The 2015 NFL draft prospects you need to watch in the Big 12
The Big 12's representation ran a little thin in the early rounds of this year's draft. The conference produced just two first-rounders (same number as the MAC), both at the cornerback spot: Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett. And a mere five Big 12 prospects heard their names called over the first three rounds, nearly five times fewer than the SEC's number of 23 and well behind the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12.
Having just 10 teams to call its own obviously does the Big 12 no favors (with regard to both the draft and nomenclature). There could be an uptick in early-round Big 12 picks next draft, though, if the players on this list take the necessary steps forward between now and May.
Baylor: Shawn Oakman, DE
Some NFL team somewhere is going to be convinced it can turn the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Oakman into a dominant edge presence, even if his collegiate output remains a bit touch-and-go this season. His size alone will put him in the mix of 3-4 end prospects. Of course, the height also can be a challenge, in a Margus Hunt sort of way -- in other words, it's not always easy to get everything moving in the right direction, at high speed, when you tower over the competition.
Also certain to come up during the draft process: Oakman's dismissal from Penn State (by Bill O'Brien, no less) for a violation of team rules. He transferred to Baylor in 2012, then had to sit for a year.
Iowa State: E.J. Bibbs, TE
As with Oakman, the Big 12 has seen just one season of Bibbs -- he transferred into Iowa State after a JUCO stop. It was a solid, albeit not all too flashy, debut. Bibbs (6-3, 261) caught 39 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns, only just scratching the surface of his ability as a pass-catcher. Iowa State is not typically renowned as a TE factory (the team's official website touts that 39-catch output as "one of the best seasons by a tight end in ISU history"). Expect to see Bibbs get a few more looks this year, but he will continue to pitch in as a reliable blocker, too.
Kansas: JaCorey Shepherd, CB
Interesting case here. Shepherd played some defensive back in high school but was recruited as a wide receiver, and that's the position he played through 2011. A move to cornerback for the '12 season has paid off so far: Shepherd (5-11, 190) was among the national leaders with 13 pass break-ups last season, plus he picked off a pair of passes. His WR background no doubt helps there, giving him an edge when it comes to finding the football. He's a decent kick returner, too, carrying a 22.2 yards-per-attempt average for his Kansas career.
Kansas State: Tyler Lockett, WR
When we last saw Lockett, he was hanging three touchdowns on the board in a bowl victory, marking his third three-TD showing of the 2013 season. The shifty receiver (5-11, 175) also had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and a pair of 200-yard outings.
Lockett is one of those college receivers who tends to find space mainly because he is better with his technique than the players covering him. He won't win with size, but Lockett breaks off crisp routes and is very difficult to get to the ground once he has the ball in his hands. Add in a prolific background as a return man -- 31.1 yards per attempt with four career touchdowns -- and Lockett ought to have no trouble selling himself as at least a mid-round selection.
Oklahoma: Daryl Williams, OT
Williams definitely fits the size profile, standing 6-6 and 329. He stepped over from his usual right tackle spot to the left side for the Sooners' bowl win over Alabama, but could he handle a similar switch in the NFL? Or is he destined to be used more like ex-Oklahoma lineman Phil Loadholt, as strictly a right tackle?
Loadholt has become a dominant run-blocker for the Vikings; right now, Williams might be stronger holding up in the passing game, though he has the strength to keep improving as a road-grader. Already with 23 starts under his belt, Williams has too much top-level experience and far too much potential to be overlooked come draft time.
Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland, RB
Last year's top-five rushers from this conference are all gone now, led by draft picks Lache Seastrunk and Charles Sims. The race to the top of the rushing chart in 2014 could be fascinating, with Roland joining Baylor's Shock Linwood, Iowa State's Aaron Wimberly and several backs from both Texas and Oklahoma on the list of favorites.
What might set Roland apart from a draft perspective? Mainly that he is a strong north-and-south runner who doesn't waste much time in the backfield. He's not going to break off a ton of home runs, though he will find a seam from time to time -- he had a 58-yard TD run versus Iowa State as part of a 219-yard, four-touchdown day. Admittedly, I'm in the early evaluation process on a lot of these 2015 prospects, but Roland (6-2, 210) reminds me some of former Stanford grinder and current Jaguars lead RB Toby Gerhart. He brings a similar no-frills game.
TCU: Sam Carter, S
Position changes among college players are not too unique, but Carter's was not a typical one. The New Orleans native was rated as one of the better dual-threat QBs in his state coming out of high school. Carter (6-1, 215) redshirted his first year with TCU, then finally hit the field as a defensive back.
And he is a good one. Carter intercepted five passes last season and broke up 13 the year before. He's also notched more than 110 combined tackles over the past two seasons. As one might expect, he's still getting the finer points of his game up to speed, but his instincts are NFL-caliber. Given the desperation with which NFL teams hunt out versatile safeties, Carter could sneak into the top two rounds with a strong 2014 season.
Texas: Cedric Reed, DE
What to make of the 6-6, 250-pound Reed? On the one hand, he physically looks the part of an NFL pass rusher and went for 10 sacks/16.5 tackles for loss last season. On the other, his running mate from 2013, Jackson Jeffcoat, surprisingly went undrafted amid concerns that his college career was more numbers than substance. Reed will face similar questions (and criticisms?) about his ability to hold up versus the run and whether he can develop into more than a one-trick pony. CBSSports draft expert Dane Brugler started sounding the alarms last month, tweeting, "Very average tape, not much that separates him [in my opinion]".
There is without question some upside. Will he succeed where Jeffcoat, at least in terms of the draft, fell short?
Texas Tech: Sam Eguavoen, LB
Eguavoen delivered 70 tackles last season, including 6.5 for loss. The Red Raiders need him to crank up the production this year in the absence of Will Smith, a seventh-round pick of the Cowboys. Smith had an inch and more than 10 pounds on the 6-1, 220-pound Eguavoen, so the issue for the latter will be exactly how he fits on an NFL depth chart. Initially at least, Eguavoen will have to translate his tackling ability to special-teams work. There might be more to his game as a free-flowing linebacker if given a little development time.
West Virginia: Karl Joseph, S
Joseph (5-10, 196) has two years of eligibility left, meaning we may be talking about him again this time next year. But he might be gone in time for the 2015 draft if he can continue to build on his first two years in Morgantown. Joseph has started 25 straight games at free safety with 12 passes defensed and a whopping 172 tackles over that time. As with everyone on a porous 2013 West Virginia defense, Joseph left himself open to some big plays -- his aggressiveness and desire to get downhill after the football can bite him. He also will disrupt both run and pass attempts because of that gusto.