The Big 12 produced just two first-round picks in the 2015 NFL draft, but potential stars like Shawn Oakman and Spencer Drango could help increase that number in '16.
Next up in on our preseason lookahead to the 2016 draft is the Big 12, a proud conference which produced just two first-round picks this year (Kevin White and Malcom Brown) and landed one player (Jordan Phillips) in Round 2.
The Big 12 could rebound in a big way next April, if a few of its promising talents reach their potential. Here are the conference's top-10 prospects, plus an extra guy to watch per team:
1. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor: Physically, Oakman is like a player you'd create in a video game—6'9", a jacked-up 280 pounds and athletically gifted enough to, oh, leap 40 inches while holding a 70-pound dumbbell in each hand. He can take over games at the college level because there just are not linemen on the other side who can stand up to him.
On those factors alone Oakman is headed for the first round. How high he climbs depends on what strides he has made, and will make in the coming months, to round out his entire game. It's far more difficult to dominate just with strength at the next level.
He also will have to deal with overwhelming attention this season, both positive and negative. The Baylor lineman can be a must-see attraction when the Bears's defense is on the field, but just ask Jadeveon Clowney how skeptics react if the production dips at all.
The potential finished product here, though, is almost unable to be matched by other 2016 prospects. If Oakman refines his technique and manages to silence critics of his work ethic, he'll be a top-10 lock ... and a possible first-overall pick.
2. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor: Their respective collegiate offenses could not be more different, but Drango gives off a bit of a Brandon Scherff vibe. He wins with technique and power, rather than above-average athleticism, but he also uses his 6'5", 315-pound frame well enough to excel sealing the edge.
As Scherff will do in Washington, NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein suggests Drango eventually could slide to guard, where his weaknesses would be mitigated and his ability to drive defenders onto their heels amplified.
3. Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma: Going to show Striker some love now because he may not be this highly regarded come next April. Blame on his size—at 6'0" and 223 pounds, he's smaller than this year's standard for an undersized linebacker, Shaq Thompson (6'0", 228). Striker's a pass-rusher, too, so his lack of his is even more noticeable.
And yet, Striker is a dominant defender for the Sooners. Last season, he finished with 17.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks, with most of his backfield coming due to a combo of speed and instincts off the snap. When he gets a step on a lineman, he's gone.
4. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU: There is ample time to nitpick, if we must, Boykin's size (somewhere in the 6'0" to 6'2" range) or his looping arm motion and sub-60% completion rate. We'll get there. On the other hand ...
That's just one play, of course, but it happens to start with a shifty move away from a pass-rusher and end with Boykin dropping a hash mark-to-hash mark dime 40 yards downfield. Boykin is downright electrifying. His 2014 performance (3,901 yards passing, 707 yards rushing and 42 total touchdowns) have the TCU star among the Heisman frontrunners for '15. NFL teams will love the improvement he's shown during his college career.
5. Le'Raven Clark, G/T, Texas Tech: Another starting tackle in a spread offense, Clark also could intrigue scouts at several O-line spots. He opened his time at Tech as a right guard before shifting outside for the 2013 season. Clark moves quite well for a 6'6", 310-pounder.
Texas Tech has not had a first-rounder since Michael Crabtree in 2009. Clark could snap the drought.
6. Josh Doctson, WR, TCU: The guy most often on the receiving end of Boykin's tosses, Doctson hauled in 65 receptions for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The redshirt senior is smooth when the ball comes near him, rarely letting passes get into his body. At 6'4" he also gets over top of cornerbacks, too (bonus points for a "basketball background", the football announcer's favorite phrase when it comes to tight ends and receivers). There is work to do before Doctson can step in as a productive NFL receiver, including in the weight room—he's listed at 195 pounds and is lanky. But he's dangerous downfield, with space to get better.
7. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State: Circle Ogbah (6'4", 275 pounds) as a player who could soar up draft boards in the coming months. The junior is coming off a 17.0-tackle-for-loss, 11.0-sack season. The concerns here are not far removed from those with Oakman. Can he be more consistent? Can he be more of a three-down force? Ogbah has top-10 potential.
8. Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: Let's see what Shepard can do over a full season. He caught 49 passes during the Sooners' first seven games of 2014 (including a 15-reception showing vs. Kansas State) ... and two the rest of the way, as a groin injury hindered him. At 5'10", 185, Shepard does not mind going over the middle of the field, which is where NFL teams may want him due to his size.
9. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia: Joseph dabbled with entering the 2015 draft before returning to school. The Mountaineers' safety will be among the top 2016 names at his position, provided he turns in a fourth solid season (he's racked up 264 career tackles to date. NFL.com's Mike Hugenin ranked Joseph as the most physical player in college football right now, and that's how Joseph leaves his imprint—he lays the lumber whenever he can.
10. Cody Whitehair, OT, Kansas State: A redshirt senior, Whitehair has started at left guard, right tackle and left tackle. He will wrap his career at the LT spot, from where he earned second-team All-Big 12 honors last year. The NFL future for the 6'4", 305-pounder probably is back on the right side or along the interior. While he does not have the quickness for blindside blocking at the next level, Whitehair otherwise has the make-up of a 10-year pro.
Baylor—Corey Coleman, WR: Coming off a 1,119-yard, 11-touchdown season, Coleman could be primed for even more despite the loss of QB Bryce Petty. Fast and athletic, the Bears' redshirt junior can make plays from any spot on the field.
Iowa State—Jamison Lalk, C: O-line coach Brandon Blaney recently talked up Lalk in an interview with the Ames Tribune. Lalk (6'6", 311 pounds) has played center for the Cyclones before, though he spent last season at guard. With a solid season he could work his way into at least a UDFA shot somewhere.
Kansas—Ben Goodman, DE/OLB: Goodman added some weight last season for a move from the Buck linebacker to DE. His production dropped off, down from 34 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2013 to 21 tackles and one sack last season. The NFL might prefer the slimmed-down Goodman. He could make for a special-teams player and solid backup.
Kansas State—Dante Barnett, S: Barnett is productive (77 tackles, three INTs last season) and can cover a lot of ground. Like Joseph, he's willing to throw himself around for a hit, too.
Oklahoma: Charles Tapper, DE: Now a senior, Tapper faced a tough challenge a couple years ago back transitioning to a 3–4 five-tech. Oklahoma could not have asked much more of him in that role, and at 6'4", 283 pounds he has an NFL future, too.
Oklahoma State—Ryan Simmons, LB: Simmons has all the makings of a mid-round pick who claims a starting job before his NFL coaches can blink. His highly productive college career warrants more attention—Simmons has 189 tackles and 26 tackles for loss over three-plus seasons (he was injured three games into the 2011 season and later was given a medical redshirt). A smart, active tackler.
TCU—Aaron Green, RB: Living in Boykin's shadow in the backfield, Green broke through with a tremendous 2014 season (922 yards rushing, 166 yards receiving, 11 touchdowns). That's 1,088 yards from scrimmage on 148 touches, an average of 7.4 yards per touch. Green transferred from Nebraska after the 2011 season and has shared time at RB for the Horned Frogs, so it took him some time to find a groove. Now that he has, Green gets the '15 campaign to keep showing off his explosive running.
Texas—Duke Thomas, CB: Sort of on a run of underappreciated talents here. Thomas has started 23 games over the past two years, finishing the 2015 season with 10 pass break-ups and three picks. He seems to have a solid understanding for how to play the cornerback spot, even if not the most gifted athletically. Don't sleep on him.
Texas Tech—Pete Robertson, DE/OLB: His junior-season numbers are impressive—81 tackles, 12 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss. Robertson earned most of those plays, hustling through the whistle to make them happen. He's pretty slick off the edge, flashing enough recognition to project as a 3–4 OLB or a Von Miller-type (though not on Miller's elite level) in a 4–3.
West Virginia—Nick Kwiatkoski, LB: Kwitakoski and Simmons may be viewed in a similar light come the draft process, as defenders who simply get the job done despite not necessarily jumping off the page. Kwiatkoski (6'2", 235 pounds) notched 103 tackles last season, forming a 1–2 punch with Joseph on the Mountaineers' defense. Does he have room to grow as a prospect or is this a take-what-you-get situation?