Texas Longhorns: Earl Thomas

Earlier today, I released my Big 12 all-BCS era team. Here were the toughest players leaving off the team:

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWes Welker returned eight punts for touchdowns and made 259 receptions in four seasons at Texas Tech.
1. PR: Wes Welker, Texas Tech (2000-03) – I originally had Welker on my team as the punt returner. But then I had nowhere to put Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, who only set an FBS record with 349 receptions and probably would have won the Biletnikoff Award in 2011 had he not been injured. While not at Welker’s level as a returner, Broyles was still prolific returning punts, so I wound up sticking him there to get him on the team. In hindsight, I should have just cheated and created three WR slots, as there was a decent drop-off after Justin Blackmon, Michael Crabtree and Broyles. That would’ve cleared space to keep Welker on the team.

2. LB: Dat Nguyen, Texas A&M (1998) – Nguyen was a tremendous player, but he was hurt by the fact he only played one year in the BCS era. Still, Nguyen was very deserving based on that one season. He was a unanimous All-American, and won the Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker) awards.

3. PR: Antonio Perkins, Oklahoma (2001-04) – I had actually had Welker ranked slightly ahead of Perkins as a returner, so it wouldn’t have mattered if I had created three WR spots. Still, Perkins was a consensus All-American returner and set a record for punt return touchdowns in a game with three, and for that, he was in the conversation.

4. OG: Davin Joseph, Oklahoma (2002-05) – One area in which the Big 12 lacked quality options was at offensive guard. Texas’ Justin Blalock made the team as a guard, even though he was largely a tackle in college. Joseph, however, was a quality player for the Sooners, making 40 career starts while blocking for Adrian Peterson.

5. S: Earl Thomas, Texas (2008-09) – Thomas was the top safety left off the team. He was only at Texas for two seasons, but was a consensus All-American while leading Texas’ defense when it made the national championship game after the 2009 season. He was second in college football in 2009 with eight interceptions before leaving early for the NFL Draft.
Perhaps the biggest name in attendance at Texas’ pro day on Tuesday aside from Vince Young was Texas’ All-American safety Kenny Vaccaro.

The lone defensive back working out, Vaccaro surprised NFL scouts with his weight of 217 pounds. But he did so in a good way.

Take what he gathered from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who was the only NFL head coach in attendance.

“He thought I looked great,” said Vaccaro, who checked in at 6-foot. “Mainly that I pushed through everything and said I carried my weight well. He didn’t know I weighed 217.”

Vaccaro was a little disappointed that he wasn’t able to run the 40-yard dash because of a hip flexor injury, but was able to participate in individual drills in front of Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

“I think I was explosive out of my breaks,” he said. “I was real happy with how my hip held up. I think I did a good job.

“[The scouts] said I did a great job. They said the most impressive thing was just pushing through, working out by myself and also having that hip flexor.”

(Read full post)

Yesterday, we tackled the Big 12's best offensive players in the NFL, but today, it's time for the other side of the ball.

The rules:
  • Players must be active
  • Players are judged by their current skills
  • The 2012 draft class is not eligible
  • Only players from the 2011 configuration of the Big 12 (No Nebraska, Colorado. Mizzou, Texas A&M are included.) are eligible

Let's get to it.

DE: Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers (Missouri)

Smith has made Pro Bowls in each of the past three seasons and emerged as one of the NFL's premier pass rushers, nearly winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. He's forced 14 career fumbles and had 72.5 career sacks.

DT: Phil Taylor, Cleveland Browns (Baylor)

Taylor snuck into the first round of the 2011 draft and started every game for the Browns in 2011, making 59 tackles and four sacks, as well as forcing a fumble.

DT: Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers (Texas)

Hampton's career has peaked, but the 2001 first-rounder is still effective. He's won two Super Bowls and made five Pro Bowls, the last coming in 2009. He has 350 career tackles with nine sacks and four forced fumbles.

DE: Antonio Smith, Houston Texans (Oklahoma State)

Smith earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season, even though it was as an alternate. He has 29.5 career sacks and seven forced fumbles.

LB: Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers (Missouri)

Smith was one of the NFL's best pass rushers as a rookie in 2011. He didn't start a single game, yet came within a half sack of Jevon Kearse's rookie record for sacks, with 14 sacks. That broke the team record, and the Pro Football Writers of America named him the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

LB: Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins (Texas)

Orakpo edges out Derrick Johnson for this spot, though Johnson was better in 2011. Orakpo was an alternate on this year's Pro Bowl team, but made the squad as a rookie in 2009 and in 2010.

LB: Von Miller, Denver Broncos (Texas A&M)

Miller earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and a trip to the Pro Bowl after notching 11.5 sacks and making 64 tackles. He forced a fumble on the first snap of his career, too.

CB: Terence Newman, Cincinnati Bengals (Kansas State)

Newman's taken his fair share of knocks as a Cowboy before being released, but he made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009 and has 32 career interceptions. The Wildcats' former Thorpe Award winner is moving on to the next phase in his career after an up and down career in Dallas.

CB: Aaron Ross, Jacksonville Jaguars (Texas)

Ross won two Super Bowls as a New York Giant, but he's moving on to warmer climates this offseason. He's made 200 career tackles and intercepted 10 passes in five seasons as a Giant before the former Thorpe Award winner signed a new deal with the Jags.

S: Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans (Texas)

Griffin was a first-round pick in 2007 and made Pro Bowls in 2008 and 2010. He earned an All-Pro selection in 2010 and has 17 career interceptions and seven forced fumbles with his 389 tackles.

S: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks (Texas)

Thomas gives the Longhorns a third member of the All-Big 12 NFL secondary after a Pro Bowl season in his second year, 2011. Thomas was arguably the Seahawks' top defender and has seven career interceptions.

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