After capping off their second consecutive Big 12 crown, the Oklahoma Sooners will have to fill some big holes to fill if they intend on capturing a third this fall.
Two of the 10 toughest players to replace in the Big 12 this year played for Bob Stoops last season, and there’s an argument to be made for a few more departed Sooners. (A Heisman Trophy finalist and the OU’s all-time leading rusher didn’t even make the list.)
Other names on the list for 2017 include a workhorse running back from the Lone Star State, the conference’s defensive player of the year and someone who played for Kansas.
10 Toughest Players to Replace in the Big 12 in 2017
(In alphabetical order)
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
The Bears’ electric wideout terrorized opposing defenses in 2016 with his ability to get loose on any given play. He made his last game in a BU uniform a memorable one, torching Boise State in the Cactus Bowl for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 14 catches. New Baylor head coach Matt Rhule’s meat-and-potatoes offensive approach doesn’t exactly maximize Cannon’s strengths, so it’s not a surprise to see him headed to the NFL after three years in Waco.
Josh Carraway, DL, TCU
Carraway’s speed and length as an edge rusher fit exceptionally well into TCU head coach Gary Patterson’s defense. In three seasons as a starter for the Horned Frogs, Carraway proved to be a consistently disruptive force on the outside of TCU’s anti-spread scheme. Patterson typically has a plan for the next man up, but replacing Carraway might not be typical.
Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma
Evans struggled with consistency through the first half of the year before turning into the clear MVP of the OU defense down the stretch. He not only led the Sooners in tackles, but he also forced a bevy of turnovers that were turned into points. However, Evans appears on this list as much for who wasn’t behind him as what he did on the field. Stoops’ squad is staggeringly thin at inside linebacker heading into the fall.
D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
Foreman led the country in rushing in 2016 with an average of 184.4 yards per game, almost 30 yards per game more than the next closest finisher. Of course, he did that on nearly 30 rushes per game, which also led the nation. New Texas head coach Tom Herman definitely could have used a consistent back like Foreman to help ease through his bridge year.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Texas Tech’s 2016 game plan: “Let’s see what Pat can do.” Kliff Kingsbury essentially put his entire team’s fortunes in the hands of Mahomes. The Red Raiders’ gifted QB couldn’t do it all often enough to get Tech bowl-eligible, but he thrilled audiences trying. Whoever takes snaps in Lubbock next year probably has the biggest shoes to fill of anyone in the entire Big 12.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
Samaje Perine left OU with the school’s all-time rushing record, but the loss of his backfield mate Mixon looms larger. Mixon’s infamy away from the field overshadowed the fact that by the end of last season, he might have been the best running back in the country. At the very least, none of his peers could match his all-around skill set, which OU coordinator Lincoln Riley leveraged as well as you could ask of an offensive tactician.
Tyler Orlosky, OL, West Virginia
An underrated offensive line played a big part in a 10-win season that came out of nowhere for the Mountaineers. At center, Orlosky, a first-team selection for the all-conference team, was the cornerstone of the unit.
Fish Smithson, DB, Kansas
Not much to celebrate on the gridiron in Lawrence for the last few years, but Smithson constitutes an exception. The Jayhawks’ gritty safety finished in the top 10 of the conference in tackles in 2015 and ‘16. He also picked off four passes last year, including one in KU’s stunning upset of Texas.
Vincent Taylor, DL, Oklahoma State
Taylor was a load (6-3, 310) in the middle of the Cowboys’ defense for the last two years, as his size alone made life tough on opponents. Interior offensive linemen won’t miss battling him every week. Taylor logged 13 tackles for a loss this past season.
Jordan Willis, DL, Kansas State
A Bill Snyder special. The three-star recruit out of Kansas City with a limited list of scholarship offers blossomed into the best defensive player in the Big 12 by his senior year. A tenacious edge rusher, Willis led the Big 12 in sacks last season with 11.5.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.