The football season is just around the corner, and the NFL preseason has already begun. With the season getting ready to start, knowing the top guys in each conference is essential. We at Pro Football Network have got you covered. We’ve already released an ACC conference list, as well as a Big-10 offensive list. I have also already done the Big 12’s offensive team. The other Power-5 conferences are being completed as well. For the Big 12, this list was admittedly difficult to make, considering the conference is stacked on both sides of the ball. Making a list of draft-eligible and non-draft-eligible players made it even more difficult.
Due to this, I will list alternates I thought of at each position at the end of each article. Without further ado, here is the list.
*-denotes a non-eligible player
Much like how I did the offense, I will be following the All-Big 12 team format for defense.
DL Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma
I’ve discussed Gallimore at length in several past articles here at Pro Football Network. The freaky athlete has been hindered and held back by a dreadful scheme in the past. Under new DC Alex Grinch, I expect Gallimore to put forward a great season on his way to the NFL Draft.
DL JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State
Bailey is one of the most underrated players on the national scale. Bailey posted 8 total sacks last season as well as a fantastic 14.5 tackles for loss, placing him third among active sack leaders and fourth in tackles for loss among active players. He’ll likely finish as Iowa State’s career sacks leader this season. Bailey is a disruptive and prominent feature of Iowa State’s defense.
DL Ross Blacklock, TCU
Blacklock has mainly been forgotten about after an injury kept him out of the majority of last season, but he was the Big-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2017. With a full year to get ready and healthy, Blacklock looks poised to take over and fill the void left behind by L.J. Collier and Ben Banogu.
DL James Lynch, Baylor
Lynch is a defensive force at 6’4 290 pounds. His disruptiveness showed up during the big games, putting pressure up during both the Texas and Oklahoma games. Lynch was named to the 2018 AP All-Big 12 First team, as well as 2018 All-Academic Big 12 second team. With another season of growth, Lynch can take those tools and turn into a special player.
DL Reggie Walker, Kansas State
Much like Ross Blacklock, Walker is a former Defensive Freshman of the Year but has dealt with injuries in the past. Now fully healthy and under a new coach, Walker appears poised to return to his freshman self, where he posted 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.
LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
Murray looks like Superman and plays like Superman, too. Murray was named as a Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year (sharing it with Ross Blacklock) and was named to 2018 All-Big 12 second team. Under new DC Alex Grinch, Murray has taken steps to improve his game this season. After posting a ridiculous 155 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss last season, an improved Murray should easily earn a selection here on his way to the NFL Draft.
LB Clay Johnston, Baylor
Johnston has flown under the radar nationally despite a long career for the Baylor Bears. Johnston was recently named to the Butkus Award watch list after a season that saw him All-Big 12 second team. Johnston is an athletic playmaker for the Bears defense. Another stellar season for him is easy to predict, earning him a spot on my list.
LB Mike Rose, Iowa State*
Rose was a true freshman last season, but he looked like a legit pro prospect while starting every game for the Cyclones. At 6’3 240 pounds, Rose is built like a truck and hits like one as well. Rose has apparently stepped up as a leader in practice, coordinating the defense, and “got a ton stronger.” I wouldn’t be shocked if Rose ended up running away with the Defensive Player of the Year award or even finishes as a Butkus Award finalist.
DB Brandon Jones, Texas
Jones is another player I have discussed at length for Pro Football Network. I’ve heard his name be mentioned as a top-50 lock for the upcoming NFL Draft. He’s an athletic, rangy playmaker at safety who hits like a freight train. If Jones can stay healthy this season, he has all the talent to earn this spot.
DB Caden Sterns, Texas*
The other Texas safety, Sterns had a stellar freshman season, earning the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award. He was also named to the All-Big 12 first team for his standout play. With another offseason under his belt, Sterns will likely repeat his performance as a freshman. He could be one of the nation’s best defensive players if so.
DB Jeff Gladney, TCU
Gladney is one of the fastest players in college football, which helps him in the Big 12. According to Pro Football Focus, Gladney allowed the second-fewest yards per coverage snap last season. He posted excellent production last season with 15 total passes defended and two interceptions. TCU’s defenses have traditionally been great, and Gladney will be a big reason why this season.
DB A.J. Green, Oklahoma State
While his name is similar to the NFL star, this A.J. Green plays on the opposite side of the field and also produces at a high level. Green is a long athlete with phenomenal ball skills. Per Pro Football Focus, Green forced an incompletion on 33% of his targets in coverage. One out of every three targets is a forced incompletion. It goes without saying that that is truly impressive. He was robbed of All-Big 12 First and Second-team selections last year, but this season’s end should rectify that.
DB Greg Eisworth, Iowa State
Another standout Iowa State defender, Eisworth emerged as the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after transferring to Iowa State from the JUCO ranks. Eisworth also finished as an All-Big 12 First Team player last season. Eisworth posted 86 total tackles, six passes defended, and two forced fumbles last season. He’s an enforcer on the Cyclones defense and was recently named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list.