Defending conference champ Oklahoma has to fill some huge holes
The Big 12's pipeline to the NFL pales in comparison to other major conferences, and that's clear looking at the list of early entrants for the 2020 draft.
Just seven players are leaving Big 12 teams ahead of the schedule for the pros this year. That group includes reserve defensive tackle Houston Miller of Texas Tech, who recorded just three tackles in his entire career with the Red Raiders.
However, the Big 12's early entrants make up for what they lack in numbers with quality. They're creating major voids across the conference, with fresh faces vying to replace the likes of stars such as OU receiver CeeDee Lamb and Baylor defensive lineman James Lynch this fall.
Here are seven important names to track this offseason in the Big 12.
Gone: CeeDee Lamb, WR
In: Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease, rising sophomores
Lamb became one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country last season. He averaged more than 21 yards per reception, with 14 of his 62 catches resulting in touchdowns. He added one score on the ground.
The good news for OU head coach Lincoln Riley is that his team won't lack for talented young prospects to step into the starting lineup in place of Lamb, so expect a more egalitarian distribution of catches in the fall. Wease showed flashes of Lamb-like playmaking with the ball in his hands during his freshman season and should have a much bigger role in the offense this fall. Classmate Haselwood will most likely emerge as the most productive member of the receiving corps, though.
Gone: James Lynch, DL
In: T.J. Franklin, rising sophomore
Studs like Lynch, the 2019 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, don't come around often at Baylor. Opponents had to account for the edge-rushing terror on every play, yet Lynch still managed to notch 19.5 tackles for a loss in '19.
Franklin, a three-star recruit in last year's class out of Temple, Texas, saw action in 11 games in his freshman season. New Bears head coach Dave Aranda will be counting on him to make a big leap in his sophomore season and help solidify a defense that is losing nine of 11 starters from the '19 squad.
Gone: Jalen Reagor, WR
In: Quentin Johnston, incoming freshman
Receivers coach Malcolm Kelly scored a huge recruiting coup for the Horned Frogs in December when Johnston, a blue-chip, in-state prospect from Temple, flipped his commitment from Texas and signed with TCU.
The change of heart couldn't have come at a better time for TCU in light of Reagor's decision to try his hand in the NFL. Kelly and TCU head coach Gary Patterson likely sold Johnston on a quick path to the field. With Reagor out of the picture, he may quickly turn into the favorite target of quarterback Max Duggan.
Gone: Kenneth Murray, LB
In: DaShaun White, rising junior
Murray made huge strides for the Sooners in his junior season, his first under the tutelage of OU inside linebackers coach Brian Odom. Although expected, Murray's early departure leaves a massive hole at MIKE LB. Odom's plan for filling the opening in 2020 likely rests on shifting the other starting ILB in 2019, White, from the WILL spot to MIKE. White compiled 51 tackles in '19 and should acclimate quickly to his new responsibilities. Meanwhile, super-sub Caleb Kelly will probably take over at WILL after missing all but four games last year while recuperating from a leg injury.
Gone: Grayland Arnold, DB
In: JT Woods, rising junior
With former head coach Matt Rhule off for the Carolina Panthers, it comes as little surprise that Baylor would be contending with key losses to the draft. As an active playmaker at defensive back and second-team all-conference selection in 2019, Arnold is one of them.
Woods should get the first shot at stepping into the starting lineup for Arnold in 2020. He played in 14 games last season and rang up 36 tackles for the Bears. Woods' top priority will be acclimating himself to new head coach Dave Aranda's defensive scheme.
Gone: Ross Blacklock, DL
In: Terrell Cooper, rising junior
Cooper arrived at TCU in 2017 as a two-star recruit. In the mold of a classic Gary Patterson project, Cooper spent his first year redshirting and bulking up. He became a rotational player in 2018 and '19. This year, he will probably move to the first string to fill the hole left by Blacklock, who tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks and had 9.0 tackles for a loss this past season.
— 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.