also intercepted five passes … In 2010, Colvin was a pleasant surprise, even starting his first Red River Showdown against Texas. He finished with 34 tackles and one forced fumble in 14 games (one start) as a true freshman … In 2011, Colvin became a starter in the Sooners secondary but shifted to safety with Demontre Hurst and Jamell Fleming manning the cornerback spot. Colvin responded with a team-leading 84 tackles as a sophomore … As a junior he returned to the cornerback spot, starting 13 games while earning All-Big 12 honors. He recorded career highs in sacks (2) and interceptions (4) in 2012 … In 2013, Colvin earned first team All-Big 12 honors for the second straight season despite dealing with nagging injuries for much of the year as a senior.

Why Colvin is No. 2: His versatility, competitive nature and consistency will be greatly missed this fall. Colvin was an impact player as soon as he arrived on campus and was so talented that the Sooners moved him around to find a spot for him in the defense as a sophomore. When Colvin was healthy and on the field, he made plays, it didn’t matter where he lined up or who the Sooners were playing against. Colvin was a three-year starter, all-conference player who was extremely low maintenance. He is the type of recruit that should sit atop every school’s recruiting board.

Another productive member of the Class of 2010, Colvin is part of the reason that recruiting class will go down as one of Bob Stoops’ best. Colvin was not one of the seven ESPN 150 signees in the class, in fact he was fourth-lowest ranked signee according to ESPN scouts rating system ahead of only Trey Millard, Daryl Williams and Damon Williams. Stoops often points to Colvin when dismissing the recruiting hype, or lack thereof, of his Sooners’ signees. And rightly so.

The rest of the list:

No. 3: FB Trey Millard
No. 4: OT Daryl Williams
No. 5: OT Lane Johnson
No. 6: DE Charles Tapper
No. 7: LB Eric Striker
No. 8: LB Dominique Alexander
No. 9: CB Demontre Hurst
No. 10: G Tyler Evans
It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Which potential Big 12 draftee will be the biggest steal for a team during the NFL draft? (Note: Day 2 or Day 3 prospects only)

Take 1: Max Olson

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCould former West Virginia tailback Charles Sims be a steal for an NFL team?
If West Virginia running back Charles Sims lands with the right team, he’ll have a chance to make a lot of other organizations look stupid for passing on him.

In today’s NFL, where you better have two good backs even if you have Adrian Peterson, Sims has the potential to be a special commodity. He probably would’ve been drafted off his resume at Houston, but what Sims achieved in his lone season at West Virginia opened a lot of eyes and should’ve significantly boosted his stock.

What he’ll bring to the table for whomever drafts him is all-purpose playmaking. You will not find another back in this draft who has 2,000 receiving yards on their resume. Big 12 defenses knew they had to stop Sims and he still went for a combined 1,496 yards rushing and receiving in 2013.

Last week, Todd McShay had Sims going to the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the third round, with the 99th pick, in a three-round mock Insider with Mel Kiper Jr. That would be one heck of a fit, with Sims as the explosive counterpart to an aging Ray Rice. But with his acceleration and instincts, Sims makes for an ideal fit for any number of NFL schemes.

There are no first-round caliber rushers in this draft. It’s likely whoever drafts Sims will do so with the intention of making him a complementary piece, someone who can spell the feature back and give a jolt to the offense.

And that’s a good plan, but don’t be shocked if Sims ends up outperforming expectations. This is the guy who, by the end of October, you’ll wish you had on your fantasy team.

Take 2: Brandon Chatmon

Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin was making waves and rising up draft board before tearing his ACL during Senior Bowl practices in January. His injury could make him a bargain-basement steal for any NFL team.

Whoever selects Colvin shouldn’t count on him this fall but they would earn the dividends in the long term by getting first- or second-round production from a player who fell down draft boards and out of the minds of some NFL scouts and GMs in January.

Colvin's incredible competitiveness and a hunger to succeed which will help him be an impact player in the NFL despite lacking the ideal bulk at the cornerback position. He’s very good in coverage, a willing tackler and has the versatility to play safety if needed. With the NFL moving to a more pass happy league with an aim on spreading teams out and forcing mismatches with receivers, Colvin would be a terrific addition to any defense.

When we look back at the 2014 NFL draft five years from now, Colvin will be the Big 12’s best steal because, most likely, he will exceed expectations for the pick used to select him. Most teams aren’t in a position to wait for Colvin to return to his pre-injury form, but one of the teams that are afforded that luxury will land a gem in the OU cornerback this weekend.
Oklahoma’s defense appears loaded.

The Sooners defensive line could be the foundation of the defense and several playmaking linebackers return along with three of five starters in the secondary. There don’t appear to be many holes in a defensive unit that ranked among the Big 12’s best a year ago.

Cornerback is clearly the biggest question mark on the defense as the Sooners try to replace All-Big 12 performer Aaron Colvin. Stanvon Taylor, Dakota Austin and Cortez Johnson are battling to replace Colvin but nobody has clearly pulled away from the competition.

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor is one of several OU players battling for time at cornerback.
“Stanvon Taylor and Dakota Thomas are playing the best out there at corner,” coach Bob Stoops said. “[But] Cortez is still in that mix very strongly.”

They’re competing hard but it’s been a friendly competition built upon learning and improving as an overall group at cornerback.

“Everyone’s working really hard and pushing each other,” Taylor said. “We’re all a team and we push each other to work every day.”

All three players saw limited action in 2013 with Taylor and Johnson earning starts when Colvin was injured and Austin seeing snaps in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Yet none of them played well enough to emerge as the favorite to replace Colvin heading into the spring and that hasn’t changed with the end of spring on the horizon.

“We are very competitive,” Johnson said. “Coach [Stoops] will make the call on who’s going to start, so I’m just going to keep being competitive.”

While Colvin is the man the Sooners are looking to replace, he will be gone but not forgotten this fall. He made a point to tutor Taylor and Austin during their true freshman seasons. He taught Taylor, who essentially arrived on campus as his protege, to forget his failings if he hoped to survive the ups and downs of the position.

“Just play and stay positive,” Taylor said of the best advice Colvin gave him. “I used to get frustrated a lot and he would tell me to keep my head up and keep getting better.”

Austin noticed completely different traits from the former Sooners standout.

“I learned instincts and just staying poised,” Austin said. “[I also learned] the speed of the game, certain antics that the offense does, just picking up on film work. That’s really the main thing, picking up on things the other team likes to do. He was really heavy on film and that’s something that I would like to adopt in my game.”

Saturday’s spring game could go a long way in helping to crown a winner of the battle if one of the trio pulls away from the competition with a breakout performance. The battle to replace Colvin has been one of the top storylines of the spring and it will continue to be the biggest concern on the Sooners’ defense until it’s resolved. And even then every team will test the victor until he proves he’s not the weak link on OU's defense.

“I know we’re going to get challenged and I feel like we have a group that’s up for it,” Austin said. “We really have a lot of aggressive guys, guys that are going to get after it. I wouldn’t want to do it with another group. I feel like we’re really going to get the job done. We’re really underrated and that’s what’s going to make it so much sweeter in the end.”

Reviewing the Big 12 pro days

March, 31, 2014
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Pro day season has come and gone. Draft-eligible players returned to school this month and hit the weight room and practice field to give NFL scouts a taste of their potential. Here’s a rundown of how the Big 12’s top draft prospects fared as well as a few who surprised.

TCU (March 6)
Big name: CB Jason Verrett. A total of 26 NFL teams had reps at the Horned Frogs’ pro day, and you know many of them came for Verrett. He didn’t look to improve his 40 time from the NFL combine (4.38), but he did show off a 39 ˝-inch vertical and benched 19 reps.
Sleeper: QB Casey Pachall. While he’ll have to answer lots of questions about his off-field issues, Pachall’s on-field work at pro day was encouraging. He checked in at 6-foot-3˝ and 216 pounds, ran his 40 in the mid-4.9s and completed 62 of 72 passes, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Kansas State (March 11)
Big name: S Ty Zimmerman. Though 20 Kansas State players worked out at pro day, Zimmerman was not one of them. He’s still recovering from labrum surgery and reportedly plans to hold a workout next month to show his progress.
Sleeper: OT Cornelius Lucas. Hard to project how things will play out for Lucas, a mammoth tackle at 6-8 and 316 pounds, after he discovered a stress fracture in his left foot at the NFL combine. He’s supposed to be out up to eight weeks but plans to work out along with Zimmerman on April 28.

Oklahoma (March 12)
Big name: CB Aaron Colvin. The Sooners had 28 NFL organization represented at their pro day, but a few key players were still on the mend. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, did not work out but hopes to be running again by late April and vowed his recovery is ahead of schedule.
Sleeper: C Gabe Ikard. While Ikard elected to stand by his combine numbers, which were strong for his position group, he did use the pro day to show in position drills just how athletic an interior lineman he can be for an NFL club. Running back Damien Williams also made a solid impression, and receiver Jalen Saunders drew mixed reviews after poor shuttle times.

Oklahoma State (March 13)
Big name: CB Justin Gilbert. The Steelers have the No. 15 pick, so it made sense that Mike Tomlin and his GM were among the many coaches in Stillwater to scout Gilbert. He stood by his 4.37 in the 40 from the NFL combine but did agility drills and reportedly wowed in his position drills. He’s a first-rounder, no doubt.
Sleeper: WR Josh Stewart. Well, OK, he’s not much of a sleeper. But Stewart had work to do to raise his stock, and pro day should’ve helped. He improved his 40 slightly, from 4.69 at the combine to 4.59 at pro day, and showed what he can do as a receiver and returner. Safety Daytawion Lowe also made a good impression.

Texas Tech (March 14)
Big name: TE Jace Amaro. The All-America tight end tried to secure a spot in the first round with improvements in the 40 (4.68) and vertical, and at 6-5 and 266 pounds he evoked comparisons to Vernon Davis from one 49ers scout.
Sleeper: CB Bruce Jones. He’s undersized at 5-7 and 183 pounds, but Jones did grab some attention at pro day with a run of a 4.5-second 40 time and team-best vertical of 41 inches.

Kansas (March 14)
Big name: RB James Sims. A dozen scouts showed up for the Jayhawks’ pro day, and the highlight was probably Sims busting off a run of 4.56 seconds in the 40. The 6-foot, 205-pound back was not invited to the NFL combine and told the Lawrence Journal-World he felt good about the numbers he put up.

Baylor (March 19)
Big names: OT Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon. Richardson shed 20 pounds after his senior season, which had to encourage NFL scouts, and he did nothing at his pro day to diminish his chances of being a top-50 pick. Seastrunk was as explosive as expected, with a time of 4.37 in the 40 and a 4.36 second shuttle, and tried to show off his pass-catching ability. Dixon ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the NFL combine and improved that to 4.48 at pro day.
Sleeper: TE Jordan Najvar. At nearly 6-6 and 280 pounds, Najvar certainly has the size to make the NFL. His speed had been a question mark, but his reported best for pro day was 4.86 seconds in the 40.

West Virginia (March 21)
Big name: RB Charles Sims. A nice showing at the NFL combine (40 time: 4.48) meant Sims needed only to do positional drills, and he drew good reviews for his pass-catching ability despite small hands.
Sleeper: DE Will Clarke. Knowing it’s possible he’ll be asked to play outside linebacker in an NFL scheme, Clarke worked out at both end and linebacker on pro day and tried to show what he can bring to pass coverage as a nearly 6-6, 268-pound defender.

Iowa State (March 25)
Big name: LB Jeremiah George. After a subpar showing at the combine, George had a nice day in front of 30 NFL officials. He hit 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posted a big improvement in his broad jump and was solid in positional work.
Sleeper: CB Jeremy Reeves. How’s this for a success story? Reeves played at ISU from 2010-12, missed last season with a pectoral injury and showed up to pro day to prove he’s still got it. He had a crazy good day: 4.29-second 40, 43-inch vertical, 11˝-foot broad jump. The New York Jets signed him on Friday.

Texas (March 26)
Big name: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Like most other top prospects, Jeffcoat stuck with his NFL combine testing numbers. The 6-3, 253-pound end demonstrated his coverage ability in position drills amid talk that he might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Sleeper: CB Carrington Byndom. Questions about the three-year starter’s speed were put to rest when he ran his 40 in 4.37 seconds. Byndom was happy with his positional drills and is starting to line up meetings.
Zack Sanchez grew a lot during his redshirt freshman season at Oklahoma.

The Sooners cornerback was thrown into the fire, starting his first collegiate game after Cortez Johnson was suspended for the first game of 2013. Sanchez seized the opportunity and never let go, starting 13 games and earning FWAA Freshman All-American honors while leading the team with 13 pass breakups.

[+] EnlargeZack Sanchez
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiZack Sanchez led Oklahoma in pass breakups as a redshirt freshman and will be counted on as a leader in the Sooners' secondary.
This spring, OU’s defense is counting on Sanchez to continue to exceed expectations. Despite preparing for his sophomore season, he’s become the veteran of the Sooners cornerback group with Aaron Colvin heading to the NFL. The eyes that turned to Colvin during tough times in 2013 will now turn Sanchez’s way when adversity hits this fall.

With the mantle passed to him, Sanchez began to try to step up his leadership during winter workouts.

“I had to take essentially the same role as [Colvin],” Sanchez said. “Being the oldest guy or most experienced guy at corner, I had to take the leadership role through winter workouts and spring. I have to be more vocal to the younger guys and lead by example so they see that I’m doing it right and not just talking about it.”

Sophomores Stanvon Taylor and Dakota Austin fill the bill as young guys who could learn from Sanchez’s experience in 2013 even though they’re in the same boat eligibility-wise. Sanchez had ups and downs but, thanks in part to Colvin, was able to prevent the valleys of his freshman season from becoming canyons.

“He went through a learning process a year ago and has become a better player,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “I think you learn from your experiences and that’s what playing does for you, it gives you a lot of experience to fall back on, and I think that’s what he’ll do this year. He’ll be a much more complete player than he was a year ago. Hopefully he’ll be much bigger and stronger player, he needs to become that.”

OU is turning to him to become a leader, but he needs to become a better cornerback as well. Teams picked on Sanchez in 2013, but he competed well enough to win his share of battles. But this season he’ll be asked to do even more for OU’s defense, including trying to slow the likes of Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett as the Sooners’ top cornerback.

Sanchez is hopeful the experience and mentality he gained as a redshirt freshman will pay off in 2014, not only for himself but for his teammates as well.

“I grew up really fast,” he said “I think I had to. Being young can’t be an excuse for that long or you’ll get pulled off the field. I learned from a lot of things and I feel really strong going into spring and I’m excited for what the future holds.”
Spring practice is in its infant stages but Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has some encouraging words for anyone concerned about replacing All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin.

“They’re competing at a higher level and that’s what we need,” said Stoops, of those battling to fill the void in OU’s secondary.

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor is in prime position to earn a starting cornerback job this spring.
Sophomore Stanvon Taylor, junior Cortez Johnson and sophomore Dakota Austin are the cornerbacks battling to replace Colvin. All three players saw time behind Colvin in 2013 but none of them separated themselves with their performances.

With Colvin battling a head injury, Taylor started in his third collegiate game against Tulsa, but his production tapered off as his freshman season progressed.

“It’s a lot faster game,” Taylor said of getting his feet wet as a true freshman. “You’ve got to be able to read a lot of stuff and know the offense and know formations -- all the things that come with football. You’ve just got to be ready to go.”

Johnson started against Iowa State and Kansas State but didn’t lock down "favorite to start" status heading into the spring. Austin saw limited duty on defense but has strong coverage skills. OU is hopeful their 2013 playing time, although limited, will pay off this fall.

“They’re green in a lot of ways,” Stoops said. “Just getting them out there and getting them in that environment, I think they understand how much they need to improve to get out there and play confidently. That’s the lesson they learned, that they need to get a lot better. Those experiences, hopefully, will process to them that they need to be in a better position than they were a year ago.”

OU returns Zack Sanchez on the opposite side of the defense, giving the Sooners' secondary at least one proven cornerback to build around this fall. He knows the importance of having a solid pair of bookend cornerbacks.

“It’s huge,” Sanchez said. “Stanvon, Dakota and Cortez are all doing a great job. They’re all making plays and it’s kind of up in the air right now. It’s going to be a tough decision for coach. All those guys are competing and all look really good.”

Colvin’s inner drive and competitiveness make replacing him an unenviable task. Taylor was mentored to slide into the spot but the job is open for the taking with all three players in hot pursuit this spring. If nobody steps up it creates a potential problem in a unit that could be one of the Big 12’s best. Stoops would have to turn to a true freshman (Tito Windham or Jordan Thomas) or prepare to provide help for one of the most important spots in his defensive system.

“We’re getting better,” Stoops said. “I think there’s improvement. We’re all kind of finding our way and we need one or two of them to, hopefully, separate themselves and take control of that position. I don’t think anyone’s done that at this point but, overall, we’re better at that position with those three guys. But I’m not saying that they’re at the same level as Aaron. They’re heading in the right direction.”
Oklahoma began its spring practices last weekend with back-to-back practices Saturday and Sunday. The Sooners get back to work today with an eye on capturing another Big 12 title under Bob Stoops. Here are some things to watch this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Keith Ford could be ready to take the next step in the Sooners' offense. OU needs someone to fill the void left by departed running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, who combined for 4,824 career rushing yards in crimson and cream. Ford earned himself some carries as a freshman, but fumble troubles put him in the doghouse for a portion of his first season. This spring, Ford could lock down a major role in the offense with his power, decisiveness and quickness.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Thomas
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAhmad Thomas' blend of size and athleticism makes him a candidate to step in at safety as a sophomore.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Safety Ahmad Thomas didn’t get major time on the Sooners' defense as a freshman. But the versatile defensive back appears poised to become a key piece of OU’s defensive plan as a sophomore. At 6-foot and 218 pounds, Thomas brings terrific size, athleticism and aggressiveness to the Sooners secondary. If he continues to improve and develop, he could be too good to leave on the sidelines, forcing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to find ways to get him involved.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Defensive tackle Charles Walker was an unknown with an underwhelming offer list when he signed with OU in February 2013. But Walker was one of the guys who repeatedly earned praise during discussions of scout-team stars last fall. At 6-2 and 289 pounds, Walker moves like a much smaller man and could force his way onto the field with his play this spring and provide young, quality depth along the defensive line.

Most significant position battle: The battle to replace two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin should be entertaining. There is no clear favorite among a group of talented cornerbacks that includes Stanvon Taylor, Cortez Johnson and Dakota Austin. This spring provides the opportunity for someone to step up in Colvin’s absence and become a trustworthy cover man on the perimeter of OU’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, the Sooners could be forced to account for a weak link in the secondary, particularly if none of the freshman arrivals in the summer (Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green) proves they can slide into Colvin’s spot.

Key midterm enrollee: Linebacker Devante Bond already is making an impression during his short time at OU. An outside linebacker with pass rush skills, Bond isn’t going to replace Eric Striker in the Sooners lineup. Yet if he proves to be one of the best pass rushers on the squad this spring, Stoops could pair him with Striker to give Big 12 quarterbacks headaches this fall.

Question that could be answered: Will Trevor Knight build on his Sugar Bowl MVP performance? The sophomore ended his first season with a bang, leading OU to a upset win over Alabama. This spring will show if Knight is hungry for more and striving to play at a championship level every Saturday this fall, or if he could return to the inconsistency that hampered his play in 2013.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will get the majority of the carries in OU’s backfield this fall? Even if Ford has an exceptional spring, there’s no guarantee he can hold off the talents of incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the summer. The lone certainty is that there will be a bunch of talented options for running backs coach Cale Gundy.

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