Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 10 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2016
The Big 12 has a lot of roster turnover in 2016, but the league is headlined by a few standout quarterbacks, including Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Baylor's Seth Russell. Those four passers are among the Big 12's top players, but the conference also features a handful of names that need more attention. Kansas State fullback Winston Dimel, Oklahoma safety Steven Parker and Texas Tech running back Justin Stockton are just a few names to watch this fall.
The Big 12's Most Underrated Players for 2016
Jake Campos, OT, Iowa State
Campos is the lone returning starter on Iowa State’s offensive line this fall. However, the junior is a solid building block for coach Matt Campbell’s group, as Campos has started 23 games over the last two seasons and protects the blindside of quarterback Joel Lanning.
Winston Dimel, FB, Kansas State
A fullback is often a fossil in a league known for its high-scoring offenses and spread attacks. However, Dimel is a key cog in Kansas State’s offense and was a first-team selection on the 2015 All-Big 12 team. Dimel’s opportunities to touch the ball are limited. However, he certainly maximizes his opportunities. In 13 games, Dimel recorded 86 rushing yards and six touchdowns on just 28 attempts and caught eight passes for 261 yards (32.6 ypc) and two scores.
Ke’aun Kinner, RB, Kansas
Kinner was a key pickup from the junior college ranks on the recruiting trail for coach David Beaty, and the Texas native started his Kansas career with back-to-back 100-yard efforts. However, injuries took a toll on Kinner the rest of the year and limited him to just 566 yards and five scores on 134 carries. If he can stay healthy, and the Jayhawks are close on the scoreboard each week, Kinner could threaten 1,000 yards in 2016.
Ashton Lampkin, CB, Oklahoma State
The cornerback duo of Michael Hunter and Kevin Peterson was a solid pairing for coach Mike Gundy’s defense, but the cupboard is far from bare in 2016. Lampkin returns in a starting role after recording 31 tackles and five pass breakups in 12 appearances last year. Lampkin also started eight games in 2015 but missed time due to injuries. He also started four games in 2014 before an injury sidelined the Fort Worth native for the rest of the year. Assuming Lampkin stays healthy, he should finish his career in Stillwater as one of the Big 12’s top cornerbacks this fall.
Noble Nwachukwu, DL, West Virginia
Coordinator Tony Gibson has a major rebuilding effort on his hands this offseason. The Mountaineers return only three starters on defense and most of the back seven has to be replaced. The clear area of strength for Gibson’s defense will be the line, which could feature three senior starters. Nwachuwku is one of the proven returners for Gibson, as the Texas native enters 2016 with 26 consecutive starts. Over the last three years, Nwachukwu has recorded 86 overall stops and led the team with 13 tackles for a loss in 2015.
Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma
Anchored by cornerback Jordan Thomas and two standout safeties, Oklahoma’s secondary should be among the best in the nation this year – even after cornerback Zack Sanchez left for the NFL. Parker was thrown into the fire as a true freshman in 2014, recording 31 tackles in 13 games. The Tulsa native earned a starting spot in all 13 contests for the Sooners last fall and delivered a standout season, recording 60 tackles (four for a loss), 1.5 sacks and four pass breakups. The 6-foot-1 junior is just scratching the surface of his potential and it’s time to consider him among the top defensive backs in the Big 12.
Kent Perkins, OT, Texas
Texas doesn’t have a ton of upperclassmen in the starting lineup this year, so it’s hard to pinpoint a player on coach Charlie Strong’s roster that’s been overlooked the last few seasons. However, let’s give a tip of the cap to Perkins as he enters his third year as a starter. The Dallas native missed two games due to injury in 2015 but started the other 10 contests. In his career, Perkins has played in 29 overall games and recorded 24 starts. With Perkins and sophomores Patrick Vahe and Connor Williams returning, the pieces are starting to fall into place for the Longhorns’ offensive line.
Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech
DeAndre Washington was one of the nation’s most underrated running backs from 2014-15, but the Red Raiders have an intriguing replacement waiting in the wings. Stockton has been a change-of-pace option for coach Kliff Kingsbury over the last two seasons. On 61 carries in 2015, Stockton recorded 367 yards and five scores (6.02 ypc) and caught 22 passes for 341 yards and six touchdowns. Stockton’s big-play ability was on display in 2014, recording 396 yards and four scores on just 48 attempts. Not only should the junior be considered a breakout candidate for 2016, but it’s also reasonable to mention the first-year starter as an underrated player.
KaVontae Turpin, RB/Return Specialist, TCU
Three. That’s how many spots Turpin appears on for Athlon’s projected All-Big 12 team in 2016. The Louisiana native was a standout performer in his freshman campaign last season, leading TCU with 1,675 all-purpose yards and scoring eight times on offense. Turpin also averaged 10.6 yards on punt returns (with one score) and 27 yards per kickoff return last year. Turpin is one of the nation’s top all-purpose players and is due for an even bigger role this fall.
Taylor Young, LB, Baylor
Baylor’s defensive line was one of the league’s best units over the last two seasons and often overshadowed Young’s performance. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Young recorded 92 tackles (8.5 for a loss), four sacks and two forced fumbles. He followed up that performance with a solid sophomore campaign, amassing 80 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and one fumble recovery. Young is quietly one of the Big 12’s top linebackers and should earn a spot on the all-conference team by the end of 2016.