Oklahoma Sooners: Jalen Saunders

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.

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.
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners 15 practices answered some questions, but others remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman. We took a look at offense and defense earlier this week. We end the series on Friday with special teams.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard should be able to step up and fill the void left in OU's return game by the departure of Jalen Saunders.
Kicker

Pre-spring: Already considered among the nation’s best, Michael Hunnicutt is locked in as the Sooners’ starting kicker.

Post-spring: Not only should the Sooners feel great about Hunnicutt, he showed increased kicking prowess in the spring game. Long-range field goals have not been a strength for the 2013 Lou Groza Award semifinalist during his first three years, but he nailed two 40-plus yard field goals in the spring game, including a 53-yarder, although it was wind-aided.

Summer outlook: OU heads into the summer knowing it has one of the nation’s best kickers.

Punter

Pre-spring: Jed Barnett returns after his first season as OU’s punter, averaging 41.7 yards per punt.

Post-spring: Much like kicker, there's not much to see here. Barnett was solid during his first season and returns to give OU solid punting in his final year on campus. OU should exit the spring feeling good about both kicking positions.

Summer outlook: Barnett is a very solid punter and heads into the summer as the clear No. 1 guy. There’s no reason to think that will change.

Returners

Pre-spring: The Sooners lose all of their returners. Receiver Jalen Saunders was dynamic on punt returns and running backs Roy Finch and Brennan Clay were very productive kick returners. With that, there are plenty of questions about who will return kicks.

Post-spring:Receiver Sterling Shepard is in line to return punts. He was a superb punt returner in high school and has proven playmaking ability. Cornerback Zack Sanchez could also be an option as a punt returner this fall. Kick returns could be a good fit for running back Alex Ross or running back Daniel Brooks among several other young and talented options.

Summer outlook: OU will start finalizing its return game in August. Plenty of talented freshmen could get the opportunity, with Shepard looking like the lone frontrunner for any of the return positions.

“When we get our whole football team on here in the summer, that’s when I’ll identify and make final decisions on that,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said of potential punt and kick returners. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of guys who are busting their butts right now. We won’t make any final decisions until towards the end of fall camp.”

Punt/kick coverage

Pre-spring: OU’s coverage teams could improve after allowing 15.6 yards per punt return and 23.28 yards per kick return in 2013. But OU’s coverage overall was pretty solid and its coverage units allowed then-freshmen like Ahmad Thomas, Dakota Austin and Keith Ford to get their feet wet and contribute during their first seasons.

Post-spring: Much like the returners, Boulware will be looking to finalize these units after the freshmen arrive. One key to keep an eye on will be OU’s attempt to replace Trey Millard, who was a special teams monster during his four seasons. Freshman Dimitri Flowers appears ready to help replace Millard on offense but Boulware said he’s not certain if the early enrollee can match Millard’s contributions on special teams as well.

Summer outlook: Special teams coverage units can be a way for true freshmen to get their foot in the door. Boulware likes the overall speed and athleticism on the roster this spring, so adding additional, hungry freshmen into the mix should help OU be able to field some of the quickest and more athletic coverage units in the Big 12 in 2014. The battle for special teams spots should be interesting to watch and could provide a glimpse at the young guys who could be the future on offense and defense.
It was a short gain, a simple catch in his third collegiate game.

Yet, Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard sent a message in the span of five seconds.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard is stepping into more of a leadership role for the Sooners.
The Sooners standout caught the pass on an out route then vaulted over Kansas State’s Nigel Malone, leaving the Wildcats cornerback grasping at air while displaying some eye-popping athleticism. With the 11-yard gain Shepard removed all doubts about his ability to be a playmaker in crimson and cream.

Shepard went on to catch 96 passes for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns during his first two seasons. He proved to be one of the Big 12’s top clutch receivers with his 26 receptions for 415 yards on third down ranking among the conference’s best.

This season, Shepard’s role changes. The junior is the centerpiece of OU’s receiving corps for the first time with all eyes on him to be the go-to guy for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight.

Teammates know they can count on the Oklahoma City native to make plays, but they’ve lauded his increasing leadership role as well.

“Sterling has done a great job being a vocal leader with the wideouts,” Knight said.

This spring, coach Bob Stoops immediately pointed to Shepard as one of the players who could fill the leadership void left by a quality senior class which included center Gabe Ikard and fullback Trey Millard, both four-year starters.

“He’s really emerged as a strong leader for us on offense,” Stoops said. “He’s consistent. He’s had a great winter in the way he has worked. He’s pushing other guys. He’s going to be a guy that we have to focus on and find different ways to keep getting him the ball more, which is obvious to everyone. He’s been great.”

Receivers coach Jay Norvell is challenging Shepard to become an even better player as he becomes a veteran and leader, not just for the offense but the entire team.

“I’ve told Shep that his world his different now,” Norvell said. “He’s not the young guy. He’s played a lot of football around here and he knows what it takes to win big games. He’s got to make players around him better.”

Setting an example with his effort, consistent production and forcing Big 12 coordinators to focus their game plans on him are among the ways Shepard can make his teammates better.

And the 5-foot-10, 193-pound pass catcher could find even more ways to impact games during his third season with the Sooners. He’s in line to return punts for OU after watching Jalen Saunders and Justin Brown excel as punt returners during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“He’s been catching [punts] the last couple of years,” Stoops said. “We’ve just had the good fortune of having two experienced guys in Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders. They both had a year of doing it. Both were so good at it that Sterling hasn’t had to, but he’s caught balls for two years. He’ll be ready for it. He’s strong and can run balls, so he’ll be comfortable with it.”
Twenty-five Big 12 players have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 19-24. The NFL released the invite list Thursday afternoon. The Big 12 players are below:

Quarterbacks
  • None
Running backs
Fullbacks
Tight ends
Wide receivers
Offensive linemen
Defensive linemen
Linebackers
Defensive backs
Long snapper
Kicker
Punter
  • None
Notable omissions:
With signing day quickly approaching, it’s time to close the chapter on the 2013 season. We’re counting down the Top 25 players in the Big 12 in 2013 over the next few days with a list collaboratively selected by Jake Trotter, Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson. We continue the postseason countdown with the No. 10 player in the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeSaunders
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsJalen Saunders might not have been the biggest player on the field, but the Sooners receiver/returner was one of the best.
No. 10: Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma

Previous ranking: Saunders was No. 19 in the blog’s preseason list of the Big 12’s Top 25 players.

Making the case for Saunders: He was often the smallest player on the field. And, just as often, he made game-changing plays that sparked the Sooners’ run to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. His quickness and ability to change direction made him nearly impossible to cover in the open field. His two-touchdown performances in OU’s 33-24 Bedlam win over Oklahoma State and against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl were the perfect way for him to end his college career.

With inconsistent quarterback play hampering his opportunities, Saunders finished with 61 receptions for 729 yards and eight touchdowns with 57.4 percent of his receptions going for first downs. And he averaged 15.4 yards per punt return with returns of 20 yards or more in five different games.

As a receiver and returner, Saunders proved size doesn’t matter. Talent and will to win does.

The rest of the list:
The Big 12 had nine players participate in the Reese's Senior Bowl over the weekend, but the group's impact on the actual game in Mobile, Ala., was negligible.

West Virginia running back Charles Sims, who drew rave reviews in practice throughout the week, had just eight yards rushing on three carries. Sims, however, definitely improved his draft stock. Scouts Inc. recognized Sims as a Senior Bowl week standout, calling him the "most versatile" running back in camp Insider.

Texas wide receiver Mike Davis had a decent game with 20 yards receiving on three catches. So did Oklahoma's Jalen Saunders, who had two receptions and a 14-yard punt return.

Defensively, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon was tied for fourth on the North side with four tackles. West Virginia defensive end Will Clarke added one tackle for the North.

The player that had perhaps the biggest impact on the Senior Bowl was Iowa State punter Kirby Van Der Kamp. On eight punts, Van Der Kamp averaged 46.9 yards with a long of 54.

Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard and Kansas State long snapper Marcus Heit each played in the game. While Sims seemed to help his stock at the Senior Bowl, Richardson apparently hurt his.

Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin also started out the week in Mobile, but he suffered a torn ACL during practice last Tuesday.

Big 12 games of the year: No. 1

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
4:00
PM ET
We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12. Finally, we’re down to game No. 1. Once again, Bedlam was the game of the year in the Big 12:

No. 1: Dec. 7 -- Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24

In one of the coldest games either team had ever played in, Oklahoma stunned its Bedlam rival with two touchdowns in the final 19 seconds to pull off the upset.

What happened: Oklahoma State went into the game a double-digit favorite for the first time since Vegas began keeping track. But the Sooners were able to hang around utilizing a variety of unconventional scoring plays and three different quarterbacks.

The Sooners tied the game 7-7 at the end of the first quarter on Jalen Saunders’ 64-yard punt return touchdown. The Sooners tied the game late in the third quarter on a fake field goal, as holder Grant Bothun threw a touchdown pass to Michael Hunnicutt.

Oklahoma State, which struggled to pass the ball in the sub-10 degree temperatures, finally got going in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Clint Chelf completed four consecutive passes of 14, 27, 20 and 23 yards, setting up Desmond Roland’s go-ahead touchdown plunge to put the Cowboys up 24-20.

But Oklahoma State left too much time on the clock. And Blake Bell -- the third quarterback to enter the game for the Sooners -- led them back down the field in the final seconds.

Bell appeared to throw a jump-ball interception to Oklahoma State All-American cornerback Justin Gilbert. But as Gilbert landed on the ground, receiver Lacoltan Bester was able to swipe the ball away to turn the play into an incomplete pass.

Moments later, Bell hit Saunders in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard, game-winning touchdown pass -- the Sooners’ first and only offensive touchdown of the game.

Oklahoma State’s desperation series of laterals resulted in Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker scoring another touchdown, providing Bedlam with an exclamation point.

Player of the game: Bell was clutch but Oklahoma would have never been in the game without Saunders. His punt return touchdown changed the complexion of the game in the first quarter. Saunders’ 37-yard reverse also set up the fake field goal touchdown, when Oklahoma desperately needed a big play. Then, of course, there was the game-winning touchdown catch, too. It was the second time in his career that Saunders had a punt return touchdown and receiving touchdown in the same game. The other time came in Oklahoma’s overtime victory over the Cowboys in 2012.

Stat of the game: Though he was on point late in the fourth quarter, Chelf completed just 2 of 10 passes on third down. Neither of his completions resulted in a first down, and Oklahoma State’s ineffective third-down passing caused several promising drives to stall out.

Quotable: “The feeling in the locker room is a bad feeling right now.” -- Oklahoma State’s running back Roland, immediately after the loss.

The rest of the list:

Big 12 lunchtime links

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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I have to side with Kobe Bryant on this one.

Big 12 games of the year: No. 9

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
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We’re counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12. Below is game No. 9, which featured a series of successful trick plays from one side in a losing effort:

No. 9: Oct. 26 -- Oklahoma 38, Texas Tech 30

Despite a run of trick plays, No. 15 Oklahoma survived 10th-ranked Texas Tech in one of the league's most entertaining games.

What happened: After a disappointing loss to Texas, the Sooners rediscovered their ground game while quarterback Blake Bell regained his confidence during a pair of pivotal second quarter series.

After three inept weeks of offense, the Sooners went on the longest drive of the season to that point in plays, yards and time. The Sooners grounded out a 16-play, 97-yard touchdown drive covering almost eight minutes to tie the game, 7-7.

On the first play of OU's following possession with Tech’s safeties creeping up to stop the run, Bell faked a handoff then threw a pass over the top to Jalen Saunders for a 76-yard touchdown.

The Red Raiders, however, wouldn’t go down easily.

Utilizing a reverse, a halfback touchdown pass, a decoy punt returner play and an onside kick, Texas Tech stormed back to take a 24-21 lead.

But Oklahoma countered with some trickery of its own. Wideout Lacoltan Bester took a reverse and was supposed to pass it. When nobody was open, Bester tucked the ball and weaved through the Texas Tech defense for a 35-yard touchdown. The Sooners never trailed again.

Player of the game: Bell, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns after struggling the previous two weeks. Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb was good, too, throwing for 385 yards and a pair of scores. His second interception, however, led to a touchdown that put the Sooners up 35-24 in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game: The Red Raiders committed three turnovers, which was a sign of things to come. Texas Tech finished No. 121 nationally in turnovers lost, which fueled Tech’s five-game losing streak to end the regular season.

Quotable: “I love our team and their attitude. Are we in great shape? No. Am I excited about our team and our opportunity and our willingness to fight and all of that? Yeah, I am.” -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, noting the season-ending injury to his All-Big 12 fullback, Trey Millard

Big 12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
11:35
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The college football season is over, and what a season it was. Picked fifth in the preseason, Baylor won its first Big 12 championship. Oklahoma, left for dead in early November, rose out of the ashes to win 11 games. Oklahoma State had some of the most puzzling losses and most dominant wins, as well. And Texas, well, the soap opera is finally over.

Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our Best of the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and Trevor Knight delivered the Big 12 a signature BCS win in 2013.
Best coach: Art Briles, Baylor. Bob Stoops deserves a bunch of credit for how his Sooners surged late in the season, but Briles' leading Baylor to its first Big 12 championship was no small feat. The Bears led the nation in scoring, and beat Oklahoma and Texas convincingly. The bowl game was disappointing. The season overall was not.

Best player, offense: Even though he cooled off later in the year, Baylor’s Bryce Petty still finished fifth nationally in QBR in his first season as a starting quarterback. He threw 32 touchdown passes and did a masterful job taking care of the ball, tossing only three interceptions.

Best player, defense: There wasn’t really anyone who clearly stood out here. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey all had their moments. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, however, was the only defensive player from the league to win a national award. He was given the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the defensive end of the year in college football. Jeffcoat tied for third nationally with 13 sacks.

Best moment: The league has been waiting for a signature victory to hang its hat on. Oklahoma finally gave the Big 12 that victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a stunning 45-31 win over Alabama. Behind freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners controlled the game from the second quarter on. Defensively, linebacker Eric Striker and end Geneo Grissom were unblockable, combining for five sacks of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Offensively, Knight carved up the Crimson Tide for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns. It wasn’t even that Alabama played poorly. It was that Oklahoma played terrifically.

Best rivalry game: Maybe new Texas coach Charlie Strong will bring some more juice to the Red River Rivalry. Lately, it’s been second fiddle to Bedlam. In quality. In drama. In impact. Once again, Bedlam carried major Big 12 title implications, and once again, the game delivered a thrilling ending. Backup quarterback Blake Bell found Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining for the Sooners’ first offensive touchdown of the game, lifting Oklahoma to a win and spoiling Oklahoma State’s shot at a Big 12 title.

Best play: Late in the third quarter of Kansas State’s game against Baylor, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble near the sideline. The acrobatic play gave K-State good field position in Baylor territory, and the Wildcats would go on to take a 25-21 lead. Baylor ultimately outlasted the Wildcats, but Mueller, who also had two sacks in the game, was a big reason why the Bears' high-powered offense was held in check most of the afternoon.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Jasen VinloveUSA TODAY SportsKansas State's Tyler Lockett had seven 100-yard receiving games this season, including two games with more than 200 yards receiving.
Best performance in a loss: The Wildcats eventually lost, but K-State receiver Tyler Lockett could not be covered by the Sooners in their game in late November. Lockett kept the Wildcats in the game, reeling in 12 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns, prompting Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to go ballistic on the sideline multiple times. Lockett was also a monster against Texas and Michigan. All told, he totaled 35 catches, 631 yards and six touchdowns against those three programs alone.

Best individual defensive performance: Mueller against Baylor, Verrett shutting down Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley, and Gilbert picking off Texas twice all deserve honorable mention. But Striker gets the nod for wreaking havoc on the two-time defending national champ in New Orleans. Striker had three sacks and forced a fumble after barreling around the edge to slam into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped loose and Grissom returned the fumble for the game-winning touchdown.

Best true freshman: Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had to split time with fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield for most of the season. When Mayfield left unexpectedly in December, the job was finally Webb’s to run with. And run he did. Actually, he threw. Against No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb completed 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in one of this year’s best bowl performances from a quarterback. Webb had a solid freshman season, leading the Red Raiders to fourth-quarter wins over TCU and West Virginia. But if the bowl was any indication, the best is yet to come.

Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” -- Bob Stoops, after the Sooners defeated Alabama.
Oklahoma’s season had it all.

Great performances from multiple quarterbacks, special teams brilliance from an undersized but dynamic receiver and a pass rushing clinic on college football’s biggest stage. Here’s a look at the top five individual performances during the Sooners’ 11-2 campaign in 2013.

1. Trevor Knight, Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP. It’s amazing how exceptional quarterback play can transform a team. Watching Knight expose Alabama’s defense sent shockwaves of confidence throughout the OU sideline and transformed the Sooners into the story of the bowl season. His 94.7 adjusted QBR was the ninth best in bowl games as he finished 32 of 44 for 348 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It was the Trevor Knight that Bob Stoops expected to see in 2013 when the Sooners head coach named the redshirt freshman quarterback his starter before the year began.

2. Jalen Saunders breaks Oklahoma State hearts in Bedlam. The frigid cold temps didn’t seem to bother the California native. Instead he exposed OSU defenders with cold-hearted efficiency. His 64-yard punt return sparked some confidence for the Sooners in the first quarter and prevented OSU from playing with a lead, then his game-deciding touchdown reception in the final seconds put OU into the Sugar Bowl. He finished with a season-high 157 all-purpose yards and averaged 17.4 yards per touch against the Cowboys.

3. Eric Striker terrorizes A.J. McCarron in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The sophomore was a relentless pass rushing threat for most of the season but his three sacks against Alabama stand head and shoulders above any defensive performance in 2013. Going against an All-SEC tackle in Cyrus Kouandjio, Striker beat the future NFL draft pick on multiple occasions helping to contribute to OU’s seven Sugar Bowl sacks. Striker’s pass rushing prowess was immediately noticed when he stepped on campus in the summer of 2012 but he really came into his own in New Orleans.

4. Brennan Clay’s 200 yards against Kansas State. The senior running back made life a lot easier for Knight in his first road start in Manhattan, Kan. Clay had 31 carries for 200 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats as he continually found plenty of room to roam and took advantage. OU’s offensive line deserved a large share of the credit for Clay’s performance against KSU but he was a consistent, durable running option throughout the season and averaged 5.47 yards per carry, third in the Big 12.

5. Blake Bell’s record-setting performance against Tulsa. In his first start, Bell broke school records while leading OU to a 51-20 win over Tulsa. The junior was 27 of 37 for 413 yards, 11.2 yards per attempt and four touchdowns, setting a school record for most passing yards by a Sooner in his first start. His 96.4 adjusted QBR was the seventh-best nationally in Week 3 and one of the highest QBR’s in the Big 12 this season. Bell looked like a future star against the Golden Hurricane while starting to shed the “Belldozer” moniker that defined his first two seasons in crimson and cream. It was Bell’s best overall performance of the season.
Big plays changed the destiny of Oklahoma football in 2013. Without several key plays in key moments, the Sooner could have stumbled down the Big 12 standings. Instead, OU was a BCS bowl winner. Here are the top five plays of the 2013 season in terms of their impact on games and overall impact on how this season will be remembered:

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders, Lyndell Johnson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJalen Saunders made a number of clutch plays this season, but none bigger than his touchdown catch late against Oklahoma State.
1. Receiver Jalen Saunders' Bedlam touchdown. This was the defining moment of the 2013 season for Oklahoma. No single play represents this season better than Saunders’ seven-yard touchdown with 19 seconds remaining in the Sooners’ 33-24 win over Oklahoma State on Dec. 7. The play capped an improbable game-winning drive and improbable Bedlam win which knocked OSU out of the Big 12 title hunt and thrust OU into the Sugar Bowl.

2. Defensive end Geneo Grissom’s touchdown in the Sugar Bowl. As Grissom dove toward the end zone, arm outstretched to score OU’s final touchdown, Sooners fans erupted with the realization that OU was going to beat Alabama by double digits, 45-31. It was the best moment of the year for Sooner Nation and meant validation for Bob Stoops on many levels. And the actual play represented the foundation of OU’s win, an opportunistic defense forcing four turnovers.

3. Linebacker Corey Nelson’s touchdown at Notre Dame. Nelson’s 24-yard interception return for a touchdown was the first sign this could be a special year for Stoops’ group. It got the Sooners off to a terrific start in their first road game of the season and sparked OU to the best nonconference win by a Big 12 team -- 35-21 over Notre Dame -- during the regular season. This play was also the first sign that linebacker Eric Striker was going to be a terror for opposing quarterbacks and a major playmaker for OU’s defense this season.

4. Receiver Lacolton Bester’s Sugar Bowl touchdown. OU’s first touchdown of the Sugar Bowl sent a message that the Sooners weren’t going to back down against the Crimson Tide and weren’t hesitant to place the game on the shoulders of redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight. His perfect throw to Bester sent waves of confidence throughout the Sooners sidelines and OU rode that wave to a Sugar Bowl victory.

5. Cornerback Zack Sanchez interception return for touchdown against Kansas State. Not only did it seal the Sooners’ 41-31 road win, it is a good representation of the growth of the Sooners and how they turned that growth into on-field production. Sanchez had his struggles as a redshirt freshman but his competitiveness never wavered and his interception return against the Wildcats is an example of his development as a player. Several young Sooners, like Sanchez, grew a lot during the season and turned their development into on-field success as OU won three straight huge games against Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Alabama to end the season.

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