Devy Fantasy Football Conference Breakdowns: Big 12 (2021)
The series rolls on, and we continue to explore the college football landscape from a Devy perspective. Christian Williams will join me as we journey conference by conference, looking at the fantasy-relevant positions and prospects. Time to dive into the Big 12 Conference.
Oklahoma has been the college football cradle of QBs during Lincoln Riley’s tenure. That does not look to change as they boast arguably the two top players in the entire conference. Current starter Spencer Rattler has garnered conversation about the top pick in the 2022 draft. Caleb Williams is hot on his heels as the #1 dual-threat QB in the 2021 recruiting class per 247.
Elsewhere, all eyes are on Texas. A QB race with the Longhorns between Hudson Card and Casey Thompson looks to run through the summer. The winner still stands multiple seasons out from the NFL, but if Steve Sarkisian’s Alabama system translates, it could propel the winner similar to Mac Jones in the 2021 draft.
Texas Tech’s Tyler Shough, a transfer from Oregon, and Iowa St.’s Brock Purdy will likely make it into the 2022 draft next to Rattler. Long term, Oklahoma St’s Shane Illingworth arrived as the number 6 prostyle QB in 2020, and a massive 6’6″ 235-pound frame could put him on the draft radar.
Christian, what are your thoughts on the Oklahoma QB room? Who is your selection to win the Texas job, and do you expect production? Any other players stand out in your analysis?
I think, by now, we’ve all seen the Spencer Rattler hype train. The problem with Rattler is his inconsistency. Oklahoma has to be expecting a playoff win. If Rattler falters and some of the character concerns surface, I would not be shocked to see Caleb Williams on the field in meaningful situations as early as this year. Now, if Rattler puts it all together, he absolutely could be the top overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. There’s a lot of unknown there (or at least more than most would be willing to admit), but Rattler and Williams look to be high-value devy investments.
Thompson and Card are seemingly neck-and-neck right now. Thompson played better in the spring game, but most reports have indicated that they’re both having good moments (and bad moments) in spring practices. I lean with Card simply because I think he’s the higher ceiling play right now.
One player I have a slight radar on right now is Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson. As a late-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, he generated some buzz but decided to return to school. Another one: Max Duggan of the TCU Horned Frogs. I know, I know; he hasn’t been good, per se. But I expect a decent junior year leap following a much-improved body of work in 2020 (despite the loss of Jalen Reagor).
Bijan Robinson. Breece Hall. Eric Gray. Zach Evans. The Big 12 may have the best running back talent littered amongst its teams, and it’s going to be exciting to see who pulls away from the pack. Texas Longhorn Bijan Robinson burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2020, averaging 8.2 YPC and posting just north of 700 yards on less than 100 carries. He is a top-3 devy asset, even in Superflex leagues.
Breece Hall and Eric Gray provide immediate NFL projection. Breece is likely to lead the nation in rushing yet again, and Eric Gray is stepping into an Oklahoma offense that should fire on all cylinders. While I certainly am low on Hall compared to consensus (my 2022 RB3 and comfortably behind players like Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Tank Bigsby in my rankings). Evans has become a favorite in the devy community, and with good reason. His efficiency wasn’t too far off Robinson; he averaged 7.7 YPC and showed some pass-catching chops, as well.
Jeff, first, I want to know your thoughts on the group of high-value RBs. Secondly, talk me through some guys that I didn’t hit on; do you see a guy that could break into one of these tiers?
The Big 12 undoubtedly has the best RB talent in the nation at the top of the conference. A compelling case is being made across the Devy community for Robinson as the number one asset regardless of league type. If Steve Sarkisian leans on him similar to Alabama’s usage of Najee Harris, he can post league altering numbers.
Breece Hall and Eric Gray present a clash in styles, with Hall a more instinctual running back lacking high-end athleticism and Gray an athlete still refining his instincts. Gray strikes me as the biggest mover from this group; he could fall into a timeshare with veteran Kennedy Brooks or Marcus Major. Your Zach Evans love is well noted and warranted.
Stop me if you have heard this before, but Kansas St has a dual-threat 5’5″ dynamo. Deuce Vaugh exploded onto the radar last year with 1,076 total yards in a package that draws visions of Darren Sproles. From a Devy standpoint, you hope lightning strikes twice, but Vaughn’s progress will be fun to monitor.
Oklahoma or bust. The Sooners arguably feature five of the six best WRs in the conference: Marvin Mims, Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease, Mario Williams, and the newly arrived Arkansas transfer Mike Woods. Who will step forward to lead the group? Mims and Weese are the leading returning receivers, having each caught 37 passes. Spencer Rattler looks to launch a Heisman season, and this group is a significant reason.
The aforementioned sixth WR is TCU’s Quentin Johnston. An imposing 6’4″ player who will serve as Max Duggan’s go-to WR. Johnson amassed 487 yards as a freshman and has a great chance to emerge as the conference’s statistical leader. The lack of other conference options is concerning, especially given the conference’s offensive reputation and the fact Tylan Wallace was the only Big 12 WR chosen in the 2021 draft.
Christian, which Oklahoma WRs do you project to step forward, and who is your favorite NFL projections from the group? Any thoughts on Johnson? Do you favor another WR to emerge from the conference?
I’m a bigger Jadon Haselwood fan than most, even if not the most. I think we’re going to see him emerge in the offense in a big way, rivaling the production of Mims and Williams. Mims and Williams are good football players, but their size leaves me with a few questions about their NFL prospects. I think Williams’ frame will hold up, and the talent discrepancy between him and Haselwood may be there, so I guess I like him most as a devy asset.
Regarding Quentin Johnston, I am a big fan. He’s a top 10 devy wideout for me currently, and while he doesn’t come with the name on the front of his jersey, I fully expect him to continue making the one on the back a memorable one. He’s a guy that can go up and get it, and I think he’s in contention to be the first wide receiver off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft.
One more guy that I like that others don’t is Jake Smith, the junior wide receiver for the Texas Longhorns. For a highly-regarded recruit (4-star and top ten in his class), he hasn’t done a ton yet. He’s a solid route runner and can create space quickly. He should work underneath and into the intermediate areas of the field, and I think he’s due for a breakout type of season.
Two guys truly stand out for the Big 12 at the tight end position, from my perspective. Austin Stogner (Oklahoma) and Charlie Kolar (Iowa State) are two of the better returning tight ends in the country, let alone in the Big 12. Stogner had his breakout season in 2020, posting over 16 yards per catch and being one of the more sure-handed weapons for Spencer Rattler. Kolar has been more productive and for longer. Kolar is a top-five tight end in the 2022 NFL Draft class and certainly holds a ton of value.
Outside of those two, I’m intrigued by the duo at Texas: Ja’Tavion Sanders and Brayden Liebrock (Cade Brewer and Malcolm Epps are in the transfer portal). The tight end position is always reasonably barren, but what do you think of this group, Jeff? Are there any other guys you’re looking at within the Big 12?
Stogner remains the most interesting in NFL terms, functioning in a role that has already produced a top fantasy asset in Mark Andrews. The expectation of full recovery from a staph infection that led to losing 35 lbs and serving as a primary target in a potential Heisman campaign for Rattler should springboard him in the draft. Kolar falls into a traditional TE mold. He is not an eye-popping athlete; however, we’ve seen more conventional TEs like Cole Kmet and Pat Freiermuth catch substantial draft capital the past two drafts.
Talent-wise, the Texas duo would be at the top of this list, though the TE position has not been a prominent staple in Sarkisian’s scheme traditionally. Interestingly, Kansas St. TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe will accomplish a rare feat of playing for four different schools. Beginning with Florida during the 2015 season (before the Cubs broke the World Series drought and Lebron James delivered a title to Cleveland), he saw stops at USC and Illinois. He does not project as an NFL player, but a fascinating college football story nonetheless.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Oklahoma and Iowa St. are again positioned at the top of the conference, bringing conflicting styles that usually yield entertaining games. Given the interest from NFL franchises in Matt Campbell this past offseason and Lincoln Riley’s annual presence on wish lists, this may be the last year we see these two on the same field at this level.
The cupboard is not bare in Texas; Sarkisian could make for a quick turnaround and insert the Longhorns back into prominence. The rest of the conference will yield entertaining games as usual, though a clear underdog to watch does not stand out of the pack. Christian, bring us home; how do you see this conference shaking out?
To your point about the coaches and their upward trajectory, I think Riley needs a National Championship Title to stay. Still, Matt Campbell has firmly entrenched himself in the Iowa St. program. The Big 12 will be more competitive than people believe, in my estimation. If TCU can get more out of Duggan, they have top-25 offense written all over them. As you mentioned, Texas could be fun. And while Brock Purdy has been better than most (including me) give him credit for, I think the conference is Oklahoma’s by a margin. The combination of an elite coach with a seemingly elite quarterback and a sneaky good defense could see Oklahoma winning its first CFB Playoff game in 2021. Maybe even a title.
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