Oklahoma Sooners: Charles Tapper

This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we 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 follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 91 Charles Tapper, defensive end, 6-foot-4, 281 pounds, junior

Impact thus far: Tapper had a breakout season as a sophomore, earning All-Big 12 honors while starting 12 of 13 games. He had 49 tackles including nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2013. As a true freshman he played in five games and recorded two tackles in 2012.

Impact in 2014: If Tapper makes another jump as a junior he could find himself in the fight for All-American honors. He has all the physical skills to dominate a game yet still has plenty of room to grow as a guy who didn’t start playing football until midway though high school.

Long term upside: All-American honors and individual awards are in play for Tapper during his career, if he continues his development.

Evaluation grade for Tapper: A. The Baltimore, Maryland native is a former basketball player who intrigued the Sooners, particularly Bobby Jack Wright, with his raw talent and OU didn’t hesitate to offer him a scholarship despite his inexperience on the gridiron. He’s been everything they could have asked for and more. Tapper is easily the best evaluation on the roster.

Development grade for Tapper: B. Normally the Sooners would get a D or lower for playing a true freshman in just five games and essentially wasting a year. But it’s highly unlikely Tapper will be in Norman, Oklahoma for five years anyway as he seems destined to play on Sundays in the future. Thus, getting five games as a true freshman and having him prepare with the first team probably helped him breakout as a sophomore. And, although he probably could have played more in 2012, five games as a true freshman is better than nothing.
In 2008, the Big 12’s strongest position was quarterback with a deep roster that featured Heisman winner Sam Bradford, Heisman finalist Colt McCoy and national passing champ Graham Harrell, among several other noteworthy QBs.

Five years later, the league’s top position turned out to be cornerback, headlined by eventual first-round picks Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 defensive end will have the best 2014 season?

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    22%
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    24%
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    34%
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    11%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,812)

This season, the Big 12’s best position is looking more and more like it will be defensive end, notably thanks to Kansas State’s Ryan Mueller, Texas’ Cedric Reed, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper, Baylor’s Shawn Oakman and TCU’s Devonte Fields -- all of whom have All-American potential.

Mueller was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last year after finishing second in the league with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Only Jackson Jeffcoat, the departed Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, topped Mueller in either category.

Just one spot behind Mueller, Reed finished third in the league with 10 sacks, and was a second-team All-Big 12 pick. Even though his teammate Jeffcoat racked up all the accolades, many coaches around the league felt Reed was the tougher assignment.

Tapper was another tough assignment, and the only underclassman defender to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Tapper was timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds during the spring, underscoring why he’s such a nightmare matchup for opposing offensive linemen.

Speaking of nightmare matchups, Oakman presents just that with his 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame. Despite being a part-time player last year, Oakman still finished sixth in the conference with 12.5 tackles for loss. According to coach Art Briles, Oakman was unblockable during spring ball and could be in for a monster breakout season.

Fields already broke out two years ago, when he was the AP’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman. A suspension followed by season ending foot surgery turned Fields’ sophomore campaign into a disaster. But by all accounts, Fields was his old self again this spring, and seems primed to have a dominating season.

But which of these defensive ends will have the most dominating 2014 season?

We put the question to you via our weekly Big 12 poll.
A wonderful summer tradition is upon us: The college football preseason magazines have hit the newsstands. As usual, they're chocked full of info, predictions and glossy photos. As expected, no matter which one you pick up, it'll be full of love for Florida State and Alabama.

How did the Big 12 fare in this year's preseason publications? Oklahoma and Baylor have the unanimous respect of the pundits -- no surprise there -- but everyone has a different take on how the rest of the league standings will shake out. A rundown of the key predictions you'll find in each magazine:

PHIL STEELE

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBob Stoops' Sooners are a popular pick to make college football's initial playoff.
Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (4th nationally)
"This year's Sooner squad is stronger on both sides of the ball with nine returning starters back on D and more stability at QB. … The Sooners are a legit national title contender."
2. Baylor (8th)
"QB (Bryce) Petty will likely lead the NCAA in passing, throwing to my No. 1 set of receivers with my No. 2 O-line and No. 2 RBs in the Big 12."
3. TCU (14th)
"If you are looking for this year's Auburn, which is a team that had just 3 or 4 wins the previous year and ends up playing for the national title, you may just have found them."
4. Texas (25th)
5. Kansas State (42nd)
6. Oklahoma State
7. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas
All-Americans: WR Antwan Goodley, BAY (1st team); WR Tyler Lockett, KSU (2nd); DE Ryan Mueller, KSU (2nd); LB Eric Striker, OU (2nd); C BJ Finney, KSU (3rd); T Le'Raven Clark, TTU (3rd); T Spencer Drango, BAY (3rd); DE Devonte Fields, TCU (3rd); DE Cedric Reed, TEX (3rd)
Surprise team: Steele has TCU as his No. 4 team most likely to surprise behind Georgia, USC and Wisconsin. Texas came in at No. 10 on his list. Steele also claims the Horned Frogs will be the nation's most improved team in 2014.
Preseason No. 1: Florida State.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma.
Heisman: Petty is ranked No. 4 and OU's Trevor Knight is No. 9 among Steele's 2014 Heisman favorites. Lockett also listed as a "contender."

ATHLON

Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (4th nationally)
"These Sooners can win. And win big."
2. Baylor (10th)
"The Bears probably have too many questions marks to give Oklahoma a serious fight for the top spot."
3. Texas (17th)
"Any improvement from last year's 8-5 record would probably be seen as a good first year for [Charlie] Strong."
4. Kansas State (20th)
5. Oklahoma State (37th)
6. TCU (39th)
7. Texas Tech (41st)
8. Iowa State (66th)
9. West Virginia (67th)
10. Kansas (78th)
All-Americans: Lockett (1st team); Goodley (2nd); Striker (2nd); CB Quandre Diggs, TEX (2nd); Finney (3rd); OG Quinton Spain, WVU (3rd); Mueller (3rd); DT Malcom Brown, TEX (3rd).
Hot seat: Charlie Weis is ranked No. 4 among coaches in the most trouble entering 2014, a list that has Florida's Will Muschamp in the top spot. West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen is sixth on the hot-seat list.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma.
Heisman: Petty is ranked fifth and Knight is 18th among Athlon's top 20 contenders.

LINDY'S

Ranking in the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (3rd nationally)
"The Sooners have the look and feel of Big 12 bullies again."
2. Baylor (10th)
"The Bears' roster is dynamite, and [Art] Briles is a magician. A repeat Big 12 title would launch this program into the stratosphere."
3. Kansas State (16th)
"Kansas State has enough pieces to challenge for the Big 12 title and to make a name for itself with an early home game against Auburn."
4. Texas (22nd)
5. Texas Tech (33rd)
6. Oklahoma State (37th)
7. TCU (45th)
8. West Virginia (46th)
9. Iowa State (53rd)
10. Kansas (85th)
All-Americans: Goodley (1st team); Lockett (2nd); Drango (2nd); Reed (2nd); Striker (2nd).
Top newcomers: Lindy's predicts that Iowa State WR Allen Lazard will be the league's best instant-impact freshman. Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon is named the newcomer most likely to thrive in the NFL, and Oklahoma State LB Josh Mabin is the "top sleeper" among incoming freshmen.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon.
Heisman: Petty is ranked fourth and Knight is No. 9 among Lindy's top 10 candidates.

SPORTING NEWS

Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (1st nationally)
"Enough pieces are in place for Oklahoma to be among the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket."
2. Baylor (7th)
"Baylor is capable of hanging a banner after the first year in its new home."
3. Texas (23rd)
"The defense will be improved, but the Longhorns continue to be in game-management mode at quarterback."
4. Oklahoma State
5. Kansas State
6. TCU
7. West Virginia
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas
All-Americans: Lockett (1st team); Goodley (2nd); Clark (2nd); LB Bryce Hager, BAY (2nd); Striker (2nd); Diggs (2nd); Petty (3rd); Drango (3rd); DE Charles Tapper, OU (3rd); Reed (3rd); LB Ben Heeney, KU (3rd); Carter (3rd), P Spencer Roth, BAY (3rd).
POTY: Sporting News names Petty its preseason offensive player in the Big 12 and Fields as the league's top defender, even though he didn't earn a spot on their three All-America squads.
Playoff prediction: Oklahoma, Oregon, Florida State, Alabama.
Heisman: Petty is No. 6 among Sporting News' preseason top 10 candidates.

USA TODAY

Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (7th nationally)
"It's hard to find many faults with this team, outside of the potential for a decline in pass defense without (Aaron) Colvin on the outside."
2. Baylor (12th)
"While there's still experience aplenty, Baylor's overall youth could prevent another run to the Big 12 title."
3. Kansas State (13th)
"The pieces are there for the Wildcats to contend for the Big 12 title if they can avoid the sort of sloppy, sluggish start that cut last season down in its tracks."
4. Texas (24th)
5. Oklahoma State (35th)
6. Texas Tech (41st)
7. TCU (57th)
8. West Virginia (74th)
9. Kansas (96th)
10. Iowa State (98th)
All-Americans: Lockett (1st team); Striker (1st); T Daryl Williams, OU (1st); S Sam Carter, TCU (1st).
Big games: USA Today's top three Big 12 games for 2014 are Texas vs. Oklahoma on Oct. 11, Baylor at Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and Kansas State at Baylor on Dec. 6.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon.
Heisman: Petty listed as one of eight candidates capable of dethroning Jameis Winston.
It's championship time.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a closer look at the 2014 Big 12 schedule during our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we'll wrap up the series with the final stretch of the regular season.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 11.

Nov. 8

Iowa State at Kansas
Kansas State at TCU
West Virginia at Texas
Baylor at Oklahoma

Jake Trotter’s pick: Baylor at Oklahoma

Where else would I be this weekend? This showdown could be for all the marbles in the Big 12, and possibly a de facto elimination game for inclusion in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

After the way Baylor whipped the Sooners in Waco last year, Memorial Stadium will be especially -- as Bob Stoops terms it -- “raucous” for what could be Oklahoma's biggest home game since second-ranked Texas Tech came to town in 2008. And the Sooners will be aiming to pay back Baylor the way they paid back Tech in that “jump around” 44-point blowout six years ago that catapulted Oklahoma into the national title game.

Of course, these Bears could be the best squad to waltz into Norman since the Graham Harrell-Michael Crabtree Red Raiders of '08. And with Eric Striker and Oklahoma’s attacking defense squaring up against Bryce Petty and Baylor’s big-play offense, this has all the makings of a Big 12 classic.

I’ll be starting the day at the Greek House on Campus Corner for a pregame gyro before dashing over to what should be one of the games of the year in all of college football.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Baylor at Oklahoma

The easiest pick of the year.

My preseason co-favorites square off at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium with the Sooners looking to avenge their 41-12 shellacking at the hands of Art Briles’ team in 2013 and the Bears looking to show everyone their Big 12 title run was no fluke.

NFL talent will be all over the field with Baylor quarterback-receiver duo Bryce Petty and Antwan Goodley going head-to-head with a stout Sooners defense led by Striker along with defensive ends Charles Tapper and Geneo Grissom.

What happens when the Sooners have the ball will likely decide the game, with the Bears' defense and Sooners' offense as the wild cards for each team heading into the fall. Oklahoma sophomore Trevor Knight will try to show he’s the best quarterback on the field despite Petty’s presence, and Baylor's defensive line will aim to affirm Briles’ belief that they’re among the nation’s top units.

Those two teams have split the last four meetings, with both squads winning twice at home. Could Baylor end the trend? I can’t wait to find out.
Several players will decide the success of the Oklahoma Sooners this fall.

Some Sooners will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the 2014 squad. Last week we counted down the most important players on offense with quarterback Trevor Knight atop the list.

This week, we’ll count down the five most important players on defense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production. On Thursday, we continue the countdown with No. 2.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tapper
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsDefensive end Charles Tapper could be primed for a big season.
No. 2: DE Charles Tapper, junior

2013 role: Tapper had his breakout season with 49 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He made a major jump as a sophomore, starting 12 of 13 games and earning first-team All-Big 12 honors.

Expected 2014 role: Tapper should be a mainstay on the defensive line for the second straight season. If he makes a jump from his sophomore to junior season that mimics his progress from his freshman to sophomore season, Tapper will be chasing All-American honors.

Why he’s important: Much like Jordan Phillips, Tapper brings a combination of athleticism, size and strength that is difficult to match. Any time a defensive line features an NFL talent, that player is almost impossible to replace. Tapper is an NFL talent. Offensive coordinators will have to game plan to deal with the junior this season, allowing other members of OU’s talented line to get one-on-one opportunities, and when Tapper gets a one-on-one opportunity of his own, the Sooners will love their chances. Bottom line, he’s important because he has the physical ability to do things other people cannot.

If he was missing: OU would have to try to find a way to replace his impact and disruptive nature. His absence would require the Sooners to find other ways to create chaos for opposing offensive lines, and it would probably take multiple Sooners to do it. His teammates along the defensive line, plus pass rushing linebackers like Eric Striker, would probably end up running into more blockers on their path to the backfield than before. Not only is Tapper a productive player, he opens things up for his teammates, making him one of OU’s most important pieces.

The list

No. 3: DT Jordan Phillips
No. 4: S Quentin Hayes
No. 5: CB Zack Sanchez
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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    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.
Though the 2014 NFL draft ended just last weekend, ESPN Insider Todd McShay posted his way-too-early 2015 mock draft Insider on Wednesday.

McShay had three Big 12 players going in his mock first round: Baylor QB Bryce Petty 15th overall to the Houston Texans, TCU DE Devonte Fields 25th overall to the San Francisco 49ers and Oklahoma LB Eric Striker 29th overall to the Green Bay Packers.

Though we have almost a full year to go, here are some of other top Big 12 prospects for the 2015 draft (in alphabetical order):

  • TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State: Three pass-catching tight ends went in the first two rounds last weekend, and that’s exactly what Bibbs is. He caught 39 passes last season and can far exceed that if QB Grant Rohach settles into new coordinator Mark Mangino’s offense.
  • [+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
    John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown might be the best DT in the Big 12 this season and could make NFL scouts take notice.
  • DT Malcom Brown, Texas: Like his D-line teammate Cedric Reed, Brown has first-round talent. He was rated the second-best DT coming out of high school and began to realize that potential last season.
  • SS Sam Carter, TCU: Carter has manned strong safety at a high level in Fort Worth for the past two seasons and was the only underclassman defensive back to earn first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013. With teammate Jason Verrett gone, he won’t be as overshadowed next season.
  • OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech: After starting his first two seasons in college at left tackle, Clark could get moved to guard this season. Clark has the strength to be a devastating run-blocking guard, and the NFL loves players who can play multiple positions.
  • CB Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been a starter in Austin since his true freshman season. He is fast, and he’s a solid tackler against the run. Diggs has an NFL pedigree, too. His brother, Quentin Jammer, was a first-round pick in 2002 after starring for the Horns.
  • OT Spencer Drango, Baylor: Drango will get plenty of attention protecting Petty’s blindside. The back injury from last season is a concern, but it also underscored how dominant Drango actually was. Baylor’s pass protection was leaky without him the rest of the year. Like Clark, Drango will just be a junior next season.
  • C BJ Finney, Kansas State: The Big 12 has some other draft hopefuls at center in Iowa State’s Tom Farniok and Texas’ Dominic Espinosa, but Finney seems like the best bet of the three to get drafted. The former walk-on and high school state wrestling champ will be a four-year starter, and has 39 career starts, which is tied for the Big 12 active lead.
  • WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor: He might not be tall at only 5-foot-10, but Goodley is physical and fast. With another ultra-productive season like last fall, he could be one of the top receivers on next year’s board.
  • WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Lockett’s versatility both as an inside or outside receiver and in the return game only makes him a more attractive prospect. With Jake Waters now installed as the full-time QB, Lockett could have a monster statistical senior season.
  • DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor: At 6-9, 275 pounds, Oakman has intriguing size for an NFL defensive line. If he dominates in the fall the way Art Briles said he did in the spring, Oakman could quickly turn into a hot prospect even though he’ll only be a junior.
  • DE Cedric Reed, Texas: According to NFL.com, Reed was one of two players nationally in 2013 to record five sacks, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. The other? Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who was the fifth overall pick in last week’s draft. By coming back to school for another year, Reed could potentially become a first rounder, too.
  • DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Tapper almost has the size of a defensive tackle and the athleticism of a linebacker. He didn’t have an overly huge statistical sophomore season but was the only underclassman defensive lineman voted All-Big 12 by the coaches. Tapper too will only be a junior.
  • OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma: Even though Tyrus Thompson has manned the left side in Norman, Williams has the better pro outlook. Williams will be a three-year starter and has the athleticism to transition to the left side at the next level.
Others to watch: RB Malcolm Brown, Texas; DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State; C Dominic Espinosa, Texas; C Tom Farniok, Iowa State; ILB Bryce Hager, Baylor; FS Chris Hackett, TCU; LB Ben Heeney, Kansas; DT Chucky Hunter, TCU; FS Karl Joseph, West Virginia; DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State; DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma; DT Davion Pierson, TCU; OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia; OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma; CB Kevin White, TCU; OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
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.

SportsNation

Who had the best imaginary Big 12 player draft?

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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,440)

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
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 such as Aaron Colvin and Dominique Alexander. We're currently counting down the top 10 hidden gems of the past five years at OU. Today we look at No. 6.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tapper
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtOklahoma spotted a diamond in the rough with Charles Tapper in the 2012 recruiting class.
No. 6 Charles Tapper, defensive end, Class of 2012

Recruiting rank: 78 (out of 100) ESPN.com scout rating, No. 74 defensive end, No. 75 in East region, No. 13 in Maryland

What we said: “Tapper has the tools and skill-set to develop into a solid defensive prospect at the next level. Will need time to refine his technique and could see a move to OLB, particularly in a 3-4 scheme, where he can utilize his quick feet and athletic ability.” — ESPN.com recruiting analyst

Other reported offers: West Virginia, Penn State, Rutgers, San Diego State

Career production: Tapper has made a significant impact during just two seasons, starting 12 of 18 career games and earning All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. … As a freshman in 2012, he played in five games, recording two tackles. … In 2013 as a sophomore, Tapper made a major jump from unknown to all-conference. He made 51 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He started 12 of 13 games during his second season in crimson and cream.

Why Tapper is No. 6: Then-OU defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright recognized Tapper’s potential to excel in college football before Tapper did. A superb high school basketball player, Tapper was surprised by OU’s interest when he received the offer during his junior season. The Baltimore native wasn’t a dominant football player who had college coaches drooling. Yet, with two years of eligibility remaining, Tapper is already one of the Big 12’s top defenders and has the potential to rank among the nation’s best before he leaves the program.

Tapper didn’t step on campus with the accolades that followed other Class of 2012 signees such as receiver Sterling Shepard or running back Alex Ross, but Tapper’s impact on the Sooners has been huge. The most interesting aspect of the Sooners’ evaluation of Tapper was their ability to not only recognize his raw talent, but also recognize his hunger to learn and natural instincts. Those traits have combined to turn a prospect who has only been playing organized football for four years into special player with an NFL future.

The rest of the list:

No. 7: LB Eric Striker
No. 8: LB Dominique Alexander
No. 9: CB Demontre Hurst
No. 10: G Tyler Evans
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. On Tuesday, we continue the series with Oklahoma:

Offense (projected starters in bold)

QB: Trevor Knight (So.), Cody Thomas (RFr.), Justice Hansen (Fr.)

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAfter receiving only 23 carries last season as a freshman, OU's Keith Ford will likely be the starting tailback in 2014.
The Sooners feel great about putting the offense in the hands of Knight after his Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP performance against Alabama. The sophomore looked like a future star against the Crimson Tide while leading the Sooners to a 45-31 upset win. OU is inexperienced behind Knight with a pair of freshman in Thomas and Hansen. Former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred to OU in January, would be the perfect fit behind Knight but won’t be eligible to play until 2015. If he plays consistent and remains healthy, Knight could lead his team to a College Football Playoff berth. If not, OU could flounder below expectations and look back upon the 2014 season as a missed opportunity.

RB: Keith Ford (So.), Alex Ross (So.), Daniel Brooks (So.)

Ford exits spring as the favorite to start in the backfield, but he didn’t take the job and hide during 15 spring practices. Ross was one of the stars of the spring as he continually made plays during scrimmages, and Brooks was one of the standouts during the spring game. OU has several talented options at running back and is poised to add two top freshman runners in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

FB/TE: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.), Dimitri Flowers (Fr.), Blake Bell (Sr.)

OU uses fullbacks and tight ends in similar ways as both positions spend their meeting time with tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ripkowski is one of the unsung heroes on the entire roster. He played a critical role during the team's strong finish to the 2013 season. Flowers has stepped on campus ready to make an impact with his versatility and football IQ after enrolling in school early. Bell has moved over from quarterback and looks poised to make an impact as a pass catcher with his size and athleticism. It’s a talented and versatile group that is likely to get overlooked this fall but could be the foundation of any success the team has on offense.

WR: Sterling Shepard (Jr.), Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (RFr.), Jordan Smallwood (RFr.), Austin Bennett (So.)

Shepard should be one of the Big 12’s top receivers if Knight continues to develop as a passer. OU badly needs someone to emerge alongside Shepard if it hopes to have a strong passing game to help make the 2014 version of the offense more balanced than the 2013 version. There’s talent on campus but nobody separated themselves during the spring, opening the door for a freshman like Michiah Quick to step on campus and into the lineup this fall.

C: Ty Darlington (Jr.)

G: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.), Tony Feo (Sr.), Adam Shead (Sr.), Tyler Evans (Sr.)

T: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Josiah St. John (Sr.)

Darlington has been groomed to replace All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and could slide into the starting lineup with ease. Nonetheless, adding competition at this position would help the Sooners. OU is fairly deep at guard and tackle which should allow competition for playing time to help everyone improve. Williams is the anchor of the entire offensive line and should be one of the Big 12’s top tackles this fall. The Sooners should have one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.

DEFENSE

DE: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), Matt Dimon (So.)

DT: Jordan Phillips (Jr.) or Chuka Ndulue (Sr.), Jordan Wade (So.)

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSooners linebacker Dominique Alexander emerged as a playmaker as a freshman.
OU’s defensive line could be one of the most disruptive and deepest in the nation. The Sooners should easily go six or seven deep along the defensive line, particularly if Phillips returns to his early 2013 form after suffering a back injury last season. Tapper and Grissom have the ability to be disruptive against anyone, and the overall depth on the roster should allow OU to come at offenses in waves with fresh bodies rotating throughout games. If OU makes a national title run, the defensive line will likely be the driving force.

LB: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.), Eric Striker (Jr.), Jordan Evans (So.), Devante Bond (Jr.)

Striker could be the Big 12’s best pass rusher, Alexander has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s best before his career is over, Evans could take a major step forward as a sophomore and Bond impressed as a junior college transfer this spring. If Shannon returns to good standing after missing part of spring due to personal issues, this is a good, experienced group. OU’s linebackers are one of the main reasons its defense could be the most athletic and versatile in the conference this fall.

CB: Zack Sanchez (So.), Julian Wilson (Sr.), Dakota Austin (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)

Here’s where things get interesting for the defense. Wilson returns as the starting nickelback and a productive veteran in the secondary. Sanchez is solid and took his game to another level this spring as he strives to be the type of coverage cornerback that teams don’t want to test. But the Sooners need someone to step up on the opposite side of the field with Austin ending the spring as a starter but remaining untested. No matter who wins the job, they will be picked on repeatedly until they prove they aren’t the weak link of the secondary. Defensive back is one of the few unsettled and unproven spots on the entire roster.

S: Quentin Hayes (Sr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)

Hayes was quietly one of the better safeties in the Big 12 in 2013. He was productive with 75 tackles and solid in coverage. Byrd and Thomas have matured and started to develop as sophomores and should be key contributors this fall. Nonetheless, freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in an earn a role this summer. If Parker is as good as advertised, OU will go two deep with talented options.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively injury free and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring, starting with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices.

The defensive line is as good as advertised: Junior Charles Tapper didn't rest on his laurels after a breakout, All-Big 12 sophomore season. He’ll enter the fall as one of the Big 12’s top defensive ends and is a legitimate difference-maker on OU’s defensive front. His strength, speed and athleticism could push him into the fight to be an All-American if his development continues.

Senior defensive end Geneo Grissom appears ready to fulfill the recruiting hype that followed him onto campus, senior defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue is a veteran presence, sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Wade is strong in the middle and junior defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is on the road to recovery after missing the majority of the 2013 season with a back injury. The depth of the defensive line is expanding as well, with redshirt freshmen Matt Romar and Charles Walker bringing competition inside during spring drills and sophomores Matt Dimon and Mike Onuoha adding depth on the outside.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Robin Alam/Icon SMIEric Striker hasn't seemed to miss a beat since his Sugar Bowl breakout.
The defense could be the most versatile in years: The Sooners' savvy decision to tinker with some of their defensive stars and move guys around in the defensive system this spring should pay off in the fall. Grissom spent time at linebacker alongside Eric Striker, who played some nickelback during the 15 practices. Both players will be core members of OU’s defense in 2014 but the spring was spent trying find the Sooners' best 11 defenders for every situation. Challenging its best players to be more versatile will help defensive coordinator Mike Stoops adapt to the various offenses the Big 12 has to offer this fall. Putting its best players in the best position to make plays could make this defense even stronger.

The Class of 2013 is better than expected: It seemed like OU scrambled to put together its 2013 recruiting class, yet the group started showing signs it was better than anticipated last season. This spring, they further cemented that belief with several sophomores or redshirt freshmen fighting to be major contributors. Receiver Jordan Smallwood, cornerback Dakota Austin, safety Ahmad Thomas and linebacker Jordan Evans are just a few of the members of that class who could be poised for breakout seasons in 2014 after a strong spring showing.

Fullback/tight end Dimitri Flowers was the hidden gem of the Class of 2014: We haven’t even reached three months after signing day, yet Flowers already looks like a diamond in the rough. Comparisons to Trey Millard began early in spring practices and increased from that point. While his versatility, size, blocking and receiving prowess immediately impressed, Flowers showed an ability to pick up the Sooners' offensive concepts and operated like a veteran. It's put him on the road to becoming a valuable asset in OU’s offense as a freshman. When they see Flowers for the first time this fall, there’s a chance opposing Big 12 defensive coordinators will accuse the Sooners of trying to get four more years out of the former All-Big 12 fullback by simply changing Millard’s jersey number and renaming him.

Striker is going to make life miserable for Big 12 quarterbacks: The junior picked up right where he left off after embarrassing Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio with three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He looked active, energetic and quick in the spring game, recording back-to-back sacks early in the third quarter. Striker was going against backup linemen, but there’s a good chance he’s going to be a pest to every Big 12 lineman he faces this fall.

Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, defense only, on OU’s spring finale. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my thoughts and observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.

  • Linebacker Frank Shannon’s absence is disappointing, but Jordan Evans filled in at linebacker without looking like a weak link, much as he did against Texas Tech during his true freshman season a year ago. Evans is very athletic and comfortable in coverage. If Shannon, who is dealing with personal issues, is unable to return, OU can feel good about Evans’ spring-game production.
  • Ahmad Thomas looks like a potential difference-maker. He can play multiple positions in the secondary and he was consistently around the ball. A breakout sophomore campaign could be on the horizon.
  • The defensive line should be deep, athletic and productive. This unit could spark a special season if everyone continues to develop. From Charles Tapper to Jordan Wade to Charles Walker, it’s a very solid group of defensive linemen from top to bottom. Games are won in the trenches, so the Sooners should feel good about their chances this fall.
  • [+] EnlargeQuentin Hayes
    Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsQuentin Hayes is a returning starter at safety, but depth is a concern there.
    Cornerback Zack Sanchez is another Sooner who looks as if he’s taken a step forward. If he continues to progress, Sanchez could become a player who opponents think twice about testing. He was competitive and active on Saturday and played like OU's best cornerback.
  • Sophomore Dakota Austin looked solid opposite Sanchez, but the search for the other half of OU’s cornerback duo should carry deep into preseason camp. Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson are also in the mix, but nobody has taken the job and run away with it. The Sooners need to shore up this spot, as this concern could be considered the top priority on the defensive side of the ball heading into the summer.
  • Linebacker Eric Striker is on the road to making several appearances on "SportsCenter" this fall. The pass-rushing dynamo was terrific as a sophomore and it looks like he could be even better as a junior. He's exceptionally quick off the edge and has a knack for getting to the quarterback.
  • The safety position looks like it is in good hands with Quentin Hayes and Hatari Byrd, but the depth behind them is a major summer storyline. Thomas and Julian Wilson, who sat out the spring, could help at the position and incoming freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in immediately. It’s not a problem if OU remains injury-free, but it’s football, so heading into the season without a Plan B is fool’s gold.
  • Kicker Michael Hunnicutt has earned his nickname “Munnicutt” and his leg strength has improved. He made two 40-plus-yard field goals, one with the wind at his back and one into the wind. He’s one of the nation’s most consistent kickers, so increased long-range production is a major bonus.
  • Final thought: The excitement surrounding the Sooners program heading into 2014 is well-earned. This team could find itself in the College Football Playoff if Trevor Knight is consistent and efficient under center and the defense takes another step forward this fall. But don't lock them into the national title conversation quite yet, as several young players need to continue to develop and take their games to another level and show they are ready to perform at a championship level, week in and week out.

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