ESPN Insider KC Joyner pegged his top five breakout defensive players of 2012, and safe to say, I'm pretty psyched about it.
Two players from the Big 12 landed on his list. Here's a snippet:
2. Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
Byndom allowed only 54 net yards on 19 targets against Justin Blackmon and Jeff Fuller last season, two of the best pass-catchers in the Big 12. His 6.2 yards per attempt (YPA) allowed total was better than the YPA marks posted by Alabama Crimson Tide cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (6.6) and LSU Tigers cornerback Morris Claiborne (7.5), two coverage specialists who will likely end up selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
In addition, it cannot be forgotten that one of those targets against Fuller turned into a 58-yard pick-six that provided a much-needed spark to help Texas overcome a 16-7 halftime deficit to defeat the Aggies 27-25.
And No. 4:
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State:
Gilbert tallied a 5.2 overall YPA on 53 targets, totals that were highlighted by a 6.8 vertical YPA (on passes thrown 11 or more yards downfield) and an 8.5 stretch vertical YPA (on passes thrown 20 or more yards), both of which are dominant totals.
That type of coverage skill alone would get Gilbert on this list, but he went a step further by adding the rare perfecta of elite coverage skills and elite ball-hawking. His five interceptions were tied for second in the Big 12, and he nearly picked off six other passes. It should be a lot of fun to see who wins the battle for best cornerback tandem in the Big 12 honors between Byndom/Diggs and Gilbert/Brodrick Brown (6.9 YPA, first-team All-Big 12 last year).
Could not agree more on both of these guys. Byndom was one of the best shutdown corners in the Big 12 last season, but for whatever reason, he didn't quite get the recognition he deserved. I had him as the first-team corner on my All-Big 12 team.
As Joyner noted, both players have pretty impressive teammates across from them at corner, which helps. Granted, in the Big 12, you need more than just two good corners to have a great secondary, but these two guys are a couple of the best.
Gilbert's physical measurables are off the charts, and I have to think that confidence helped him in his first year as a starter. Byndom's instincts are a bit better, but both of these guys will be fun to watch this season. Keep an eye on them in the spring.