Big 12: Deante Burton

Kansas State graduated a pair of All-Big 12 receivers. How do the Wildcats plan to cope?

Departed: In 2014, Tyler Lockett became the all-time leading receiver at K-State. He capped his fabulous career with 106 receptions, 1,515 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Curry Sexton was a second-team all-conference selection after finishing fourth in the Big 12 with 1,059 receiving yards on 79 catches. Tight end Zach Trujillo is also gone. He was third on the team with 389 receiving yards.

Spring contenders: Junior Deante Burton, sophomore Judah Jones, senior Kody Cook, senior Andre Davis, senior Kyle Klein, senior Stanton Weber, freshman Dominique Heath

Summer contenders: Freshman Isaiah Zuber

The skinny: No matter who steps up, the Wildcats' passing game is going to take a huge step back. That's what happens when a school graduates a quarterback like Jake Waters and a pair of receivers like Lockett and Sexton. That doesn't mean K-State can't form a competent passing attack in 2015, though. But the Wildcats will need a couple of reliable pass-catchers to emerge. Burton, Cook and Jones are the best bets. Burton didn't catch a pass in K-State's final three games last season. But he had some moments in 2014. Cook was a consistent third or fourth option for Waters last year. Jones is a versatile big-play threat. The Wildcats had high hopes for Davis coming out of junior college, but he was never able to crack the rotation. With a season on campus behind him, he could be more consistent. Klein, the younger brother of former K-State QB Collin Klein, started three games in 2013, but missed all of last season with an injury. Weber is a former walk-on who was just put on scholarship. Heath could help the Wildcats out of the slot after putting on weight while redshirting last season. Zuber could be a factor once he gets to Manhattan; he had offers from the likes of Virginia Tech and Boston College, though he'll need to add some bulk to contribute.

Prediction: K-State fans are going to feel like they were spoiled. Lockett and Sexton were simply unbelievable last season. The Wildcats return neither the experience nor that level of talent. Burton, Cook and Jones will adequately step into their bigger roles. Getting Klein back will help. And Davis will turn into a capable deep threat. But 2015 will also be full of growing pains at the position.
This week, we’ve started a new series examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Kansas State Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Jasen VinloveUSA TODAY SportsKansas State's Tyler Lockett is one of the top wideouts in the nation.
Most indispensable player: Receiver Tyler Lockett

Why Kansas State can’t afford to lose him: A do-it-all playmaker, Lockett should be the centerpiece of the Wildcats’ offensive game plans this season.

With John Hubert and Tramaine Thompson completing their eligibility, along with Daniel Sams’ transfer, Kansas State is searching for additional playmakers. Until they find some, the burden will fall on Lockett’s shoulders.

Fortunately for K-State, Lockett is one of the few Big 12 stars who can handle such a burden. The senior is arguably the best receiver in the Big 12, and he has the ability to change games with his return skills. Last season he had 81 receptions for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also averaged 26.5 yards per kick return with 36.4 percent of his returns going for 30 yards or more.

Yet Lockett’s impact is bigger than numbers.

After making the majority of his impact as a freshman returner, Lockett has worked hard to transform into a polished receiver heading into his senior season. His route running is much improved and his consistency makes him a coach’s best friend. His quickness, shiftiness and overall speed make him a valuable asset for any offense.

Outside of Lockett, the rest of the Wildcats' roster recorded 44 receptions in 2013, with Curry Sexton (39) and Kyle Klein (5) as the lone returnees with a reception a season ago. On the remainder of the roster, Deante Burton and Judah Jones were among KSU’s other receivers who emerged from spring football looking like they have the skills to help take attention off Lockett.

But no receiver on the roster could fill the void left by the Tulsa, Okla., native. Lockett’s ability to change a game in so many different ways makes him a player the Wildcats cannot afford to lose.
Kansas State will have one less weapon at its disposal this fall.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesDaniel Sams accounted for 1,261 total yards and 15 scores last season.
Daniel Sams decision to leave KSU is a clear step backward for the Wildcats offense as the former quarterback turned receiver was one of the Big 12’s most explosive players. In 2013, he was a useful and versatile weapon, leading all Big 12 quarterbacks with 807 rushing yards, ranking No. 3 in the conference in Total QBR (83.4 on a scale of 100 with 50 being average) and tied for fifth in the Big 12 with 11 touchdowns.

This spring, Sams moved to receiver and failed to make a mark in the offense, likely sparking his plan to transfer. He had two receptions for 9 yards in the spring game.

Sams' transfer takes away options for Bill Snyder’s offense, a group searching for playmakers after the departures of running back John Hubert and receiver Tramaine Thompson. Even if Sams never found his footing at receiver this fall, he still could have been a valuable weapon as a Wildcat quarterback in short yardage situations and provided a quality safety net behind starting quarterback Jake Waters.

Redshirt freshman Jesse Ertz and sophomore Joe Hubener are battling to be Waters’ backup, leaving the Wildcats with inexperienced signal-callers behind their senior starter. Hubener played in one game last season with no pass attempts, while Ertz redshirted.

The Wildcats should be fine at receiver with Tyler Lockett, arguably the conference’s top receiver, and Curry Sexton, who brings veteran experience to the group. Deante Burton, Andre Davis and Judah Jones also could help fill the playmaking void in KSU’s passing game.

On the surface, Sams’ departure doesn’t look like a major setback as he saw limited action for KSU in the home stretch of the 2013 season, with just one pass attempt and nine carries for 23 yards in the final three games of the year.

But, make no mistake: Sams was one of KSU’s top 11 players on the offensive side of the ball. Snyder would have found a way to use him, even in special situations, to help the Wildcats create problems for defenses. Even though they have done it before, Sams’ big-play ability will be tough to replace and creates one more obstacle between the Wildcats and their hopes of winning their second Big 12 title in three seasons.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring, continuing Friday with Kansas State’s projected post-spring depth chart.

OFFENSE (projected starter in bold)

QB: Jake Waters (Sr.), Jesse Ertz (RFr.)

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters' emergence late last season solidified Kansas State's offense and has the Wildcats set up for a big 2014.
Waters becomes the unquestioned leader and main man behind center with Daniel Sams' move to receiver. The senior was one of the conference’s top quarterbacks during the final month of the 2013 season and gives the Wildcats plenty of confidence as a trigger man of the offense. Ertz showed good potential in the spring and could be the future at the position. KSU is one of the few Big 12 squads with a settled and productive starter and quality depth, as Sams is able to line up behind center at any point if need be.

RB: Charles Jones (So.), Jarvis Leverett (So.), DeMarcus Robinson (Sr.)

The battle to become John Hubert's successor remains wide open. Jones and Leverett had solid spring games while Robinson sat out, but none of the Wildcats running backs currently on campus distanced himself from the competition in the spring. The summer will bring new competitors into the mix, including true freshman Dalvin Warmack.

FB: Glenn Gronkowski (So.), Zach Nemechek (Sr.)

Gronkowski could be ready to stake his claim as the Big 12’s top fullback. He’s an solid runner, receiver and blocker and should continue to see his role in the offense expand as a sophomore. Nemechek has been a special teams performer and provides a solid backup option at the position.

WR: Tyler Lockett (Sr.), Curry Sexton (Sr.), Deante Burton (So.), Andre Davis (Jr.), Judah Jones (RFr.), Daniel Sams (Jr.), Kyle Klein (So.)

Lockett could be considered the Big 12’s best receiver and gives Waters a consistent target when he’s healthy. Sams is a proven playmaker, but it remains to be seen if he can transfer his explosiveness to his new position. Sexton was solid in his role last season and could be a key target during his final season. Keep an eye on Jones, who impressed with a strong spring showing and could be a much-needed playmaker alongside Lockett. If at least two additional targets emerge to join Lockett, this could be one of the conference’s top groups.

TE: Zach Trujillo (Sr.), Cody Small (RFr.)

Trujillo is a returning starter and a veteran in KSU’s offense. He won’t break the Big 12 record for pass receptions but is a productive player who could be a big target in the passing game and a key to the Wildcats' offense.

C; BJ Finney (Sr.), Reed Bergstrom (Jr.)

G: Boston Stiverson (Jr.), Drew Liddle (Sr.), Luke Hayes (Jr.), Will Ash (So.)

T: Cody Whitehair (Jr.), Matt Kleinsorge (Jr.), Reid Najvar (RFr.), Ajhane Brager (RFr.)

Bill Snyder’s desire to get the best five offensive linemen on the field means this group will likely remain fluid with veterans such as Whitehair, who has moved from guard to tackle, and Finney as the foundation of the line. Overall, the Wildcats should have a pretty solid and deep group of offensive linemen despite losing several seniors off last year’s front.

DEFENSE

DE: Ryan Mueller (Sr.), Marquel Bryant (Jr.), Laton Dowling (Sr.)

DT: Travis Britz (Jr.), Valentino Coleman (Sr.), Will Geary (RFr.)

[+] EnlargeTravis Britz
Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/MCTK-State's opponents will have their work cut out for them in trying to block junior defensive tackle Travis Britz.
Much like the offensive line, K-State has a veteran and productive group along the defensive front. There are still jobs left to be won, but Mueller and Britz are among the Big 12’s best at their positions and provide consistent production. Add ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales into the mix and this defensive line group should be a big reason to consider Kansas State a conference title contender.

LB: Jonathan Truman (Sr.), Will Davis (So.), Dakorey Johnson (Sr.), Charmeachealle Moore (Jr.)

Truman returns after breakout junior season which featured 89 tackles in 13 starts for the Wildcats. Davis appears ready to slide into the starting lineup after impressing as a redshirt freshman, while Johnson and Moore should provide solid depth at the position but will have to battle to maintain their roles with ESPN JC 50 linebacker D'Vonta Derricott arriving in the summer.

CB: Randall Evans (Sr.), Morgan Burns (Jr.), Nate Jackson (Jr.), Cre Moore (RFr.), Danzel McDaniel (Jr.), Corey Jackson (RFr.)

Burns was one of KSU’s stars of the spring and appears to have settled into the No. 1 cornerback spot. The rest of the Wildcats cornerbacks are battling for the other starting spot outside of Evans, who started 11 games as KSU’s nickelback in 2013 and is lone returning starter of the group. While KSU lost experience at corner, the Wildcats might have upgraded in terms of overall talent.

S: Dante Barnett (Jr.), Dylan Schellenberg (Sr.), Sean Newlan (RFr.), Weston Hiebert (Sr.)

Barnett is a star and one of the more underrated defenders in the Big 12, while Schellenberg got plenty of experience when Ty Zimmerman was sidelined by injury last season. Barnett is probably the only safety with a secure spot in KSU’s defensive plans, so expect the battle for playing time to continue deep into August.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: WRs

April, 30, 2014
4/30/14
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With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Wednesday with receivers (and tight ends). These outlooks could look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.

2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.

3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.

4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.

5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.

6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.

7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.

8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.

10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.

Spring game review: Kansas State

April, 28, 2014
4/28/14
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Kansas State concluded spring ball in the Big 12 with its spring game over the weekend. The purple squad, comprised of the first-teamers, held off the backup white squad, 23-13. Here's more of what happened:

Best offensive performance: Quarterback Jake Waters carried over his strong 2013 finish into a crisp spring game performance. He completed 26 of 38 passes for 227 yards and rushed for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Best defensive performance: Veteran nickelback Randall Evans and defensive end Ryan Mueller were both terrific. Evans led all defenders with eight tackles, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, which set up Waters’ touchdown run. Mueller was credited with three sacks and an additional tackle for loss. Both players are going to be key cogs in the K-State defense once again in 2014.

Best debut: Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett ran hard as they continued to battle in the wide-open competition for carries at running back. But redshirt freshman Judah Jones made an unexpected splash on Saturday. He converted the scrimmage’s biggest play from receiver with a 51-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Joe Hubener. But he also lined up in the backfield and got six carries. Jones started getting snaps at running back only in the final two weeks of spring ball, but he could get more if he continues making plays.

Notable play: Late in the third quarter, Bill Snyder called timeout and put 8-year old Kaiden Schroeder, who suffers from acute lymphocytic leukemia, in the game. Schroeder gave the Purple side a 30-yard touchdown and everyone inside the stadium a memorable moment, as the Wildcats mobbed Schroeder after the score.

Developing storyline: Former QB Daniel Sams made his public debut at wide receiver but was not a big factor in the scrimmage with only two catches for 9 yards. “It’s still a little different because we just started throwing to each other,” Waters told reporters afterward. “But we’re definitely getting on the same page and making steps to do that, so I’m excited about it.” Sams is still learning the position, and Waters is still getting comfortable with him as a receiver. That will take time. But the potential is still there for Sams to be a much bigger factor down the line.

Biggest question answered: The K-State receiving corps won’t just be about Tyler Lockett next season. Lockett was held out of the spring game with a minor injury, but the Wildcats were still able to move the ball through the air. Senior Curry Sexton led the way with a game-high eight catches for 88 yards, and sophomore Deante Burton chipped in with six catches for 48 yards. With Jones emerging and Sams still growing, Waters could have plenty of options to work with in the fall. Especially once Lockett returns to the lineup.

Quotable: “I hope we answered the running back question today. It’s Kaiden Schroeder. He’s the starter.” – defensive end Ryan Mueller, who became friends with Schroeder after visiting him in the hospital.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
4/14/14
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It's not like bringing a cat to the spring game but Kliff Kingsbury is still winning ...

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