The Big 12 is known for its offensive firepower and high-scoring attacks, so it should be no surprise four of the top five players in the pre-spring top 15 rankings are quarterbacks. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield takes the top spot in the early ranks, but Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Baylor’s Seth Russell aren’t far behind. The theme with offense continues throughout the top 10, as Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine and two receivers – James Washington (Oklahoma State) and KD Cannon (Baylor) – make the cut.
As spring practice begins around the Big 12, it’s never too early to take a peek at what’s ahead in 2016.
With spring practice just underway and plenty of position changes or depth chart movement coming, this list could look a lot different by the time fall practice begins. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2015 statistics, pro potential, positional importance, projection for 2016, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2016, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.
Here’s a quick primer on the top 15 players in the Big 12 for next season, as well as a few names to watch.
Big 12's Pre-Spring Top 15 Player Rankings for 2016
Just Missed: Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor; Ahmad Thomas, S, Oklahoma; Jordan Sterns, S, Oklahoma State; Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma; Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State; Noble Nwachukwu, DL, West Virginia; Taylor Young, LB, Baylor; Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State; Fish Smithson, DB, Kansas; Dante Barnett, S, Kansas State; Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State; Denzel Johnson, S, TCU; Connor Williams/Patrick Vahe, OL, Texas; Travin Howard, LB, TCU; James McFarland, DE, TCU
15. Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State
Warren is one of the building blocks for new coach Matt Campbell. The Oklahoma native emerged as one of the Big 12’s top running backs last year by recording 1,339 yards and five scores on 227 carries. He will be running behind a revamped offensive line this fall.
14. Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor
Baylor’s backfield should be among the best in the nation, as this group goes four-deep with the return of Shock Linwood, Johnny Jefferson, Devin Chafin and Terence Williams. Linwood is the headliner for this group, leading the Bears in rushing over the last two years with back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns.
Related: Ranking the Big 12 Rosters for 2016
13. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
A breakout year was projected for Lee last season, and the Missouri native delivered with a strong 2015 campaign. In 13 games, Lee paced Kansas State's defense with 80 tackles (7.5 for a loss), ranked third on the team with five sacks and forced one fumble. He also earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.
12. Tyler Orlosky, C, West Virginia
West Virginia’s offensive line could be the best in the Big 12 next year. Orlosky is the anchor for coach Dana Holgorsen and enters 2016 with 29 career starts.
11. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson is one of college football’s top defensive players on the rise. The former five-star recruit started to scratch the surface of his potential last season, recording 61 tackles (seven for a loss), 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
10. KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Corey Coleman’s big-play ability will be missed, but Baylor’s receiving corps is loaded with another wave of standouts for 2016. Cannon is expected to be the go-to option for quarterback Seth Russell after catching 50 passes for 868 yards and six scores.
9. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Considering the talent at receiver in the Big 12 last year – Sterling Shepard, Jakeem Grant, Corey Coleman and Josh Doctson – it’s fair to say Washington was largely overlooked on a national level. Washington finished last season with 53 catches for 1,087 yards, averaging a whopping 20.5 yards per catch. Additionally, Washington’s four catches of 70 yards or more were the most by any receiver in 2015.
8. Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma
Walker did not record a start last season but was one of Oklahoma’s most disruptive players in the front seven. He missed the Orange Bowl matchup against Clemson, but Walker finished the year with 36 tackles (10 for a loss) and six sacks. He should slide into a starting role this fall.
7. Josh Carraway, DE, TCU
Injuries and roster turnover hit TCU’s defense hard last year, but the Horned Frogs still finished third in the Big 12 in fewest points allowed. Carraway was a consistent force for coach Gary Patterson in 2015, finishing the year with 47 tackles (11.5 for a loss), nine sacks and one forced fumble.
6. Jordan Thomas, CB, Oklahoma
Zack Sanchez garnered most of the attention and accolades in the Oklahoma secondary last season, but Thomas had a strong argument to make as the top defensive back in Norman. In 12 games, Thomas recorded 46 tackles, five interceptions and four pass breakups. He also earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2015.
5. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s two-quarterback system of Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh guided the offense to an average of 39.5 points a game last season. With Walsh expiring his eligibility, the focus of the offense shifts to Rudolph, but the junior is certainly capable of carrying this team. Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns last season – including 352 yards and 5 TDs against TCU – and is surrounded by a solid supporting cast at receiver.
4. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
Perine will miss spring practice due to ankle surgery, but all signs point to a full recovery by the 2016 opener. Perine followed a standout freshman season – 1,713 yards and 21 scores – with 1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015. He will team with Joe Mixon to form one of the nation’s top tandems at running back.
3. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Russell was off to a prolific start in his first season as Baylor’s starting quarterback, but a neck injury suffered against Iowa State ended his year prematurely. Prior to the injury, Russell threw for 2,104 yards and 29 scores to only six picks. All signs point to Russell returning to 100 percent by fall practice.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes is the next star in a long line of standouts for Texas Tech at quarterback. In his first full year as the starter, Mahomes led the nation by averaging 393 total yards per game and became just the sixth quarterback in FBS history to throw for over 4,000 yards and rush for at least 450 in a season. He’s a dark-horse Heisman candidate for 2016.
1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s offense got a much-needed boost last season, as coordinator Lincoln Riley was one of the nation’s top assistant hires, and Mayfield emerged as a Heisman contender in his first year in Norman. Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 scores and rushed for 405 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games. He was voted a second-team All-American by the Associated Press last season.