Players to Watch in the Big 12 in 2022
QB Blake Shapen
Shapen took over for an injured Gerry Bohannon in the Big 12 Championship and beat him out for the starting job this offseason. He was impressive when he saw the field, and, with Bohannon gone, there's no reason for him to be looking over his shoulder if he struggles. The talent's there, I'm just wondering if Baylor made the change too soon.
WR Armani Winfield
DL Siaki Ika
The LSU transfer made a splash in his first year at Baylor-- winning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and being named second-team All-Conference. He's a prototypical nose tackle with above-average pass-rushing abilities in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Easily one of the Bears' top defenders.
DL TJ Franklin
Franklin is probably Baylor's best pass rusher. He started almost every game in which he played in 2020 before being relegated to a bench role last season. Despite the demotion, he still finished among the team's leaders in sacks and tackles. A return to the starting lineup should increase those numbers.
DL Jaxon Player
LB Dillon Doyle
Doyle has been one of the most consistently good defenders in a conference known more for its offenses. He's a two-year starter who is always around the ball and is coming off back-to-back honorable mention All-Big 12 seasons. If he continues to play as well as he has, he'll undoubtedly be an All-Conference player.
CB Mark Milton
CB Al Walcott
S Christian Morgan
RB Jirehl Brock
WR Xavier Hutchinson
The 2020 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year and two-time first-team All-Big 12 receiver returns for his senior year in Ames as the best player remaining on the Iowa State offense. He's currently in the midst of a 25-game catch streak and broke the school single-season record for receptions with 83 in 2021--giving him over 140 in the past two years. In a year where both tight ends, the starting quarterback, and record-setting running back all depart, Hutchinson is a vital member of this offense.
DE Will McDonald IV
LB O'Rien Vance
Vance has been a mainstay in the middle of the Cyclones' defense for three years and will become an even more important player with Mike Rose heading to the NFL. While Vance battled injuries last season, he has been an All-Big 12 player and Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP when healthy. That type of player will always be someone to watch during the season.
QBs Jalon Daniels & Jason Bean
A starter has not been named but neither was very good in 2021. Both have an argument to claim the starting spot. While Daniels was the more efficient of the two, Bean has been a three-year starter(North Texas & Kansas) and began last season as the guy under center.
RB Ky Thomas
This may be the guy with the most intrigue in the Kansas offense. As a freshman at Minnesota last season, he was forced into duty after a season-ending injury to Mohamed Ibrahim and finished with 824 yards in one of the country's best conferences. That's more yardage than any Kansas player had last year, which should put him in the lineup immediately.
DE Lonnie Phelps
LB Craig Young
The former Ohio State safety adds much-needed toughness and athleticism for the Jayhawks. He'll quickly get an expanded role and be one of the most trusted defenders. While a position change is never easy, his skills as a safety should make him a great coverage linebacker.
LB Eriq Gilyard
CB Kalon Gervin
S Marvin Grant
Another Big Ten transfer, this time from Purdue. Grant was one of the Boilermakers' best defenders and finished with 75 tackles and three passes defended in his first year as a starter. He's a promising player to add to this secondary.
QB Adrian Martinez
Another guy who seems to have been in college forever. All you've ever heard about Martinez since he arrived at Nebraska was how athletic he is. That's proven to be quite true, but he still leaves room for improvement as a passer as he tends to throw off his back foot often and has some accuracy issues to fix. Where he'll make the biggest impact is in the running game. The Wildcats are a run-based offense, so expect positive moments from Martinez in 2022.
RB Deuce Vaughn
You'll hear this in our college season preview podcast, but Deuce Vaughn is one of the most underrated players in college football. He is almost an exact copy of former Wildcats' great Darren Sproles. at 5'6" 176 lbs. He has over 2,000 career rushing yards and ranks among national, Big 12, and Kansas State career leaders in nearly every rushing and all-purpose yards statistic. Between Vaughn and Martinez, K-State should have one of the better running games in the Big 12.
WR Phillip Brooks
With so many running threats for opposing defenses to key in on, the receivers stand to benefit. Brooks and his teammate Malik Knowles had fantastic years last season and both possess elite speed. As long as Martinez can get them the ball, they'll make plays all season long.
WR Malik Knowles
WR Kade Warner'
FB Jax Dineen
Not many fullbacks get highlighted in college football these days, but Dineen is one of the best and an integral member of the Wildcats' running game. He's like having a more athletic offensive lineman or smaller tight end, which is really what a fullback should be. He won't get the ball often, but he absolutely affects the game.
DL Eli Huggins
LB Will Honas
In 2019 and 2020, Honas was one of the best defenders at Nebraska and proved to be a sure tackler with a knack for making plays in the backfield. He transfers after missing last season with an injury, but he fits the exact type of linebacker that thrives in the Wildcats' system.
LB Daniel Green
QB Dillon Gabriel
Landing a successful veteran quarterback after losing two of them to the transfer portal is just what Oklahoma needed. Gabriel has been the starter at UCF for three years where he threw for over 8,000 yards with 72 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. He's a dynamic player to watch, one of the most efficient passers in college football, and rejoins former UCF offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby, in Norman. Lebby was the UCF offensive coordinator in Gabriel's freshman season, during which the Knights finished with the fifth-best offense in the country.
WR Marvin Mims
Mims led the Sooners with 705 yards on 32 catches last season. The opportunities went down because Oklahoma quarterbacks struggled and the team eventually relied more on the running game. This year, Jeff Lebby enters as offensive coordinator with a system that should allow more opportunities for receivers to make plays, and Mims is the best receiver Oklahoma has.
WR Theo Wease
RB Eric Gray
The senior had to split time with other backs in 2021 but enters 2022 as the leader in the backfield. He has over 1,700 career rushing yards. 1,311 of those came during his two-year stint at Tennessee, where he quickly assumed the starting role. Now that he'll be starting again, expect his production to go back up to that level. It will just depend on how many touches he gets in the new offense.
RB Marcus Majors
OL Wanya Morris
DL Jalen Redmond
Great things are expected out of the redshirt junior defensive tackle. He's one of the more athletic players on the defense and dominates the line of scrimmage. In his career so far, he has 21.5 TFL and 10 sacks, which are great numbers for the position he plays. Redmond is the best player on the Sooners' d-line.
DL Jeffrey Johnson
LB David Ugwoegbu
LB Deshaun White
White is a fifth-year senior who can play multiple linebacker positions. He has great instincts and plays fast sideline-to-sideline. He's a three-year starter and fantastic tackler who the defense will expect to be even greater in 2022.
QB Spencer Sanders
Sanders struggled in the passing game at times last year, leading the Cowboys' to revamp their offensive style. Now that Jaylen Warren is gone, I expect them to turn to the passing game more often. Sanders looked great in the season opener. He just needs to prove it more consistently against better competition and show up more in big games.
WR Braydon Johnson
WR Brennan Presley
Presley is a speedster who affects the game in multiple phases. He can play slot receiver and is an All-Conference kick returner. Last season, he finished with 1,113 all-purpose yards and was the Cowboys' second-leading receiver. As the team returns to its passing game more in 2022, expect to see plenty of Presley.
DE Brock Martin
DE Tyler Lacy
Lacy started the season on a high note with 2.5 TFLs and a sack against Central Michigan. He's been one of the most productive players on the OSU defense since his sophomore season and might be the most skilled defensive lineman on the team. His sacks need to increase, but he does have a knack for making plays in the backfield. Expect that to continue in 2022.
DE Trace Ford
S Jason Taylor II
QB Max Duggan
Duggan's been an average college quarterback, but TCU fans are waiting for him to take the next step and become a star. His play has been solid and he's one of the Horned Frogs' top passers, but he leaves more to be desired and can disappear in big games. Duggan is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big 12 and in college football as a whole, so this needs to be the year he puts it all together.
RB Kendre Miller
RB Emani Bailey
Bailey was the third of a three-pronged rushing attack at Louisiana last season. He finished the year with 642 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Combining him with Miller creates one of the more promising, young rushing tandems in college football.
WR Quentin Johnston
WR Taye Barber
Barber's game is all about speed and consistency. He's been one of TCU's best receivers during his career and has All-Big 12 potential. There was a slim chance he would leave to become a late-round NFL pick, but he will benefit from another college season.
OL Alan Ali
DE Dylan Horton
The senior is looking to build on a season in which he led the Horned Frogs with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. From what I've read, the coaching staff has high hopes for him this year, and he's one of the under-the-radar players to keep an eye on this season.
LB Jamoi Hodge
LB Dee Winters
CB Noah Daniels
Daniels is the most notable pro prospect on the team. The corner's career has been marred with injuries, yet he always shows up when he's playing healthy. He has the ideal size for his position. He just needs to prove he is durable and still has the ability to be a shutdown corner.
S Mark Perry
QB Quinn Ewers
Possibly one of the most well-known freshmen in the country has edged out Hudson Card as the starting quarterback in Austin. While Ewers had yet to play a down in college prior to this season, his high school reputation leaves him with high expectations. Will he live up to the hype?
RB Bijan Robinson
Robinson is one of the best running backs in the country and should be considered a Heisman Trophy contender. He's been the best payer on the Longhorns' offense since he arrived on campus with 1,830 rushing yards in 19 games. Many have Robinson as the top running back in the country and he's done little to prove otherwise so far.
WR Xavier Worthy
Outside of Robinson, Worthy is the Longhorns' best player with actual college experience. As a freshman in 2021, he was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, and Freshman All-America while earning All-Big 12 first-team honors and almost reaching 1,000 receiving yards. Not much has gone right for Texas lately, but Worthy is a building block on the verge of becoming a star.
WR Jordan Whittington
WR Tarique Milton
TE Jahleel Billingsley
Billingsley transfers in from Alabama. He's an incredibly versatile player who can help on offense and on special teams. At Alabama, he was used as a receiving tight end and even returned kicks. You don't see that from a tight end often, and that really demonstrates how good of an athlete he is. He's a serviceable blocker, but that is probably the area where he needs the most improvement to become truly elite.
OL Jake Majors
DL Keondre Coburn
LB DeMarvion Overshown
Long and rangy linebacker who will soon be in the NFL. He's proven to be one of the top linebackers in the country and leads this defense with his tackling. As a candidate for All-Conference honors and many national awards, Overshown is the primary guy to watch for the Texas defense this season.
CB Ryan Watts
QB Tyler Shough
Shough led Oregon to the PAC-12 title game in 2020 before joining Texas Tech the following offseason. It was assumed he would finally be the guy to solve the team's quarterback issues, but injuries derailed his season. Henry Colombi and Donovan Smith shared the job in his absence, but Shough should still be the one under center in 2022 and has pro potential.
RB Tahj Brooks
RB SaRodrick Thompson
Although he has yet to achieve a 1,000-yard season, Thompson has quietly been one of the top running backs in the Big 12. After finishing eighth in rushing last season in the conference, the running game gives the Red Raiders a positive on offense entering this season. Thompson will be a major part of how well they make use of it.
WR Myles Price
TE Baylor Cupp
DL Tony Bradford Jr
LB Krishon Merriweather
Merriweather will be part of the crew that makes up for the loss of Riko Jeffers. He's one of the top tacklers who doesn't get noticed. In just nine games in 2020, he made 75 stops, and he added another 52 last season. He enters this year as the starting middle linebacker and is poised to take his game to another level.
LB Dmitri Moore
Moore was a standout at Vanderbilt and decided to transfer to Missouri State instead of leaving for the NFL. That did not turn out as planned and he ended up transferring again. Now returning to the FBS, you can expect Moore to be hungry and prove that he's still capable of being a star.
S Reggie Pearson Jr
QB JT Daniels
Daniels joins his third college program and has been named the starter for the Mountaineers. The former USC and Georgia quarterback began his career with a solid showing at USC, but he was unable to win the starting job after transferring to Georgia. West Virginia needs some juice added to its offense and gives Daniels a chance to regain his status as one of the top quarterbacks in college football.
WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton
Ford-Wheaton is WR1 for the Mountaineers in 2022 after being used as a complementary player in 2019 and 2020. In the season-opener at Pittsburgh, he showed he's up for the task-- grabbing nine passes and scoring two touchdowns. He seems to have a good rapport with JT Daniels and will emerge as one of the country's best yet underrated receivers.
OL Doug Nester
DL Dante Stills
For years, Dante and his brother Darius were the playmakers on the defensive line. While Darius is now in the NFL (as a free agent), Dante is still making plays for West Virginia. He's currently the leading pass rusher on the roster with 19 career sacks and ranks third in school history in TFLs. He picked up right where he left off with six tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two TFLs against Pittsburgh.
DE Taijh Alston