As spring practice nears, we’re ranking position groups in the Big 12. Last week, it was the offensive units; this week, we’re on to defense. These evaluations are based on performance, potential and quality of depth. Expect our outlooks to change after the spring.
The series continues with the defensive line.
1. Texas: Youth permeated the front four at Texas last year. The Longhorns lose nose tackle Paul Boyette and defensive end Bryce Cottrellfrom a unit that ranked second in the Big 12 in yards allowed per rushing attempt. Breckyn Hager returns as a playmaker off the edge in addition to Poona Ford and Chris Nelson in the middle and Charles Omenihu at strongside end. Malcolm Roach is growing into a star at end, too. Jordan Elliott adds versatility, and the depth looks solid.
2. Kansas State: The task of replacing Big 12 defensive player of the year Jordan Willis should not be taken lightly. But the Wildcats have shown great ability to develop defensive ends. The latest is Reggie Walker, the league’s defensive freshman of the year in 2016. Will Geary and Trey Dishon are back as productive interior linemen, and the Wildcats added juco star Xavier Davis as a pass rusher after leading the Big 12 last year in run defense.
3. Oklahoma State: Depth along the front four likely rates as the Cowboys’ greatest strength. Without tackle Vincent Taylor, gone early to the NFL, there’s no star, though Cole Walterscheid or Jarrell Owens at end could make the jump in 2017. Tralund Webber contributed six sacks last year, and Jordan Brailford, projected as a starter last year, is scheduled to return from injury, as is versatile lineman Vili Leveni. DeQuinton Osborne and Darrion Daniels should form a nice duo inside.
4. Oklahoma: Major upheaval plagued the Sooners’ three-man front last year as OU lost Charles Walker, Matt Dimon and Amani Bledsoe for non-injury related reasons. Additionally, Marquise Overton and Matt Romarwere hurt, leaving ends D.J. Ward, Austin Roberts and Neville Gallimoreto team with tackle Jordan Wade. As Oklahoma plans a shift to a four-man front, Ward and Gallimore are back, as is Du’Vonta Lampkin, who made strides a freshman. Romar returns to help in the middle, and Bledsoe is expected to return from suspension for the second half of 2017.
5. Kansas: If the Jayhawks improve next season at their 2016 pace, you may be looking at the best defensive front in the league by November. While such a rapid ascent is not likely, do not overlook a group that features All-Big 12 end Dorance Armstrong Jr. and tackle Daniel Wise, a second-team pick by the AP. Nose tackle DeeIsaac Davis is also back in addition key backups Isaiah Bean, Isi Holani and Josh Ehambe. J.J. Holmes heads a list of three juco transfers added to a unit that led the Big 12 in passing yardage allowed per game.
6. Baylor: The Bears tied for third in the Big 12 with 32 sacks in 2016 and allowed a solid 4.21 yards per rushing attempt. Like every front in the league, they were shredded at times by strong quarterbacks, a problem for which the whole defense is responsible. The top producers return in defensive end K.J. Smith, who recorded a team-high seven sacks, Greg Roberts at the other end in addition to Tyrone Hunt and Ira Lewis on the interior. James Lynch and Bravvion Roy offer big talent, and end Brian Nance, ineligible last year, could provide a major boost.
7. TCU: A solid group of reserves ought to soften the blow of losing James McFarland and Josh Carraway at the end spots and Aaron Curry in the middle. They anchored a unit that ranked fourth in the Big 12 in rushing and passing yards per game and led the league with 43 sacks. Look for L.J. Collier to compete with returning starter Joseph Broadnax at tackle and for Chris Bradley to step into the lineup. Mat Boesen and Tipa Galeai, who returned from injury to play in the bowl game, appear solid on the edge.
9. Iowa State: The effectiveness of the Cyclones’ line likely was not reflected in their stats because of a poor start to the season and some deficiencies in the back seven. But Mitchell Meyers, Demond Tucker and Jhaustin Thomas are gone, leaving JaQuan Bailey, who played well as a freshman, to team with Jamahl Johnson as the returning leaders. Juco transfers Matt Leo at end, Ray Lima and Kamilo Tongamoa should make an immediate impact.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders fielded the worst defense in the Big 12 -- and by default, the worst defense in the Power 5. It was possibly the worst defense in all of the FBS, ranking last in yards allowed per game and among the bottom five in numerous categories. Tech lost its most talented linemen, Breiden Fehoko, who is transferring, plus productive tackle Ondre Pipkins and end Kris Williams. Kolin Hill, Zach Barnes and Mychealon Thomas return in addition to a group of yet-to-emerge prospects that includes Broderick Washington, Joe Wallace and North Texas transfer Eli Howard.