Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Dallas Colleges [Print without images]

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Big 12's most improved players of 2011

By David Ubben

We're marching along in our recap of 2011 here on the blog, and today it's time to look back on the most improved players of 2011.

Here's a few other posts you might want to check out:
In no particular order, here are the players who showed the most growth during 2011 or from 2010 to 2011.

Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma: The physical tools had always been there for Alexander, but he'd never quite progressed into what he looked like he could be as a freshman in 2008. Until this year, that is. Alexander was a monster all season, leading the Big 12 in tackles for loss (19) and finishing second in sacks (8.5) to win defensive player of the year honors.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Nobody knew exactly what to expect from Klein this season, but he exceeded anyone's expectations on the ground, and developed into a serviceable passer by season's end. That growth should only continue into 2012. He ran for more than 1,000 yards and tied the Big 12 single-season record with 27 touchdowns, which also tied an FBS record for quarterbacks.

Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas: Byndom was a huge question mark when the season began, but by December, he'd developed into arguably the league's best shutdown corner. Players like that don't often put up big stats, but ask around the league's receivers about Byndom and look at how many big plays the Longhorns gave up. Both are testaments to Byndom's talents.

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Wright, like Alexander, was a good player who became truly elite in 2011. Wright, believe it or not, had never enjoyed a 1,000-yard receiving season before 2011, even though he'd led the Bears in receiving in the three previous seasons. But who led the Big 12 in receiving this year? It wasn't Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon. It wasn't Ryan Broyles. It was Wright, with 1,663 yards and 17 scores. Insane. Robert Griffin III is the biggest reason for Baylor's rise, but Wright is a much closer second than most realize.

Texas' offensive line: Tough to pick one guy out of this group, which was dreadful last year but was a big part of Texas' moderate rebound this year. Stacy Searels coaches the unit, which ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing offense this season.

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M: Jeff Fuller earned the headlines at Texas A&M this year, but Swope was the man for the Aggies. He actually had the same number of catches as Fuller in 2010, but had almost 250 fewer yards and eight fewer scores. Fuller battled injuries this year, but Swope caught 89 balls for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns, far surpassing the future NFL receiver's output.

Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State: Johnson, like Byndom, didn't quite get the press of other cornerbacks in the Big 12 like Brodrick Brown, E.J. Gaines or Justin Gilbert who broke up tons of passes and intercepted lots of others, but he quietly earned a reputation as one of the league's premier lockdown defenders.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Franklin looked shaky in a season-opening win over Miami (Ohio), throwing for just 129 yards and looking generally unimpressive. He wouldn't have another game like that the rest of the year. He topped 285 yards passing in four games this season and was sixth in the Big 12 in total offense, throwing for 2,872 yards as a first-year starter, and equaling the eight wins produced by Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert in their first years as starters.