The start of the college football season is a little less than three months away, making now a good time to dive more into what teams in the Big 12 will look like next season.
We’ll do that here by looking at position groups and ranking them from best to worst. Next up, we move on to looking at how defensive lineman across the Big 12 compare as we begin to move towards fall.
The Longhorns earn the top spot here because they could have up to two players drafted next season from their defensive line.
Both Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu are standouts for Texas and could potentially hear their names called next April if they turn out good performances this season. Omenihu has a prototypical body for the professional ranks, and Hager has a relentless motor in getting to the football.
There is also depth within this group as well – senior Chris Nelson will take over at nose tackle and has logged multiple starts, as have juniors Malcolm Roach and Gerald Wilbon. Nelson will hope to take over for the departed Poona Ford at nose tackle, where he will have to eat up blockers and cause disruption in the backfield.
Ta’Quon Graham made a splash last season as a freshman at defensive end, so look for him to make more of a name for himself in his second season under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
Apart from having one of the top – if not the top – defensive ends in the country, the Horned Frogs boast plenty of up-and-coming defensive lineman around senior Ben Banogu. Banogu was second in the Big 12 in sacks last year, with 8.5 total. Like a lot of Big 12 defenders that play off the edge, Banogu is smaller for a defensive lineman at 249 pounds, but he consistently reeks havoc.
He’ll play beside L.J. Collier at the other end spot, who should be fun to watch in a full time starting role and might have just as good of a season. Sophomore Corey Bethely, a 2017 True Freshman All-American, will also be of help next season.
That’s also not to mention the likes of Ross Blacklock, last season’s Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year. Blacklock, a highly touted high school recruit, projects to be a monster again on the interior.
3. IOWA STATE
The Cyclones will miss All-Big 12 defensive end JD Waggoner, but they nonetheless look to have one of the better defensive lines in the conference. Waggoner is one of only two players Iowa State loses from a two deep along the defensive line that helped hold teams to 128 yards per game last season.
The interior of their defense is key to that effort. At 306 pounds, junior nose tackle Ray Lima is an absolute force on the inside who consistently commands a double team.
JaQuan Bailey, who has started 20 games as a Cyclone, was the fifth-highest sack leader in the conference as a sophomore last season. He is on track to have an All-Big 12 caliber season this year.
4. OKLAHOMA STATE
Oklahoma State has one of the deepest defensive lines in the Big 12, with six of the eight players from last year’s two deep coming back. All of those returners are imposing – each is 6’ 2” or taller and average just under 280 pounds per player.
The interior is stacked with veterans that have proven themselves. According to Pro Football Focus, of all returning lineman from 2017, defensive tackle Trey Carter had the second highest grade for last season.
Jordan Brailford, one of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the league, returns on the edge. As a member of the 2017 All-Big 12 Second Team Defense, he will surely be an asset in the Cowboys’ new defensive scheme.
The Sooners rank more towards the middle of the conference on this list because of their losses from last season. Two of their three top sack leaders from 2017 are gone, leaving Kenneth Mann to take over as the premiere edge rusher.
Mann could turn out to have a big season this year, but he will need help from Amani Bledsoe and Neville Gallimore, both of whom need to be more consistent than they were a year ago. Gallimore is athletic and could take steps next season.
Addison Gumbs will likely take over for the departed Obo Okoronkwo, who was tasked with playing the “Jack” position on the outside in Oklahoma’s defense. Gumbs is an athletic player who could eventually develop into a top playmaker, but he has yet to start for the Sooners.
6. Kansas State
Most of the defensive line production and experience rests with the Wildcats’ two returning starters, juniors Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker. Walker is the headliner in this group, a playmaker who has found himself on multiple All-Big 12 lists and could be in line for some awards in 2018 if he keeps improving into his junior year.
Dishon will try to takeover as Kansas State’s major force on the inside. If he can develop into one of the better defensive tackles in the Big 12 this upcoming season, the line for the Wildcats could take a major step.
The Jayhawks find themselves closer to the middle of the pack here mostly because of the experience they bring back. Three of four starters up front return for Kansas, all of whom will be seniors this season.
The top talent on this team is by far senior Daniel Wise, a First Team All-Big 12 selection. Wise excels as a pass rusher and last season led the Jayhawks with seven total sacks, enough to make him the fourth highest sack leader in the conference. If he has a strong 2018 season, the senior has a good chance to hear his name called in next year’s NFL Draft.
Beside Wise, J.J. Holmes holds down the other defensive tackle position. Together, they might be the best interior duo in the conference.
8. Texas Tech
Texas Tech ranks lower on this list mostly because they lost their most disruptive player from 2018 in nose tackle Mychealon Thomas. Still, their top sack leader from a year ago, junior Eli Howard, will be back again to man the outside of the defensive line.
Senior Kolin Hill, who was sixth on the team in tackles last season, also returns along the defensive line. Fellow lineman Broderick Washington was seventh, and he will also be available to reprise his role at starting defensive tackle. He’ll be surrounded by players who logged valuable minutes last season and may actually help the pass defense be better in 2018.
The Bears come in ranked lower on this list despite having some of the pieces necessary to put together a decent defensive line. Next season the Bears inherit a couple of grad transfers and lose only one player from their two deep.
One player to be on the lookout for is big Bravvion Roy, a hulking 320 pound defensive tackle who got high marks from Pro Football Focus for his performance last season.
Ira Lewis is the best player coming back in this group, having led the team in sacks last season. He represents one of three returning starters who contributed to rushing the passer, but who also struggled against the run, giving up 4.9 yards per rush.
10. West Virginia
The Mountaineers are last on this list because of questions surrounding the depth of a defensive line that really struggled in 2017. This spring saw West Virginia lose multiple lineman to transfer.
Still, defensive ends Reese Donahue and Ezekiel Rose are back, and they represent two of the better defensive linemen for West Virginia. Even though the Mountaineers lost All-American Lamonte McDougle to transfer earlier this year, they signed a former blue chip recruit, Kenny Bigelow, to fill in.
Nonetheless, there are questions about Bigelow’s health and about what else the Mountaineers will have to work with along the line.
Last season the West Virginia defensive line didn’t produce much in terms of sack numbers, but it was also part of the reason this team was so porous against the run. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has fielded some good defenses in the past, so there’s always the chance this group could improve over the course of next season.