SI99: Oklahoma's Billy Bowman Jr. can flip games from any side of the ball

Ranked No. 53 in Sports Illustrated All-American's final SI99, the dynamic playmaker from Denton, TX could usher in the next generation of Sooner defensive back
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A coaching staff is going to be excited anytime they sign a dynamic playmaker. Even more so if they sign that player from under the nose of a bitter rival. 

Lincoln Riley and Alex Grinch got exactly that when they flipped the explosive Billy Bowman Jr. from Texas.

Bowman, who did a little bit of everything for Denton Ryan High School in Texas, was the focal point of just about anything his team did in 2020.

“You can play (Bowman) at receiver, defensive back, running back, returner, and he's, he's a head turner and a playmaker, no matter where you put him,” said Sports Illustrated All-American recruiting director John Garcia Jr.

His versatility has made it hard to project exactly where Bowman will fit in for the Sooners.

Bowman - SIAA 53

“I don't have the first clue where he's going to play for us, but it's going to be somewhere,” Riley said during his Early Signing Day press conference in December. “It wouldn't shock me if he doesn't end up having a role for us on both sides of the football. You talk about an elite return guy. Talk about a guy offensively that could play any of the receiver positions.

“Don't know that I've seen a more dynamic athlete in the country this year than Billy.”

The possibilities are endless with Bowman, and his playmaking ability landed him at No. 53 on SIAA’s final SI99 rankings. As far as where he’ll end up on the field, Garcia has a pretty clear idea.

“I think when you get into the traits, the true physical traits, there's a lot that that screams nickel to us,” Garcia said.

On the SI99, Garcia ranked Bowman the No. 2 nickel corner in the country, just behind the Ohio State bound Jordan Hancock.

Billy Bowman

Billy Bowman

“There's there's a little bit of a stigma out there on nickel defensive backs being smaller corners, smaller, quicker corners but you know we beg to differ,” Garcia said. “Nickel backs are do-it-all, physical specimens, who you're trusting to play bigger than they are. In the old school, the nickel replaced the SAM linebacker, so you're asking a defensive back to occupy a lot of linebacker responsibility.”

Garcia said the defensive back position has evolved over the past 10-15 years, with coaches now wanting smooth athletes who have the ability to change direction and work in open space.

“Now we want guys who can play football. I mean that's like, that is trait one that Nick Saban, and Alex Grinch, and these guys are looking for. They want guys who can affect the flight of the football. And Billy Bowman, pound-for-pound, you know, when the ball is in the air, is as good as there is in this country of attacking that football and coming down with.”

The physicality of the modern nickel position will suit Bowman, Garcia said.

“We've seen countless reps of Billy Bowman just disrupting all timing at the line of scrimmage, so there's certainly comfort there from a physical standpoint,” he said. “And then you fall over the offensive stuff and my gosh, what else could translate to the secondary like ball skills, and instincts that just show as an offensive player.”

The 175-pounds Bowman carries on his 5-foot-10 frame should serve him better than prior nickel backs in Grinch’s system, Garcia said.

Billly Bowman

Billly Bowman

“The last nickel that OU fans were excited about was probably Bookie (Radley-Hiles),” he said. “Coming out of high school, Bowman has a lot more physical ability than Bookie, who was very comfortable at at that nickel position.

“(Bowman) will be a little bit more equipped, in my opinion, to play that nickel spot. He's a more explosive player, as well, which which obviously translates and compensates for a lack of natural mass.”

If Bowman does end up on the defensive side of the ball, his experience as a two-way player in high school will be valuable, and it’s actually something the OU coaching staff looks for, Riley said.

“One, it shows a willingness to compete. That’s a big part of it,” Riley said. “Two, it shows the trust that their high school coaches have in them. Most people, if they’re that good of a player, coaches are going to find any and every way possible to use those guys. Three, it shows their football IQ. What are they able to process? What are they able to understand? For so many of those guys, regardless of where they end up playing in college, those experiences help them become better players.”

Bowman is primed to leave his mark at Oklahoma, Grinch just hopes he’ll get to add him to his toolbox on defense.

“I tell him, he may break my heart and play offense,” Grinch said in December. “I only talked to him about playing defense real candidly that way.”

The SIAA team is in agreement with Grinch on Bowman’s ceiling as a defender.

“We think that once he is in Norman and that positional debate is settled, if it's on defense, once he's all-in as a nickel as a corner, the sky's the limit for Billy Bowman,” Garcia said, “and we don't see him sitting very long.”