MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — His finger straightened, his receiving unit intact and his Heisman website pumping out mountains of hype, Will Grier stands tallest in the pocket of the Big 12’s summertime splendor.
The conference confirmed as much Wednesday, when reporters chose West Virginia’s quarterback as the preseason offensive player of the year.
Grier racked up 3,490 passing yards in 2017, the fourth-highest single-season total in Mountaineers history even though he missed the final 10 quarters of action with a fractured throwing hand. Those 34 touchdowns were second-most in school history, and despite 12 interceptions, Grier finished the year No. 5 nationally in passing efficiency.
With Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph graduated, Grier wears the golden boy crown in a league trademarked by outrageous passing numbers.
Biletnikoff finalist David Sills, the nation’s leader in touchdown catches, also represented WVU on the all-preseason first team, as did left tackle Yodny Cajuste and outside linebacker David Long.
Breaking down all the preseason All-Big 12 selections, which is bloated as always, with 13 players on offense and defense:
PRESEASON ALL-BIG 12 OFFENSE
QB Will Grier, West Virginia
6-2, 212, Sr. — Charlotte, N.C.
Grier went 5-0 as a starter at Florida and 7-4 last year at WVU, eschewing the NFL draft in hopes of bettering a third-round grade. He pretty much avoided turnovers, aside from four interceptions in a disastrous home loss to Oklahoma State.
RB David Montgomery, Iowa State
5-11, 216, Jr. — Cincinnati, Ohio
He might be a star if not for playing in the anonymity of Ames. Montgomery posted a 1,146-yard rushing season with 11 touchdowns, overcoming mediocre line play by being the Big 12’s best runner at broken tackles. He caught 36 passes to boot.
RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
6-1, 220, Jr. — Katy, Texas
After a broken leg in 2015 and a broken neck in 2016, Anderson broke out in 2017 with 1,161 yards and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average that led the Big 12. (He averaged a season-best 9.1 against WVU). A rangy galloper in the vein of OU greats Peterson, Murray and Mixon.
RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
5-10, 185, Jr. — Tulsa, Okla.
The 2017 conference rushing champion, whose 15 rushing TDs also topped the Big 12, Hill opened his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. But Year 3 will be his first without the passing duo of Rudolph-to-Washington to relieve pressure.
WR Denzel Mims, Baylor
6-3, 209, Jr. — Daingerfield, Texas
While the Bears’ passing game slipped to fifth in the Big 12, Mims endured a shaky start to his sophomore season. But he wound up flashing some promising production: 61 catches for 1,087 yards and eight touchdowns). A big, fast target he’ll help make Baylor better than a one-win team this fall.
WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
5-10, 168, Jr. — Hollywood, Fla.
A junior college product who chose OU over West Virginia, Brown’s 19.2 yards per catch trailed only James Washington the Big 12. He’s a dangerous after-the-catch receiver whose strong second half of the season led to 1,095 yards and seven TDs.
WR David Sills, West Virginia
6-4, 204, Sr. — Wilmington, Del.
Those touchdowns came in bunches (18 to lead the FBS) and his first season as a full-time receiver resulted in Sills emerging a Biletnikoff finalist. Sneaky fast and fundamentally precise, Sills could be even more productive this fall given WVU’s array of targets.
TE Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma
6-4, 221, So. — Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
Mark Andrews hasn’t even gone to training camp yet with the Ravens and already Sooners fans are salivating over the next great OU tight end. Calcaterra played in all 14 games as a 220-pound true freshman, catching three TDs, and he’ll likely inch closer to Andrew’s 250-pound frame after a year of college training.
OL Dalton Risner, Kansas State
6-5, 300, Sr. — Wiggins, Colo.
The center-turned-right-tackle has been an All Big 12 performer at both spots, and he’s one of five starters returning on K-State’s offensive line. The only question is how he responds fro offseason shoulder surgery.
OL Bobby Evans, Oklahoma
6-5, 301, Jr. — Allen, Texas
With Orlando Brown gone to the NFL, Oklahoma will have a less-mammoth but still-talented blocker at left tackle. Evans swaps from the right side where he has started 26 consecutive games, and he’ll be crucial to OU’s first year under Kyler Murray.
OL Ben Powers, Oklahoma
6-4, 313, Sr. — Wichita, Kan.
For all the blue-chip recruits OU signs, Powers passed up a D-II scholarship out of high school and went the juco route in hopes of proving he belonged in DI. After 22 starts at guard for the Sooners, the gamble paid off.
OL Marcus Keyes, Oklahoma State
6-3, 309, Jr. — Port Allen, La.
He has started all 26 games at left guard since redshirting in 2015. Last season he was part of the first offense in Big 12 history to produce a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and two 1,000-yard receivers.
OL Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia
6-5, 321, Sr. — Miami, Fla.
Last December, Cajuste recently graduated with a degree in multidisciplinary studies and then reassured WVU fans that he would be staying in college for his senior season. That was the smart call for the left tackle, whose development has been slowed by injuries.
PK Austin Seibert, Oklahoma
5-9, 214, Sr. — Belleville, Ill.
The Sooners’ triple-threat specialist is worth at least a couple scholarships. With 361 points, he’s within striking distance of Michael Hunnicutt’s career record (450). Siebert’s 17-of-21 performance on field goals included a 51-yarder.
KR/PR KaVontae Turpin, TCU
5-9, 157, Sr. — Monroe, La.
Slippery and explosive, Turpin’s 16.3-yard punt return average would have led the Big 12 if he had enough opportunities to qualify. Can’t fault punters for kicking away from him, though. In 2017 he achieved a rarity of producing a touchdown by rushing, receiving, punt return, kick return and passing (vs. West Virginia) in the same season.
PRESEASON ALL-BIG 12 DEFENSE
DL JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State
6-2, 251, Jr. — Jacksonville, Fla.
An athletic edge rusher whose 10.5 sacks through two seasons put him on pace to break the Cyclones’ career record. He’s an excitable player — just witness the celebratory somersault that erased a three-and-out vs. Texas and led to a Longhorns’ touchdown.
DL Daniel Wise, Kansas
6-3, 290, Sr. — Lewisville, Texas
The Jayhawks don’t have Power 5 talent at many spots, but Wise has been legit for a couple of seasons. After 16 TFLs and seven sacks last year, he contemplated jumping to the NFL but stayed in school to work on upper-body strength and ”be able to play up to par with a lot of the grown men in the league.”
DL Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State
6-3, 250, Jr. — Tulsa, Okla.
His five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss stood out last year on a pedestrian defense that surrendered 29.4 points and 409 yards per game and yielded 39 percent success on third downs. Brailford appears primed after missing two seasons with a broken leg and a stress fracture.
DL Ben Banogu, TCU
6-4, 249, Sr. — McKinney, Texas
The 2017 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year made 16.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. Despite projections that he’d be a first-day draft selection, Banogu returned to TCU for his senior season. Explosive off the edge, TCU has even watched him blanket receivers while dropping into weak-side pass coverage.
DL Breckyn Hager, Texas
6-3, 255, Sr.— Austin, Texas
The ex-linebacker needed time to acclimate after shifting to defensive end in 2017, and eventually produced nine TFLs, four sacks, and three hurries. With a 38-inch vertical leap, he has unusual measurables that make him an NFL draft prospect.
LB Joe Dineen Jr., Kansas
6-2, 235, Sr. — Lawrence, Kan.
A bright spot for a Jayhawks defense that yielded 43 points per game, Dineen paced all FBS players with 7.6 solo tackles per game. He recorded 25 TFLs and his 137 overall stops were the most at KU in 28 seasons. Now he’s hoping to uplift a program that has won only three times in the past three years.
LB Dakota Allen, Texas Tech
6-1, 235, Sr. — Humble, Texas
A redemption project, Allen made 102 tackles last season in his return to Texas Tech after a year’s detour to junior college following an arrest in Lubbock. He also checked on his NFL evaluation before deciding to play his senior year in college. Texas Tech sure needs him after giving up 443 yards and 32 points per game in a 6-7 campaign.
LB David Long, West Virginia
5-11, 221, Jr. — Cincinnati, Ohio
Despite missing the first four games while recovering fro knee surgery, Long led WVU with 15.5 tackles for loss in 2017. He’s a high-impact, tasmanian devil of an outside linebacker who can be electric slashing through gaps. Proof that he never lets up? Those 2.5 sacks against Utah in a hopeless bowl game.
DB Brian Peavy, Iowa State
5-9, 194, Sr.— Houston, Texas
A 34-game starter at cornerback over three seasons, Peavy received a fifth-round NFL draft grade and returned to bolster the Cyclone defense. Feisty at 5-foot-9, he made 88 tackles and broke up 11 passes in 2017. He also made a key interception in the upset of TCU.
DB Kendall Adams, Kansas State
6-1, 228, Sr.— Fort Worth, Texas
The safety owns 28 career starts and will be surrounded by returning veterans on a K-State defense that ranked sixth in the Big 12 (426 yards per game) and fourth in points allowed (25.2) Eleven of his 61 tackles and two of his three pass deflections came in the 28-23 loss to WVU.
DB Kris Boyd, Texas
6-0, 195, Sr. — Gilmer, Texas
The Longhorns’ secondary lost underclassmen DeShon Elliott and Holton Hill to the NFL draft, but Boyd re-upped for another year in Austin. A former Texas state track champion, he recorded 15 breakups and two interceptions last season while making 12 starts.
DB Jah’Shawn Johnson, Texas Tech
5-10, 185, Sr. — Ennis, Texas
He started 12 games in 2017 and was denied a 13th while sitting out the first half of the K-State game for targeting. An undersized but active safety, Johnson made 97 tackles, including 68 solo.
DB Justus Parker, Texas Tech
6-0, 205, Jr. — La Vernia, Texas
What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on when three — THREE — Texas Tech defenders make the preseason all-conference team? Has David Gibbs turned a corner entering his fourth season? Parker intercepted four passes and forced four fumbles in 2017, when the Red Raiders for a league-best 29 turnovers.
P Austin Seibert, Oklahoma
5-9, 214, Sr. — Belleville, Ill.
With Texas boomer Michael Dickson in the NFL, the race for the Big 12’s best punter is wide-open. Siebert’s 42.3-yard average ranked fourth in the league, but his ratio of touchbacks to punts inside the 20 could improve.