Ranking the Big 12's Top 35 Players for 2011

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Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles should be one of college football's top receivers this year.

Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles should be one of college football's top receivers this year.

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the college football season with a look at the top 35 players for 2011 in the Big 12.

Several factors worked into the criteria for developing the 35 players: 

Previous production was weighed, but a heavy emphasis was placed on what we expect will happen in 2011.

In addition to just how good we think a player is, we weighed what impact he will have on his team’s success?

Positional importance – although running backs always produce the stats, we gave linemen a bump in our rankings to show how valuable they are to the team.

Pro potential – how highly-regarded is the player by NFL Draft standards?

1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (JR)
2010 stats: 111 rec., 1,782 yds., 20 TDs
Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered passing attack transformed Blackmon from a relative unknown to one of the top players in college football last year. Blackmon caught at least one touchdown and went over 100 receiving yards in every game last year. He led the nation with 20 touchdown catches, which also ranked seventh in NCAA history. Also, Blackmon led all receivers with 148.5 receiving yards a game and posted six games of at least 10 receptions. Blackmon was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, finished fifth in Heisman voting and claimed the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football last season.

Why he’s ranked 1st: After a standout sophomore season, what will Blackmon do for an encore? It’s possible a defense may hold him under 100 yards at some point in 2011, but it’s unlikely for him to suffer much of a drop in production. Even though Holgorsen departed to West Virginia, Brandon Weeden is back at quarterback, and Oklahoma State’s offense will once again rank among the best in the Big 12.  

2. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (SR)
2010 stats: 131 rec., 1,622 yds., 14 TDs
Broyles returns for his senior year in Norman after a record-setting 2010 campaign. He set nine Oklahoma school records, which included most receptions in a season and career, career touchdown receptions, receptions in a game and career receiving yards. Broyles led all receivers in college football with 131 catches and tied for fourth nationally with 14 touchdown receptions. He was also a Biletnikoff finalist and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors last season.

Why he’s ranked 2nd: With the emergence of Kenny Stills, Broyles may not reach 131 catches again this year. However, he should remain the top target for quarterback Landry Jones and one of the top receivers in college football. Broyles was named a first-team All-American by Athlon Sports and will likely battle with conference foe Justin Blackmon for the Biletnikoff Award. 

3. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor (JR)
2010 Stats: 3,501 yards, 22 TD, 8 INT, 635 rush yards, 8 TDs

There may not be a more valuable player to his team than Robert Griffin III. RG3 finished the season sixth nationally in total offense (318.15 ypg) and led the Bears to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. It was the first non-losing season in conference play for Baylor since 1995, and Griffin helped the Bears beat in-state rival Texas for the first time in 14 years.

Why he's ranked 3rd: Over the last two seasons, Baylor is 9-7 with RG3 in the lineup and 2-7 without him. There is little doubt that Griffin means more to his team than anyone in the nation. He is arguably the most explosive athlete to play the quarterback position, but is still an incredibly efficient passer after completing 66.9-percent. With a plethora of talented receivers returning, Baylor fans will be in for plenty of fireworks in Waco this fall.

4. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (JR)
2010 stats: 4,718 yds., 38 TDs, 12 INTs
There were some doubts about whether or not Jones could lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title entering last season. However, Jones answered the critics with a solid 2010 season and has Oklahoma on the verge of making a run at the national title. After throwing 14 picks on 449 attempts in 2009, Jones cut his interceptions to 12 on 617 attempts last season. Jones struggled on the road as a freshman, but tossed four touchdowns and threw for 468 yards at Oklahoma State and sliced Nebraska’s secondary for 342 yards in the Big 12 title game.

Why he’s ranked 4th: Jones earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year, but is poised to contend for first-team status in 2011. With receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills returning, along with tight end James Hanna, Oklahoma possesses a cadre of weapons. The junior should have another big statistical season and should find his way onto many first-team All-Big 12 ballots. 

5. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (SR)
2010 Stats: 4,277 yards, 34 TD, 13 INTs

Weeden blossomed into a star in his first year as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State. He quickly developed a deadly rapport with star wideout Justin Blackmon, leading the Pokes to the its first 11-win season in school history. The 11-2 record was the best in Stillwater since the Barry Sanders days of 1988.

Why he's ranked 5th: Weeden has to be one of the most poised and mature leaders in college football. He is married, was a second-round pick by the New York Yankees and turns 28 in October. Oh, and he set six major single-season school passing records in his first year as the starter. With the best offensive line in the conference returning and Blackmon to catch passes, another stellar year in Stillwater is all but certain for Weeden.

6. Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State (SR)
The best returning offensive lineman in the Big 12 helped lead the nation’s No. 3 total offense at over 520 yards per game. The Pokes also finished third in the nation in scoring offense at nearly 45 points per game. And Adcock protected the team’s most valuable asset, quarterback Brandon Weeden, by anchoring the line which led the Big 12 in sacks allowed at a measly 0.77 per game.

Why he's ranked 6th: While there is certainly cause for pause without offensive guru Dana Holgorsen calling the plays, the Pokes offense should still be among the nation’s elite. Adock leads what should be the league’s No. 1 offensive line and will be paving the way for talented sophomore backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith. If the Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American can keep Weeden upright once again, fans can expect huge numbers from the Cowboys again in 2011.

7. Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma (SR)
2010 stats: 109 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 INT, 1.5 sacks

Lewis has led the Sooners in tackles three consecutive years, entering 2011 with 362 total stops on his resume. He has topped 100 tackles in each of his three seasons in Crimson and Cream. Lewis has played in every game in his career and helped the Sooners to a 32-9 mark over that span – including two 12-2 campaigns.

Why he’s ranked 7th: “The sky is the limit for this team,” Lewis says. “If we keep making strides in the right direction we’re going to be a great defense.” A potential first-round NFL Draft pick, Lewis is the leader and spokesman of what Oklahoma fans hope is a national championship-caliber defense. With loads of talent returning all over the front seven, a fourth straight 100-tackle season is easily within reach for the talented senior. A trip to Tallahassee on September 17 will determine is Lewis’ prediction will come true.

8. Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M (SR)
2010 Stats: 72 rec., 1,066 yards, 12 TDs
Fuller, shockingly, produced the first-ever 1,000-yard receiving season in Texas A&M history in 2010. He basically set every major single-season receiving record a year ago and has a rare blend of size and speed. Fuller topped the 150-yard mark in three games last season and scored multiple touchdowns in four games.

Why he's ranked 8th: Even if he puts up modest numbers in 2011, the future first-round NFL draft pick will become the greatest receiver in Texas A&M history (if he isn’t already). A stellar offensive line, talented running back duo and senior quarterback return to College Station along with Fuller, creating the most excitement than the Aggie fan base has seen in recent memory.

9. Brad Madison, Missouri (JR)
2010 stats: 32 tackles, 11 TFL, 7.5 sacks
Madison began his career as an offensive lineman, but shifted to defense early in his redshirt freshman season. After registering only one tackle in 2009, Madison collected 32 last year and led the team with 7.5 sacks. Aldon Smith’s injury opened the door for Madison to get onto the field and his stats are even more impressive when you consider he had only two starts last year.

Why he’s ranked 9th: With Smith moving to the NFL, the door is open for Madison to be the full-time starter. The junior should be Missouri’s top pass rusher and approaching double-digit sacks isn’t out of the question. If the junior translates his production from a backup role over a full season of work, Madison could find his way onto All-American ballots by the end of 2011.

10. Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas (SR)
2010 stats: 33 tackles, 10 TFL, 1 sack
Randall, who has played in every game over the last two seasons, anchored what turned out to be the Big 12’s leading defense at 300.2 yards per game. Texas, despite its win-loss record, finished third in the Big 12 against the run. Randall earned honorable mention All-Big 12 a year ago.

Why he's ranked 10th: As a first-team preseason All-Big 12, and third-team All-American, Randall returns to lead the new Manny Diaz-led Longhorns defense. With some talented sophomores and Alex Okafor returning around him, Randall and the Burnt Orange defense should again be the strength of the team.

11. Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma (SR)
2010 stats: 71 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5 INTs, 14 PBU

Academic issues put Fleming’s eligibility for 2011 in doubt, but he has rejoined the team in time for fall workouts. Getting Fleming back for this season is a huge boost for Oklahoma’s secondary. Fleming entered the starting lineup for the first time in his career last season and led the Oklahoma defense with five picks. He also led the Big 12 with 14 passes broken up and earned honorable mention all-conference honors.

Why he’s ranked 11th: The Big 12 is weak at corner this year, but Fleming could be on the cusp of earning All-American honors if he turns in another solid season. He should finish as the conference’s top corner and his return has solidified Oklahoma’s secondary as the best in the Big 12 for 2011. 

12. Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma (SR)
2010 stats: 39 tackles, 13 TFL, 7 sacks

Alexander proved he can make big plays in 2010 by finishing second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks. His junior season culminated with a monster Big 12 title game against Nebraska. Alexander registered six tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks in the Sooners’ 23-20 title game win.

Why he's ranked 12th: Heading into 2011 as a first-team All-Big 12 selection, Alexander leads what looks to be a national championship-caliber defense. Alexander will team with Ronnell Lewis to form one of the most physical defensive end combos in the nation. With Travis Lewis, Tony Jefferson and company swarming behind him, Alexander could be wearing another Big 12 title ring in 2011.

13. Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M (SR)
2010 stats: 57 tackles, 4 INTs, 4 PBU
The Aggies expected Judie to make an immediate impact after transferring from Fort Scott Community College. However, he sat out his first year (2009) in College Station due to injury. Judie made it onto the field last year and emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big 12. He collected 57 tackles and picked off four passes, which earned him second-team All-Big 12 honors. He also became one of college football’s top kickoff return men, averaging 30.2 yards per return and taking two for scores.

Why he’s ranked 13th: Judie is a preseason first-team All-Big 12 corner by Athlon Sports. He is a physical corner in man-to-man coverage and should lead an improved Texas A&M secondary. Expect Judie to remain one of the nation’s top kick returners, while finishing behind Jamell Fleming as the top corner in the Big 12.

14. Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas (SR)
2010 stats: 113 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF

After leading the defense with 113 stops last season, Robinson is on the move for 2011. New coordinator Manny Diaz is moving Robinson from the outside to takeover at middle linebacker. Robinson will be the leader of a very talented group of Longhorn linebackers, which includes Emmanuel Acho and rising star Jordan Hicks.
Why he’s ranked 14th: The senior has been nominated to the Bednarik, Nagurski, Lombardi and Butkus Award watchlists for 2011. Robinson earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season, but should be in the mix to earn one of the first-team spots in 2011. Moving to the middle of the defense shouldn’t hurt his overall numbers and it would be a surprise if he wasn’t among the top five in the Big 12 in tackles at the end of the year.

15. Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri (SR)
2010 stats: 90 rec., 762 yards, 5 TDs
Egnew earned team MVP honors for the Tigers last fall after a consensus All-American season at tight end. He led all players at his position nationally at each of the three major receiving categories. Egnew was a finalist for the Mackey Award a year ago and is the favorite for the award in 2011.

Why he's ranked 15th: Egnew returns as the consensus first-team All-American for a team that has proven it utilizes the tight end as good as any team in the nation. With some solid talent on the outside, Egnew will be a nightmare match-up for most defenses along the seem once again. 

16. Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State (SR)
2010 stats: 55 tackles, 3 INTs, 10 PBU

Martin has flown under the radar the last two seasons, but is on the verge of a breakout senior year. He started all 13 games last season and is one of Oklahoma State’s top returning tacklers from 2010. Martin turned in a standout performance in the Alamo Bowl, returning a 62-yard interception for a score and registering four stops. Martin is regarded as one of the Big 12’s top hitting defensive backs.

Why he’s ranked 16thMartin has yet to earn all-conference honors in three seasons in Stillwater, but should be one of the Big 12’s top safeties this year. The senior has only one interception, but has 25 broken up passes in his career. Expect Martin to finish his career on a high note and contending for All-America honors is a reasonable expectation.

17. Dan Hoch, OT, Missouri (SR)
Hoch earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2010 as a part of a veteran Mizzou O-line that protected star quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Hoch is a two-year starter and boasts loads of experience at the right tackle position.

Why he's ranked 17th: As a part of one of the top offensive lines in the Big 12 (ranked No. 3 in the Athlon unit rankings), Hoch is a preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection for a team that brings back its top three leading rushers. Hoch has landed on the Outland Trophy watch list for 2011.

18. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (SR)
2010 stats: 1,133 yds., 12 TDs, 34 rec., 251 yds., 1 TD
Last season was a tale of two halves for Gray. Starter Christine Michael was lost for the year due to an injury against Texas Tech, which forced Gray to become Texas A&M’s No. 1 back. He rushed for only 195 yards in the first six games, but finished the year with seven consecutive 100-yard performances, including 223 yards and two scores against Texas. He also caught nine passes in a 9-6 win over Nebraska and scored four rushing scores in a 42-30 win at Baylor.
Why he’s ranked 17th: Gray earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season and is the conference’s top returning rusher. With Michael healthy once again, don’t expect Gray to shoulder all of the workload. Another season over 1,000 yards seems likely and considering the lack of proven running backs in the Big 12, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gray and Michael both earn all-conference honors in 2011.

19. Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas (SR)
2010 stats: 79 yards, 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, INT, TD
Acho finished second on the team in tackles a year ago for the Longhorns. He helped Texas lead the Big 12 in total defense at 300.2 yards per game and returned his lone interception 57 yards for a touchdown against Florida Atlantic. Acho earned honorable mention All-Big 12 in 2010.

Why he's ranked 19th: Acho returns with Keenan Robinson as the top two tacklers for the Longhorns. The Athlon Sports first-team preseason All-Big 12 pick has appeared in 35 games in his career and enters his second full season as the starter. The 6-2, 240 pounder should be in store for his best season on the 40 Acres.

20. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (SO)
A big part of Texas A&M's second half surge in 2010 was the development of the offensive line. And in only his true freshman season, Joeckel flashed All-American ability as the season closed. He helped the Aggies rank 23rd in total offense in the nation at 441.9 yards per game.

Why he's ranked 20th: As an elite recruit, Joeckel took very little time to prove his talents on the college level. He is a first-team preseason All-Big 12 selection in 2011 and will be paving the way, along with some other stellar blockers, for one of the most dynamic tailback duos in college football with Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. Much of the excitement surrounding this Aggie team is due to the development of Joeckel and his fellow hog mollies.

21. Lonnie Edwards, OG, Texas Tech (SR)
Leader of a underrated Texas Tech line. Earned second-team All-Big 12 honors last year.

22. Kelechi Osemele, OT, Iowa State (SR)
Iowa State offense rebuilding, but offensive line is in good shape. Osemele is highly-regarded among NFL scouts.

23. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State (JR)
Finished third in the Big 12 with 130 tackles and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors last year.

24. Dominique Hamilton, DT, Missouri (SR)
Missouri was undefeated with Hamilton in the lineup, but went 3-3 after he suffered a season-ending injury against Oklahoma. 

25. Jacquies Smith, DE, Missouri (SR)
The third Missouri defensive lineman to make the top 25. Smith earned second-team All-Big 12 honors after collecting 5.5 sacks last year.

26. T.J. Moe, WR, Missouri (JR)
27. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (SR)
28. Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State (SO)
29. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M (SR)
30. Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State (SR)
31. Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma (SO)
32. Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma (JR)
33. Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State (SO) 
34. Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma (JR)
35. David Garrett, CB, Kansas State (SR)

Just Missing the Top 35

Elvis Fisher, OT, Missouri - lost for 2011 due to knee injury
Blake Gideon, S, Texas
Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Tony Jefferson, LB, Oklahoma
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL, Texas A&M
Ronnell Lewis, DE, Oklahoma
Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
Lane Taylor, OL, Oklahoma State

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2011 Big 12 Predictions
2011 All-Big 12 Team
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011 All-America Team

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<p> Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the upcoming season with a look at the top 35 players for 2011 in the Big 12.</p>
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