MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Today concludes our countdown of the top 25 players in the Big 12, and to be sure, Nos. 1-5 could have been interchangeable.
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 the final day of the rankings, in which we reveal the best the league has to offer:
5. Jason Verrett, cornerback, TCU
The former junior college transfer has endured quite the career pendulum—from being torched by RG3 in his first game at TCU to becoming an All-American a year later. His six interceptions led the Big 12 as did his 16 pass breakups. He was especially useful in the 2012 win at WVU, intercepting a pass to set up one touchdown and blocking a field goal in OT. Though Verrett gave up a touchdown to Stedman Bailey, he otherwise clamped down on the Biletnikoff finalist by holding him to a season-low two catches. Why is he not No. 1? Well, it’s nitpicky, but we’ll dock him a few spots based on offseason meniscus surgery, even though he played through the injury during the latter stages of his junior season.
4. Jackson Jeffcoat, senior, defensive end, Texas
A torn pectoral muscle against Oklahoma sidelined Jeffcoat for the final seven games of 2012 and essentially guaranteed his return to school. Blessed with an NFL lineage and an 4.6 burst in the 40, Jeffcoat performs like an NFL speed rusher. He has 14.5 sacks and 38 tackles for loss in 27 career games but no conference championships. In fact, Texas is only six games over .500 in Jeffcoat’s first three seasons. With 19 starters back this season, that all could change.
3. Cyril Richardson, senior, offensive guard, Baylor
From a promising left tackle as a sophomore, Richardson shifted to guard last season and became even more productive. He earned the coaches’ vote as the Big 12′s best offensive lineman and there’s no reason to suspect the 6-5, 335-pounder will relinquish that title this fall. Three guards were taken among the top 20 of last April’s draft and Richardson figures to keep that trend going next year.
2. Lache Seastrunk, junior, running back, Baylor
Yes, Baylor has produced a Heisman quarterback and a Biletnikoff finalist the past two seasons, but coach Art Briles demands balance from his team’s running game. (“We’re going to run the football,” he said, adding that his goal is “two 1,500-yard receivers and two 1,000-yard rushers every year.”) If Seastrunk has his way, he’ll take care of that rushing total all by himself, vowing that he plans to “creep up on 2,500 yards” this season. That would be quite a creep, indeed, but Seastrunk might have a shot if he gets enough carries. He amassed 1,031 yards last season on only 131 rushes, becoming one of only five FBS players with 100 carries to average 7 yards per carry. One of the others was Johnny Manziel, who has a certain trophy Seastrunk covets.
1. Quandre Diggs, junior, cornerback, Texas
Against the pinpoint passing attacks of the Big 12, cover corners are at a premium, and Diggs sets up to be the league’s best. The brother of Quentin Jammer came to Texas as America’s top-rated high school cornerback and has eight interceptions while making 24 starts. Blessed with sub-4.5 wheels, he projects to be a first-round NFL selection—perhaps as early as next spring. But first comes the task of helping the 2013 defense put last season’s Texas travesty behind it.
6. Devonte Fields, sophomore, defensive end, TCU
7. Aaron Colvin, senior, cornerback, Oklahoma
8. Josh Stewart, junior, wide receiver, Oklahoma State
9. Charles Sims, senior, running back, West Virginia
10. Eric Ward, senior, receiver, Texas Tech
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