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Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The Big 12's best returning ball hawks

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Predicting interceptions is nearly impossible, so I won't try and make a guess. What I will do, in the spirit of our past series, is highlight the players coming back to the Big 12 with the most picks in 2010.

If you missed our looks at the Big 12's rising stars earlier, here's a refresher:
This list might surprise you, but here are the leading returning interceptors in the Big 12.

Iowa State's Jake Knott
Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott is the Big 12's top returning tackler, and also had four interceptions last season.
1. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State. Oh, yes. Believe it. Is this the first time the league's leading tackler and leading interceptor have been the same player? If not, Knott has to be in rare, rare company. He made 130 tackles last year is one of a handful of Big 12 players who intercepted four passes a year ago. Knott picked off a pair of passes in the season opener against Northern Illinois, and added his two others in wins over Kansas and Northern Iowa.

2. Jarvis Phillips, CB, Texas Tech. Phillips was another player with four picks last year, and did it as a redshirt freshman, starting 10 games in his first year on the field. Phillips was part of a secondary that ranked 118th in the country, but he was second in the conference with 10 passes broken up. He's shown the ability to make big plays. If he and his teammates in the secondary can quit giving them up, the Red Raiders defense could take a big step next year.

3. Dustin Harris, CB, Texas A&M. Harris is another promising young player entering his junior season with the Wrecking Crew. Harris started the first 10 games of the season and broke up nine passes, and intercepted four. In the season opener against Stephen F. Austin, he got things started with a 38-yard return for a score on his first pick of the year.

4. Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M. Judie's exploits as a kick returner -- he replaced Christine Michael late in the season after Michael broke his leg, returning two of his 20 for scores -- got him more attention late in the season, overshadowing his efforts as a corner. After redshirting in 2009, he picked off four passes in his first season on the field, including picks against Oklahoma and Baylor. He'll come back as a senior this year with a great chance to land on the All-Big 12 first-team.

5. D.J. Johnson, S, Texas Tech. Johnson started eight games as a sophomore last season, but under new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow, made the switch to safety this spring opposite Cody Davis. Last year, though, he picked off three passes.

6. Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State. Martin is better known for his hitting prowess -- for good reason, he's one of the Big 12's hardest hitters -- but he also picked off three passes last year while manning centerfield for the Cowboys. He was already one of the Big 12's best safeties, and finished his junior season in style, helping swing a decisive Alamo Bowl win over Arizona with a 62-yard return for a touchdown against the Wildcats.

7. Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State. If Zimmerman had played every game against Garrett Gilbert last year, he might have finished with 20 or more picks. Zimmerman picked off the Longhorns quarterback twice in the Wildcats' blowout victory, but Gilbert threw five picks in that game. Zimmerman became a starter as a freshman, and if the Wildcats secondary is going to make big improvements this year, he and teammate Tysyn Hartman could help usher it in.