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Thursday, August 25, 2011
Ranking the Big 12's top 10 safeties

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Safeties are a good group in the Big 12. Not outstanding, but good.

I didn't know what to do with the league's nickel backs, so here's what I came up with. It makes sense to me. For the position rankings, I grouped them with linebackers, because that's where they fit in each team's scheme.

As individuals, however? I lumped them with safeties, because their skill sets are most comparable with those type of players. Make sense? That's how it's going to be.

I see lots and lots of potential with young guys I think will be on this list a year from now, but didn't have the experience to land there just yet.

Aaron Colvin, Ahmad Dixon, Terrance Bullitt? I'm looking at you three.

Here's the top 10s you've missed so far: 1. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: Martin is the Big 12's most ferocious hitter, and one of its most enjoyable players to watch. His coverage skills improved greatly in 2010 -- intercepting three passes and breaking up 10 more -- and should continue in 2011.

2. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma: Jefferson already established himself as a force in this league, but one could argue he has the most upside of any player in the league after a strong freshman year in 2010. Drawing comparisons to Roy Williams is one thing. Having them not seem ridiculous is another. Jefferson's natural football instincts have allowed him to at least do that. He'll do plenty more as his experience grows.

3. Trent Hunter, Texas A&M: Hunter took the second safety spot on my All-Big 12 team, and he's probably got the best speed in my top three. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he's a bit undersized, but he's a big playmaker. He made 62 tackles and intercepted two passes for a vastly improved A&M defense.

4. Blake Gideon, Texas: Gideon is approaching his fourth year as a starter for the Longhorns, and should be a huge leader on for a young group of corners that will need him when the season kicks off. Gideon made 63 tackles and picked off one pass, while forcing a fumble and breaking up three passes.

5. Kenji Jackson, Missouri: Like Gideon, Jackson is loaded with experience. He finally got some help from his corners last season in what used to be a struggling secondary, but he'll need to be at his best as the Tigers break in a pair of new ones this season. Jackson has 22 career starts and has played in 38 games, and as a senior, he'll try to build on his career-high 66 tackles, five broken up passes and two picks from 2010.

6. Cody Davis, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders 118th-ranked pass defense (admittedly handcuffed by injuries) didn't have many bright spots in 2010, but Davis was one of them. He was second on the team with 87 stops (68 solo), made 6.5 tackles for loss and intercepted a pass.

7. Johnny Thomas, Oklahoma State: Thomas emerged as a solid option opposite Martin for the Cowboys, and one of the most underrated players in the league. He was a first-year starter at free safety and finished fourth on the team with 63 tackles, adding four interceptions.

8. Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State: Hartman will be one of the team's leaders as one of its most experienced talents and the league's best safeties. The hulking 6-foot-3, 206-pounder is imposing for opposing receivers and made 86 tackles with a pair of interceptions last season.

9. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State: Zimmerman's claim to fame is picking off Garrett Gilbert twice in one game, but he was pretty good in all the other games, too. He was second in the Big 12 in tackles among freshmen (74 stops, 4 TFL) and did it all as a freshman. Big things ahead for Zimmerman.

10. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: Vaccaro will challenge Martin as the league's biggest hitter, but he may move around a lot this year. Vaccaro spent plenty of time at nickel back, and may be there or at one of the traditional safety spots in Manny Diaz's new defense. He was a part-time starter in 2010 and made 75 tackles with eight passes broken up and one interception. The junior will try to add to his four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, too.