Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big 12 [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Mailbag: Defending my top 25 players

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

I asked. You delivered. Here's where you thought I got it wrong with my top 25 players of the 2010 season. I'm on the road again today, so no chat, but here's your chance to be heard on the blog.

Before we get to the questions, here's a disclaimer: First, you can take a look at the criteria I used to make the list.

Secondly, making any list like this is extremely difficult. I feel 100 percent confident in my ranking of the players in order of their positions, but when it comes to importance relative to another position? Well, that's certainly up for debate. It's tough to say with any certainty that X safety is more valuable than Y offensive lineman, but I felt pretty good about the list. In hindsight, I'd maybe make a few revisions, but the only big change I would have made is maybe bumping DeMarco Murray up a few spots. His rushing and receiving totals aren't eye-popping on their own, but combined, I think I underestimated how his total yardage from scrimmage stacked up against the rest of the league's backs. I'd probably put him somewhere around 14 or 15.

Finally, here's my list of players who deserved honorable mention.

So, here we go:

Will in College Station asks: How is Ryan Tannehill not on the list? If Robert Griffin can make it on a 7-6 Baylor squad, how is Tannehill, who went 6-1 as a starter, not near, or ahead of Griffin, on this list? Tannehill was also a solid receiver for the Aggies at the start of the season. If you're talking total utility players, Tannehill has to be up there.

Mark in College Station asks: You crazy, son. What was A&M's record before Tannehill? What was their record after?... and his stats weren't half bad either.Point made. No one from Tech should have made this list -- Tannehill should at LEAST be number 25.

David Ubben: These are all oversimplifications. For one, Griffin is markedly more important to his team than Tannehill. Teams have seen him play. They game plan for him, and he beats them. The big fish got by Baylor last year, but they won a lot of games they should have won last year. That's new for Baylor. Both in a) winning games they're supposed to win and b) having so many games they're supposed to win.

The record is a ridiculous measure of Tannehill's play. He was a big part of A&M's rise. There's no disputing that. But there were a ton of other factors, too. Cyrus Gray was perhaps the biggest, along with the offensive line maturing with two freshman starters on the front line. Additionally, a defense that played pretty well early in the season played inspired against Oklahoma and Nebraska, giving the Aggies their two biggest games of the year. He played OK in all three games, and was a big reason why, but the Aggies didn't beat the Sooners, Huskers and Longhorns only because of Tannehill.

Citing his record doesn't work as the sole reason to put him on the list. There's too many other factors. And look at his numbers over that seven game stretch. He's not even close to Griffin, Weeden or Jones. They're close to Gabbert, but I made it clear in his post that the numbers don't tell the whole story with him.

I'm not wholly discounting what Tannehill did. I still think he's the fourth best quarterback coming back for the 2011 season, but in 2010, he wasn't on the level of the four quarterbacks on the list. And that's without even mentioning that he only played seven games.

Von Miller in Right Behind You asked: Why wasn't I #1? I will sack you.

DU: Let me step up into the pocket on this one.

It breaks down to this: Miller had a great year, one of the best in the nation. Blackmon had a historic year, one of the best of any player to ever play the game. As well as Miller played in conference play, Blackmon did that -- and maybe more -- for the entire season. Giving him the No. 1 spot over Miller wasn't a difficult decision. His production throughout the year was staggering, and as shown in the Kansas State game, it paced the Cowboys offense. Early in the year, their offense devolved into a "drop back and chuck it" at times. Guess why they felt comfortable doing that?

Aaron in Edwardsville, Ill., asked: I think you got Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden's rankings wrong, they should have been flip flopped. You aren't the only one who doesn't see this though, as every major publication had Weeden over Jones which makes zero sense. Jones had more yards, more touchdowns, less interceptions, played a much tougher schedule, beat Weeden's team on his homefield and won a BCS bowl game. There is no way Weeden should be above Jones in any ranking. That is all, rest of the list looks solid.

DU: Nope. It's close, but you can't simplify it to numbers for Jones. He threw the ball 106 more times than Weeden, but a lot of those were swing passes to Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray, which definitely inflated his yardage total without requiring a massive amount of skill. Considering that, their interception numbers (13 for Weeden, 12 for Jones) are pretty much a wash. But like I wrote before, Jones is much, much more apt for the big mistakes (INTs against Missouri in the red zone and fourth quarter, pick sixes against Oklahoma State and Connecticut) and for that reason, I give Weeden a slight edge.

Dalton Gibson in Norman, Okla., asked: I didn't see my name anywhere on the list. What gives? I thought I cheered pretty hard this year.

DU: Maybe next year, Dalton. Maybe next year. Keep the dream alive.

Jason in Dallas asked: Are you kidding me? Where is Cyrus Gray? He was the best running back in the Big 12 in the second half of the season!

DU: If he wasn't the best, he was close. You could make that argument for sure. But how do you explain his numbers early in the year? The win over Florida International aside, he averaged less than four yards a carry while getting double-digit touches against Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech. But what about when the Aggies hit their three-game winning streak?

Gray accounted for a whopping 7 yards on 11 carries without a touchdown.

Here's the bottom line: There's no question that Gray was one of the league's best the second half of the year, but there's a reason he wasn't getting the touches early in the season: Christine Michael was better. Over that first six-game stretch, Michael had 558 yards to Gray's 195. When Michael went down with the broken leg, and Gray's workload increased significantly, he exceeded everyone's expectations.

However, you can't ignore half the season. That's entirely unfair to everyone else in the league. He still finished just seventh in the Big 12 in rushing yards. The whole first half of the year, he wasn't a big factor. Accounting for the full picture of the season, that's about right. He was close to being in my top 25 again, but re-read my criteria.

"If I'm drafting players from the Big 12 to replay the 2010 season and I'm guaranteed that each player duplicates his 2010 performance, this is the order I would take them."

To just gloss over those first six games isn't fair. That said, Gray reached another level late in the year, and Aggies have a lot of reasons to get excited with him and Michael back on the field next year.

Andrew in St. Louis asked: On your Big 12 top 25 players list, you didn't even include linebacker Andrew Gachkar of Missouri on your honorable mention list. He finished the year with 84 tackles, 8.5 TFL, a sack, a couple picks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 pass breakups. He was a senior leader and arguably the most important force on the conference's top defense. I think he makes a strong case for the top 25 over linebacker Travis Lewis.

DU: Yeah, that was my mistake. I think he was a bit of an oversight on my part. That's partially because he a) came out of nowhere and b) played so well late in the year. I started with a big list of guys, but Gachkar wasn't on it to start. He should have been, and he'd probably have been pretty close to cracking the top 25. He wouldn't have been on it, but he wouldn't have been far off.

Rob in Stillwater, Okla., asked: So... Why wasn't Justin Blackmon higher on your list? I feel like he exceed expectations and performed far better than anyone on the list. You could have at least left #2 empty in his honor.

DU: In my defense, I did exactly that on my list of the Big 12's most improved players in 2010.

Derek in St. Louis, Mo., asked: Where was Aldon Smith? The guy is gonna be a first-round pick, but he's not one of the top 25 players in the Big 12? Come on, Ubbs!

DU: It was in my criteria: Each player's draft stock wasn't considered at all. Smith's talent is through the roof, but his production wasn't there this year. The broken leg he suffered against San Diego State was a big part of that, and when he returned, he wasn't quite the same, but look at his numbers:
I think Smith will have a good pro career, or he probably would have come back to the Big 12 and had a great junior year in 2011. But last year, perhaps through little to no fault of his own, the production didn't warrant inclusion on the list.

Brennan Huff asked: Dave, i'm a little concerned about your rankings of running backs, or rather, the lack thereof. Seems to me like you just dont give much love to the running backs across the conference on what has become a fairly consistent basis.

DU: I'd disagree with that. On my preseason list, I had five running backs, the most of any position. This year, there weren't very many guys in the league that defenses had to truly fear. Guys like Rodney Stewart, Roy Helu Jr. Cyrus Gray, Jay Finley and Rex Burkhead weren't far off the list, but they weren't quite good enough to deserve inclusion.