Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams could be a first-round pick in 2018 if he chooses to leave school early
Frankly, a few of the names below are serious reaches – especially the underclassmen. That being said, the quality quotient of those likely to hear their names called appears high. It wouldn’t be a shock to see four or five of these prospects get picked in the first round next April.
In alphabetical order, here are the top 25 NFL prospects who will take the field for Big 12 teams in the fall.
Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma (R-Jr., 6-4, 250)
Given Andrews’ measurables and athleticism, the fourth-year junior will probably find some interest from scouts. The split tight end might also face some skepticism about his ability to block on an NFL level.
Dorance Armstrong Jr., DL, Kansas (Jr., 6-4, 245)
Armstrong persevered through yet another miserable KU football season, notching a league-leading 20 tackles for a loss last year from his position as a weak-side defensive end. Another year like that could present him with the opportunity to declare early.
Dravon Askew-Henry, DB, West Virginia (R-Jr., 6-0, 195)
Askew-Henry suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason practice that took a big bite out of the WVU D. If he continues on the trajectory he was on a year ago, this season might be the free safety’s last in Morgantown. Scouts will certainly want to see that he has made a full recovery, though.
Orlando Brown, OL, Oklahoma (R-Jr., 6-8, 360)
Speculation abounded about OU’s mammoth left tackle declaring early last season, his third as a Sooner. Brown left little doubt about his intentions, though, and will be the cornerstone of one of the better offensive lines in the country this fall. If he continues on his current trajectory, the son of former NFL lineman Orlando “Zeus” Brown could work his way into the first round in 2018.
Kamari Cotton-Moya, DB, Iowa State (Sr., 6-1, 200)
Cotton-Moya flew under the radar on the Cyclones defense last year, but he still found himself in the second-team All-Big 12 lineup. NFL scouts will be paying much closer attention to ISU’s free safety in the fall.
Zach Crabtree, OL, Oklahoma State (R-Sr., 6-7, 310)
For the second year in a row, the 2018 crop of offensive tackles appears fairly thin. That’s good news for Crabtree. With Victor Salako gone, the Cowboys will count on Crabtree to anchor their line.
Justin Crawford, RB, West Virginia (Sr., 5-10, 198)
The 2016 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year caused a stir in Morgantown by averaging 7.3 yards per carry in his first season as a Mountaineer. Highlights included a staggering 331 yards in a loss to OU. This year, Dana Holgorsen will make Crawford the focal point of WVU’s offense.
Will Geary, DL, Kansas State (R-Sr., 6-0, 298)
Geary combined with Jordan Willis and Reggie Walker last season to give KSU a formidable defensive line. In 2017, he’ll have to prove that he was more than just the beneficiary of playing alongside the conference’s best defender in Willis.
Travin Howard, LB, TCU (Sr., 6-1, 213)
Gary Patterson loves to groom rangy safety-linebacker hybrids for his anti-spread defensive scheme. Howard has thrived in that role for the Horned Frogs, ringing up 225 tackles in the last two years. As the NFL adapts to slow spread-influenced offenses, players with Howard’s skill set could be in greater demand.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas (Jr., 6-3, 240)
Jefferson was a beastly freshman in 2015, but he stagnated in year two as the rest of UT’s defense fell apart around him. He’ll get the opportunity to let loose this season under new defensive mastermind Todd Orlando. That will offer a chance for him to regain his rookie form.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (Sr., 6-4, 223)
Lazard has been one of few bright spots for ISU in the last three years. His physicality and skill set will make him appealing to personnel evaluators, even if he doesn’t play for a winning team.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (R-Sr., 6-1, 212)
It wouldn’t feel right to leave one of the top quarterbacks in the country off this list. On the other hand, Mayfield isn’t the kind of signal-caller scouts drool over: an undersized ad-libber playing in the Air Raid. OU’s field general seems to thrive on doubt, but he will face an uphill climb just to get to the pros.
Jeffery Mead, WR, Oklahoma (Sr., 6-5, 187)
Mead is a little bit of a sleeper after catching only 10 balls a year ago. OU is looking for a new deep threat, however, and Mead’s size makes him a dangerous target down the field. The Sooners have plenty of production to replace in the receiving corps, and Mead stands as good of a chance of stepping in to replace Dede Westbrook as any of OU’s wideouts. That should give him an abundance of chances to get the attention of NFL scouts.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma (r-Sr., 6-1, 242)
“Obo” broke out last season for the Sooners as one of the top pass rushers in the country. He will play a key role in OU’s new four-man front, stationed on the weak-side edge. Teams that run a 3-4 defense will certainly give him a look as an outside linebacker.
Steven Parker, DB, Oklahoma (Sr., 6-1, 203)
Parker won’t overwhelm talent evaluators with his athleticism. He does play solid football in both pass coverage and run support. He’s reminiscent in that regard of former OU safety Tony Jefferson, who just signed a lucrative contract extension with Baltimore.
Byron Pringle, WR, Kansas State (Jr., 6-2, 205)
Pringle gave the Wildcats a big-play threat in an otherwise methodical offense, averaging more than 16 yards per catch. The junior college transfer also can do some major damage as kickoff and punt returner.
D.J. Reed, DB, Kansas State (Jr., 5-9, 188)
Reed is another Bill Snyder special. The JUCO transfer out of Cerritos (Calif.) College earned the league’s defensive newcomer of the year in season one in Manhattan and a first-team spot on the all-conference team. The super productive CB also returns kicks.
Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas State (R-Jr., 6-4, 300)
Risner started at center as a redshirt freshman in 2015 before sliding over to right tackle last season. The move didn’t hamper him on the field as he garnered a spot on the All-Big 12 squad. That versatility will play well in the eyes of NFL scouts.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (Sr., 6-5, 230)
OSU might have its next first-round NFL QB on the roster this year. Rudolph absolutely looks the part of an NFL gunslinger, packing 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. He also has arm strength to spare. What he lacks, however, are the spotlight wins to indicate that he’s more than just a nice collection of QB tools.
K.J. Smith, DL, Baylor (R-Sr., 6-2, 260)
Smith tied for fifth in the Big 12 in sacks last year with seven and also tied for fifth in tackles for a loss with 12. Playing in new head coach Matt Rhule’s defense gives him an opening to take one more step forward this season in preparation for the NFL.
Ty Summers, LB, TCU (R-Jr., 6-2, 235)
Summers, a San Antonio product, tallied 121 tackles a year ago, second to only his teammate Travin Howard in Big 12 play. He’s probably a year away from truly being ready for the big leagues.
Jordan Thomas, DB, Oklahoma (Sr., 6-0, 186)
Thomas had an up-and-down 2016 campaign, which brought him back for another go-round as OU’s top cover man. Thomas has flashed all the skill to be an NFL corner. Consistency will be the key this fall.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State (Sr., 6-0, 205)
Washington and Rudolph together give the Cowboys arguably the best QB-receiver combo in the nation. The speedster has averaged about 20 yards per catch in the last two seasons while snagging more than 120 balls. Another year like that will put him in the conversation for the first round next year.
Chad Whitener, LB, Oklahoma State (R-Sr., 6-0, 240)
The Cowboys suffered some key losses from last season’s defensive unit, including Jordan Sterns and Devante Averette, their two leading tacklers. Mike Gundy will look to Whitener as the backbone of the D in ‘17, serving up an opportunity to wow the scouts in his final season in Stillwater.
Connor Williams, OL, Texas (Jr., 6-5, 290)
The Longhorns’ ignominious streak of years without an offensive lineman selected in the draft will end whenever Williams decides he is ready for the pros. In fact, he might give UT a first-rounder. Tom Herman is probably hoping Williams decides to stick it out for all four years to help ease the ‘Horns into his new era.
— 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.