Tuesday, September 27, 2022

2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 best prospects in the Big 12, including a running back with Round 1 talent

Oklahoma and Texas were charter members of the Big 12, but news of their departure for the SEC has shaken the future of the conference. As far as the upcoming season is concerned, it is business as usual. The Big 12 had zero representatives in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft but that should not be perceived as the norm. Here are the 10 best prospects in the Big 12 as the regular season approaches, including one of the best running backs in recent memory:

10. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU

The nephew of electric former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson has been incredibly productive for the Horned Frogs. In 2021, he managed two forced fumbles, two interceptions and a touchdown. On the smaller side, the Texas native changes directions with ease. Hodges-Tomlinson shows quick burst to make plays on the ball. A lack of traditional size suggests that a move inside covering the slot is likely. 

9. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

Johnson is a tall, narrowly built wide receiver who uses soft hands and long arms as an advantage in jump ball situations. He displays good hand eye coordination and an ability to track the ball downfield. In his second season with TCU, he recorded 33 receptions for 612 yards and six touchdowns. 

Johnson ranked sixth in air yards per target (18.70) among pass catchers with at least 30 receptions, according to TruMedia. 

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8. Cooper Beebe, OG, Kansas State

Beebe plays the game with a mean streak. He played left tackle for the Wildcats last season but is destined to transition inside at the next level. Active, violent hands and a strong upper body allow him to create displacement in the run game. According to TruMedia, the Kansas City native allowed just eight pressures on 348 pass blocking snaps last season. 

There is an NFL future for Beebe and his path continues this fall as a primary blocker for one of college football‘s most exciting running backs — Deuce Vaughn. 

7. Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma

Gray transferred to Norman from Tennessee prior to the 2021 season. He stepped into a situation where he was a compliment to Kennedy Brooks rather than the bell cow; that is expected to change this season as he takes on a larger role. A member of the Doak Walker preseason watch list, Gray has taken strides as a blocker and is an effective contributor in the passing game. Among players with at least 75 rushes last season, Gray ranked sixth in tackles avoided percentage (44.9%), according to TruMedia. 

The Sooners have had four running backs drafted since 2017. 

6. Noah Daniels, CB, TCU

Injuries have disrupted an otherwise impressive career for Daniels. Over the past three seasons, he has played in just nine games, including five last season. Daniels has good size to translate to a man coverage role at the next level. He does a good job of staying in-phase and transitioning across the field. However, he has limited ball production for the Horned Frogs and talent evaluators are hopeful that the senior from Texas is able to stay healthy in 2022.

5. Siaki Ika, DT, Baylor

At 6-foot-4, 350 pounds, Ika is a traditional nose tackle in the NFL. He flashes a lot of power in his hands and consistently draws double teams. There is some stack and shed ability to his game. Although sacks are of little consequence to 0-technique players, the Salt Lake City native finished the most recent campaign with four. 

Originally an LSU Tiger, Ika followed Dave Aranda to Baylor after the 2020 season. 

4. Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

Harrison has a first off the bus type of physique. He uses good upper body strength to absorb contact. In a small sample size, Harrison appears to be more effective in the run game using his physicality to lean on opponents. There are some offensive tackle prospects in this class with limited playing experience but the Washington D.C. native is not in that boat. He has played in 22 games at left tackle over the past two seasons amassing 966 offensive snaps. 

The Oklahoma offensive line has become a pipeline for the NFL. Seven ex-Sooner offensive linemen have been drafted into the NFL since 2018. 

3. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State

Anudike-Uzomah uses first step quickness and a never-ending motor to finish plays. Developing more counter moves would allow him to become a more indispensable pass rusher but the 2021 season was a great start. In his first real playing time, Anudike-Uzomah accumulated 11 sacks and six forced fumbles for the Wildcats. According to TruMedia, he created pressure on 13.9% of his pass rushes.

2. Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma

The Texas native has been consistent through his first two seasons as a collegiate athlete but is only scratching the surface of his potential. Mims shows soft, but strong hands and smooth speed to make plays after the catch. He does a great job of tracking the ball down the field and uses great body control to finish plays.

Mims ranked first among all pass catchers with at least 30 receptions in first downs per target. According to TruMedia, he turned 61% of his receptions into a first down last season. He also ranked 12th in air yards per target (17.61). 

He recorded 32 receptions for 705 yards and five touchdowns in 2021. The Sooners will look much different this fall with former head coach Lincoln Riley now residing in Southern California and first and second string quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams off to South Carolina and USC, respectively. 

1. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

Robinson was the nation’s No. 1 running back coming out of high school. Barring an unforeseen outcome, the Tucson native will go wire to wire as the top rated running back. Robinson is an effective and efficient runner showing great burst and balance. He is able to slow his feet in traffic and re-direct at a moment’s notice. The third-year runner avoided 88 tackles last season, which was the fifth most, according to TruMedia.

In addition to his abilities on the ground, Robinson contributed 26 receptions for 295 yards and four touchdowns. The only obstacle standing between Robinson and hearing his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft is positional value. The 2022 NFL Draft was the first without a running back selected in the first round for the first time since 2014. 

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