MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — From deep inside the MetroNews war room, we continue counting down the top 25 players heading into the Big 12 football season.
NFL potential factored somewhat into the criteria, though not as much as career achievement and a player’s value within each team’s system. So let’s get on with Day 4 of the countdown featuring Nos. 10 through 6:
10. ERIC WARD, senior, receiver, Texas Tech
NFL evaluators gave the 5-foot-11 Ward a third- to fifth-round grade, so he returned to Tech to begin work on his graduate degree and continue how good work against Big 12 secondaries. “If you can get your master’s debt-free and have the chance to enhance your spot, why not?” he said. “The NFL is always going to be there. If the NFL is not there, at least you have a master’s because the NFL isn’t for long.” Ward made 82 receptions for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012 and could approach Tech’s career marks with a monster campaign.
9. CHARLES SIMS, senior, running back, West Virginia
His Conference USA resume looked impressive and the graduate transfer’s practice habits during preseason camp left WVU coaches raving. A home-run threat out of the backfield and versatile enough to be the team’s best inside receiver, Sims looks every bit like the one-year wonder Dana Holgorsen envisioned.
8. JOSH STEWART, junior, wide receiver, Oklahoma State
Regardless who quarterbacks the Pokes, he’ll have a sure-handed target in Stewart, who’s coming off a 101-catch season in which he compiled 1,210 yards. Yet even those numbers left him overshadowed by All-American talents Terrence William, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. If Stewart tops the 100-reception mark again this fall, the 5-foot-10 slot receiver won’t be in anyone’s shadow.
7. AARON COLVIN, senior, cornerback, Oklahoma
With four cornerbacks taken in the first round of last April’s NFL draft, Colvin likely made a wise decision to return to school. He owns first- and second-round grades on mock drafts for 2014 and could cap his college career as an All-American if he improves on his 61 tackles and four interceptions. Colvin played safety as a sophomore and might be better suited to that position as a pro, but his coverage skills look plenty good for the college level—his difficult experience against Stedman Bailey notwithstanding.
6. DEVONTE FIELDS, sophomore, defensive end, TCU
His breakout freshman season—highlighted by 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks—helped the Frogs stay competitive in their Big 12 debut, but the sophomore slump began biting him way back in May when he was suspended by coach Gary Patterson for the first two games of 2013. That means Fields must miss the opener against LSU, a showdown in which TCU could have used all the talent it could muster.
11. Jace Amaro, junior, tight end, Texas Tech
12. Damien Williams, senior, running back, Oklahoma
13. Johnathan Gray, sophomore, running back, Texas
14. Gabe Ikard, senior, center, Oklahoma
15. Trey Millard, senior, fullback, Oklahoma
16. Justin Gilbert, senior, cornerback, Oklahoma State
17. Joe Bergeron, junior, running back, Texas
18. Calvin Barnett, senior, defensive tackle, Oklahoma State
19. Ty Zimmerman, senior, safety, Kansas State
20. Mike Davis, senior, wide receiver, Texas
21. Cornelius Lucas, senior, left tackle, Kansas State
22. Quinton Spain, junior, left tackle, West Virginia
23. Casey Pachall, senior, quarterback, TCU
24. Karl Joseph, sophomore, safety, West Virginia
25. Tevin Reese, senior, wide receiver, Baylor