Dallas Colleges: Brandon Sheperd

Since last week, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 going into the fall.

We pick up the series with the Oklahoma State Cowboys:

Strongest position: Wide receiver

[+] EnlargeMarcell Ateman
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtSophomore wideout Marcell Ateman could start for the Cowboys in 2014.
Oklahoma State doesn’t have an All-American like Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant in its receiving corps. But the Cowboys do boast one of the deepest pass-catching units in the Big 12, if not the country.

Oklahoma State brings back six different receivers who have caught at least 14 passes in a season, headlined by Jhajuan Seales. As a freshman starter, Seales hauled in 39 receptions for 571 yards and three touchdowns. With Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore both gone, Seales will likely take over as the go-to target for quarterback J.W. Walsh.

The Cowboys, however, have several other up-and-coming receivers to complement Seales.

Marcell Ateman, who caught 22 passes as a true freshman last season, is the favorite to start on the outside opposite Seales. Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) were also key parts of the rotation as redshirt freshman last season.

Oklahoma State will also be welcoming a pair of key parts from the 2012 receiving corps back to the lineup. Blake Webb and Austin Hays made starts as true freshmen two years ago, but they were sidelined by injuries for almost the entire 2013 season.

Hays, who was the favorite target of Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight at San Antonio Reagan High, has the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. Webb, who also runs track, was the star of Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” spring scrimmage, reeling in two bombs downfield.

On top of Webb and Hays, the Cowboys will be adding two more intriguing weapons to the fray.

Tyreek Hill, who was the No. 4 juco prospect in the country, stole the show in Stillwater this spring with his tantalizing speed. Hill will play running back, but the plan is to use him in the slot at times next season, as well.

Ra’Shaad Samples, another blazer, could be a factor in the slot as well. The top recruit from Oklahoma State’s 2013 signing class, Samples redshirted last season to get stronger.

Samples and sophomore C.J. Curry round out a nine-man rotation that won’t include a single senior in 2014, which is a scary future proposition for the defensive backfields of the conference.

Weakest position: Linebacker

The backbone of Oklahoma State’s stellar 2013 defense was the linebacker corps. Both Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey were three-year starters, and both earned first-team All-Big 12 recognition (Lewis from the coaches, Lavey from the media).

But Lewis and Lavey have both graduated, leaving a massive void in the middle of coordinator Glenn Spencer’s defense.

Spencer will be counting on junior Ryan Simmons to fill some of that void. Simmons, who was the third starting linebacker last season, has moved back inside to fill Lavey’s role. Simmons has All-Big 12 potential and will bring plenty of athleticism to middle linebacker.

Elsewhere, the Cowboys will be leaning heavily on transfers.

Juco transfer Devante Averette enrolled early, had a solid spring and should help solidify the weak side in place of Simmons along with Seth Jacobs and Kris Catlin.

Juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine and Michigan transfer Josh Furman will team up to man the “star” linebacker. Furman brings much needed experience to the group, having appeared in 32 games over his career with the Wolverines.

This is a unit that has the potential to rapidly improve in 2014. But it’s also one with many unknowns going into the season.

Big 12 post-spring breakdown: WRs

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
3:00
PM CT
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.

Depth chart analysis: Oklahoma State

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
8:00
AM CT
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring, continuing Wednesday with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have yet to release an official depth chart, so this is only a projection:

OFFENSE (projected starters in bold)

QB: J.W. Walsh (Jr.), Daxx Garman (Jr.) OR Mason Rudolph (Fr.)

Walsh lost the job to Clint Chelf last season, but he all but reclaimed it with a steady spring. Coach Mike Gundy said the competition would continue into the fall, but barring injury, it’s only a matter of time before Walsh is named the starter for the opener against Florida State.

[+] EnlargeTyreek Hill
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiExpectations are high for newcomer Tyreek Hill.
RB: Desmond Roland (Sr.) OR Tyreek Hill (Jr.), Rennie Childs (So.)

FB: Jeremy Seaton (Jr.), Teddy Johnson (Sr.)

The Cowboys added what figures to be the favorite to be named preseason Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in Hill, who was dynamic in the spring despite splitting duties with the track team. With Roland back to grind out yards between the tackles and Hill a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball, the Cowboys have the opportunity to create problems for opposing defenses when they play on the field at the same time, which should happen a lot next year. Childs, who rushed for 189 yards as a freshman, adds depth to the position, while Seaton is a solid lead-blocking fullback who can also catch passes out of the backfield.

WR: Jhajuan Seales (So.), C.J. Curry (So.)

WR: Marcell Ateman (So.), Brandon Sheperd (Jr.)

IR: Austin Hays (So.), Ra’Shaad Samples (RFr.)

IR: Blake Webb (So.), David Glidden (Jr.)

TE/FB: Blake Jarwin (So.), Jordan Frazier (Fr.)

From Rashaun Woods to Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys have often had the luxury of a superstar wideout to throw the ball up to. The strength of his group, however, will be in its number. Seales, who had 39 catches as a freshman last season, headlines this unit, but Ateman, Hays, Webb, Glidden and Sheperd have all played in big games before. Hill will also boost this group whenever he moves from running back to the slot. Samples was banged up most of the spring, but he’ll also eventually bring speed to the rotation.

LT: Devin Davis (So.), Brandon Garrett (Sr.), Michael Wilson (So.)

LG: Chris Grisbhy (Sr.), Zachary Hargrove (Jr.)

C: Paul Lewis (So.), Jaxson Salinas (RFr.)

RG: Zac Veatch (So.), Colby Hegwood (Jr.)

RT: Daniel Koenig (Sr.), Zachary Crabtree (RFr.)

The Cowboys have some major questions up front that won’t be answered until the fall. Davis missed all of last year after tearing his ACL in the preseason, and still wasn’t cleared in the spring. Garrett’s leg was broken in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and he too is still working his way back. On top of that, longtime position coach Joe Wickline is now at Texas. If Davis and Garrett return to 100 percent, Lewis is able to successfully man his new position at center and new offensive line coach Bob Connelly builds on Wickline’s success, the Cowboys could field yet another banner offensive line. Of course, that is a lot of "ifs."

DEFENSE

DE: Jimmy Bean (Jr.), Trace Clark (Jr.)

DT: James Castleman (Sr.), Vincent Taylor (RFr.) OR Vili Leveni (RFr.)

DT: Ofa Hautau (Sr.), Ben Hughes (RFr.) OR Eric Davis (So.)

DE: Sam Wren (Sr.), Emmanuel Ogbah (So.)

Even though the Cowboys graduated all-conference tackle Calvin Barnett, this should be the strength of the defense. Castleman is capable of performing at an All-Big 12 level, and Wren, Bean and Ogbah can get to the quarterback. Oklahoma State will be even stronger along the defensive line if former four-star signees Hughes and Taylor emerge in their second years on campus.

MLB: Ryan Simmons (Jr.), Dominic Ramacher (So.) OR Demarcus Sherod (So.)

WLB: Devante Averette (Jr.) OR Kris Catlin (Jr.) OR Seth Jacobs (So.)

Simmons moved inside this spring after flanking All-Big 12 veterans Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis last season. Simmons will be the new leader of this unit. The Cowboys also seemed pleased with the development of Averette and Catlin during the spring. Oklahoma State signed a very highly touted linebacking class in February, but chances are, those freshmen won’t be ready to contribute until at least 2015.

NB: D’Nerius Antoine (Jr.) OR Josh Furman (Sr.)

CB: Kevin Peterson (Jr.), Darius Curry (RFr.) OR Taylor Lewis (RFr.)

CB: Ashton Lampkin (Jr.), Miketavius Jones (Jr.)

FS: Jordan Sterns (So.), Larry Stephens (Sr.) OR Jerel Morrow (RFr.)

SS: Deric Robertson (So.), Tre Flowers (RFr.)

Like with so many other teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma State’s secondary is an uncertainty. Peterson, who is one of the top budding cover men in the league, will anchor the group as its lone returning starter. The Cowboys should be in good hands at the other corner with Lampkin, who has appeared in every game his first two years and had a pick-six in Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. Safety is a complete unknown as Robertson and Sterns have little experience. The Cowboys could get some much-needed help from Furman, who transferred in from Michigan during the offseason and will be eligible immediately.

New wave of Oklahoma State WRs ready

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
1:15
PM CT
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Few programs in college football are equipped to overcome losing three of their four most productive receivers from the previous season.

At least without missing a major beat.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Ateman
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtAs a freshman in 2013, Marcell Ateman caught 22 passes for 276 yards for the Cowboys.
But Oklahoma State could be one of those few programs, armed with several young wideouts on the cusp of breaking out in 2014.

Starters Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, who combined for 146 catches and almost 2,000 receiving yards, are gone, leaving rising sophomore Jhajuan Seales as the only returning starter.

But the Cowboys also welcome back a host of budding young receivers, who seem poised to keep the Oklahoma State passing attack humming.

“I think the receiving corps is going to be good,” Seales said. “I think our offense will be the same. People have to step up and fill in for Tracy and Charlie and those guys. But I think we have the guys who can do that.”

The Cowboys have Seales, which is a nice start.

As a redshirt freshman last season playing alongside Stewart and the Moores, Seales hauled in 39 catches for 571 yards. Two of Seales’ three touchdowns came in two of Oklahoma State’s final three games. Though he still has much to prove, Seales has the same combination of physicality and speed reminiscent of another Cowboy receiver who donned the jersey No. 81 -- Justin Blackmon.

“I feel I can be a go-to guy,” Seales said. “But there are other guys out there who can be that go-to guy, as well.”

Such as Marcell Ateman, who like Seales, carved out a role at outside receiver as a freshman, and caught 22 passes.

“Ateman, when he decides to play hard, he’s a big, physical body,” coach Mike Gundy said.

Sophomores Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) received plenty of time in the rotation last season.

The Cowboys also bring back Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both started in 2012 as freshmen before injuries sidelined them for virtually the entire 2013 season.

Hays, who played with Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight in high school in San Antonio, started nine games two seasons ago and finished with 394 receiving yards. But he was unable to play most of last season because of a nagging hamstring injury.

“It was so frustrating,” he said. “I kept thinking I was going to come back and never did. Not getting to get on the plane with the team, that very frustrating.”

Hays is close to 100 percent again this spring, and he has shown the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. But he might have more competition for playing time now than he did two years ago.

The Cowboys signed junior-college speed demon Tyreek Hill, who has already broken numerous sprint records on the track team. Ra'Shaad Samples, who redshirted as a freshman last season, can also fly and reportedly has run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. Both players could bring major speed to the inside receiver positions.

“Some of those young receivers are starting to make a few plays,” Gundy said. “So it’s exciting that we have talent on our team that can make plays in the future.”

No doubt, Oklahoma State will miss Stewart, Charlie Moore and Tracy Moore at receiver. But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys will miss a beat there, too.

Said Seales: "Now we get to follow in their footsteps.”

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