Dallas Colleges: Geno Smith

Quarterback the Big 12's great unknown

August, 20, 2013

Not long ago, Big 12 media days was an event worthy of a red carpet, with star-studded quarterbacks annually filling the halls.

Many -- like “Vince” and “Sam” -- were on a first-name basis with their fans. Others -- like “RG3” -- donned catchy nicknames.

This year, though, there were no rock stars at media days in Dallas. Because, well, there are no marquee quarterbacks returning.

As the SEC with defense, the Big 12 has become synonymous with quarterbacking. Of the past 13 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft, six are Big 12 alums.

But these are foreign times in the conference. For a change, quarterbacking is the Big 12’s big unknown.

“We're in the same situation as seven or eight others,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is replacing his school’s all-time leading passer, Geno Smith.

“Pretty much everyone is in the same boat.”

A boat that seats virtually everyone in the league.

Texas' David Ash is the Big 12's only expected starter who started more than five games last season. Six other teams are still officially involved in quarterback derbies, including Texas Tech, which could wind up starting true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield in its opener with projected starter Michael Brewer dealing with a back injury.

Such quarterback uncertainty has rendered the Big 12 as wide open as ever, with six teams receiving first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll.

“I think it would be unfair to even predict what could happen in the league this year,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has hinted he won’t announce Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh as the starter until the opener against Mississippi State. “You have a certain number of teams, five or six, who if they stay healthy and get quality quarterback play, have a chance to win the league.

“For the fans and for the media, this year is as exciting as it gets -- because I don’t think anyone really knows.”

But the lack of marquee returning quarterbacks is also predominantly why for the first time in its history the Big 12 doesn't have a team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls. Oklahoma State was the league’s highest-ranked squad at No. 13.

Ash started every game but one for the Longhorns last season. But he also was benched against Kansas and TCU.

TCU’s Casey Pachall had a banner 2011 campaign. But he left four games into last season to seek treatment for substance abuse.

And while Chelf and Walsh both won games for the Cowboys as starters last year, it’s unclear at the moment which of the two will get the majority of snaps.

“The preseason polls for the majority in my opinion are based on returning quarterback play, because we all know how important quality quarterback play is to winning games,” Gundy said. “They look on paper and see there’s not a lot of returning quarterbacks in this league and so you’re not going to get recognized as much as other schools.”

Coaches and players around the conference, however, caution not to dismiss this batch of quarterbacks just because they’re new.

“There’ll be a bunch of names you’ll be talking about next year -- that they’re all back,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

While there’s no Vince Young, Sam Bradford or Robert Griffin III yet, there is talent.

Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, who are vying to replace four-year starter Landry Jones in Norman, were both four-star recruits. So was Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who sat out last season after transferring from BYU.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty had offers to play at Nebraska and Virginia Tech coming out of high school.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters, who is fighting Daniel Sams to succeed Heisman finalist Collin Klein, was the No. 1-rated quarterback to come out of junior college this year.

“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal,” Holgorsen said. “And it's always going to be phenomenal.

“It's just going to be with newer people.”

Manziel looking for on-field progress

August, 19, 2013
In the middle of the whirlwind at SEC media days, before all of the autograph allegations, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel said something that in retrospect seems prescient.

While making a stop in one of the seemingly dozens of interview rooms, a reporter surmised that Manziel was tired of talking about his offseason and was simply ready to return to the football field. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, cracked a smile and confirmed that assessment.

"Can't wait," he said. "No more talking off the field. All the talking's done on the field."

Interestingly, the mid-July media extravaganza in Hoover, Ala., is about the last day we've heard Manziel speak publicly, unless you count a handful posts to his Twitter account in the time between media day and the start of Texas A&M's preseason training camp on Aug. 5.

As the college football world has focused on Manziel's eventful offseason -- and most recently, news of an NCAA investigation into allegations that he profited from signing autographs -- Manziel has remained silent as he focuses on the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel, Jake Spavital
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNJohnny Manziel and Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital have worked on Manziel's pocket presence in the offseason.
What hasn't dominated the conversation when it comes to Manziel is what is in store for him on the field in his second season as the Aggies' starting quarterback. It was just more than a year ago that he was named the starter, winning a quarterback battle over Jameill Showers (now at UTEP), Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis.

So, how do you tell the Heisman Trophy winner to do better?

"All you have to do is watch video," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said.

What does the video reveal?

"You saw him progress as a quarterback as the year went on," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "Those first five games or so, he was just freelancing and doing his own thing."

Sumlin has noted several times in the past year that Manziel was a better quarterback in the second half of the season. His grasp of the offense and ability to throw downfield have improved.

The stats support that assessment. In the final six games, Manziel had a better completion percentage (73.4 percent, compared to 63.8 percent in the first seven), more yards per attempt (9.31 vs. 7.95), a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (12-to-3, compared with 14-to-6) and, as a result, a better passer rating (169.5 vs. 144.5 to 169.5).

The area in which he can make serious strides this year is his pocket presence.

"That's what we focused on throughout the spring because we know what Johnny can do when he's outside the pocket, running the ball," Spavital said. "I try not to let him scramble in practice and he gets frustrated at times and you'll see some pretty wild plays out there, but he's been staying in the pocket, going through his progressions, and I think it's making him a better pocket passer."

Sumlin said he has seen Manziel improve in several aspects of his game during the offseason.

"He continued to work at everything. In the classroom, understanding the whole picture, operational procedure, he's a lot better there," Sumlin said. "Mechanically, he's better. He understands some things. It's like playing golf. Once you understand the mechanics, you can kind of correct yourself when things aren't going right. I think he's worked very hard in the offseason to understand the mechanics and, really, the complete offense. I don't think there's one area that he has really concentrated on, I think he has worked on his total game."

The operational procedure that Sumlin speaks of, which simply is his ability to run the offense, is something Spavital noted that Manziel has down solid. Spavital said in the spring that Manziel is now able to get the play signal, operate and spend the rest of the time focusing on what the defense is showing.

In the first year of this Air Raid-style spread offense with its high pace of play, some of the basics were hardest to grasp early on. And that's not just for the quarterback, but all of the offensive players.

"I guarantee you Johnny vs. Florida -- I've never asked him about it -- I guarantee you he went out there and Kliff [Kingsbury] signaled in the play and he made sure the receivers knew what they were doing and made sure the back knew what he was doing and made sure the O-line knew what they were doing and then he just snapped the ball and ran the play," Spavital said. "Well, now, it's second nature to him and you signal the play to him and he just operates it and he can focus on the defense. He can change the play if he needs to and you don't get caught in as many bad plays because he's seen all the bad looks. He's learned his lessons from it. That's the way you get better in this offense; you learn from your mistakes."

Spavital has worked with several quarterbacks who have run this style of offense: Case Keenum at Houston, Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State and Geno Smith at West Virginia. The common thread in all of them, he said, is that the second year running this offense is the year that the quarterback makes a significant step forward because everyone grasps the scheme better.

"It's the year that they go off," Spavital said.

Back at SEC media days, Manziel himself said he wants to be smarter about when he chooses to break the pocket and run.

"There were times where I'd take off running and you've got a guy running down the field on a post that you knew on Monday of the week that that route was going to be open if this coverage was this, this and this. And yet, pressure comes up and you need to step up in the pocket, but then I decide to run," Manziel said. "Maybe the play turns out to be a success, maybe it doesn't, but just making it easier on myself is the bigger thing.

"You can sit there and take a nice easy step, do everything, have your fundamentals and make the throw and let them walk in for a touchdown, or whatever the situation may be. But just continue to get better downfield and seeing the vision [is the key]. All that will come with the more playing time and the more time you're out on the field. I know from the Florida game to Oklahoma, it's a crazy amount of difference."

One thing that the coaches don't want to do, Spavital said, is make Manziel robotic.

"Johnny wants to be a better pocket passer," Spavital said. "You can see him progress as the year went on and he's going to keep getting better at it. The main thing is you don't want to handcuff him and you want Johnny to be Johnny. His ability to scramble and make plays and get out of the pocket is the reason why he won the Heisman. You want to just keep working on the little things and get him to be a better passer, but at the same time you just want that kid to keep balling the way he is."

Five games nobody saw coming in 2012

June, 28, 2013
So much of the offseason is spent projecting what's going to happen in the fall, but it's easy to forget just how unpredictable every season inevitably becomes. Some of that is based on miscalculated preseason expectations, but many times, it's simply a head-scratching result that the numbers simply did not point to.

Here are the five games from 2012 that nobody saw coming.

1. Baylor 52, Kansas State 24: No result was more head-scratching than this one, and it completely turned the Big 12 season upside down, ending K-State's bid for an undefeated season and making the Wildcats' stop at No. 1 in the BCS standings last exactly one week. Baylor entered this game just 1-5 in Big 12 play, not long removed from a two-touchdown loss to an average Iowa State team in which the Bears scored just 21 points in doing so. This Nov. 17 upset kicked off a stretch that ended with Baylor as the hottest team in the Big 12. Lache Seastrunk also broke out with a career-high 185 rushing yards and a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIREAfter rushing for 185 yards in an upset of K-State, Lache Seastrunk and had plenty to celebrate.
2. Texas Tech 49, West Virginia 14: West Virginia was coming off an emotional victory at Texas and wondering about a Big 12 title (or more) with a 5-0 record and a top-five ranking. Geno Smith might have unanimously won the Heisman Trophy if voting had taken place before this game, but the Red Raiders got off to a hot start and the Mountaineers never answered. They trailed 35-7 at halftime and an ugly game for Smith and the WVU offense kicked off what would become a five-game losing streak that officially branded their first season in the Big 12 as a disappointment.

3. Rice 25, Kansas 24: Everybody knew life would get rough for a Kansas team low on talent once conference play arrived, but even a two-win team from 2011 could expect to beat Rice ... right? The former Southwest Conference program had never beaten a member of the Big 12 since their old league broke up, but embarrassed the Jayhawks with a game-winning field goal as time expired. More embarrassing? The Jayhawks led by eight with just under five minutes to play, and Dayne Crist inexplicably tossed an interception with 3:47 to play that setup the winner.

4. Kansas State 24, Oklahoma 19: Oklahoma had never lost to a ranked team at home under Bob Stoops, and only one team had ever come within single digits while the Sooners racked up a 14-0 record. Oklahoma won those games by an average of 28.2 points, but a costly fumble by Blake Bell on one goal line cost OU a touchdown. Landry Jones' fumble on the other goal line gave K-State a first-quarter lead it never relinquished. K-State was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12, but this game made it clear that the Wildcats were to be taken seriously in the league title race it eventually won.

5. Texas 21, Kansas 17: The Jayhawks lost to Texas 43-0 in 2011 and nobody gave the 1-6 Jayhawks a chance in 2012, but David Ash played his worst game of the season and got benched with the Longhorns firmly on the ropes. The Jayhawks led 14-7 going into the fourth quarter, and answered a Longhorns TD with a field goal to go up 17-14 with just 2:28 to play. Case McCoy completed five consecutive passes for 68 yards off the bench, including an 18-yarder to Jaxon Shipley on fourth down to extend the game-winning drive and help Texas survive what could have been its most embarrassing loss in a long, long time.

What other games from 2012 surprised you?
Cornerback Tyler Patmon leaving Kansas at the end of 2012 was a big surprise. It's rare you see a 28-game starter leave a program before his senior season, especially when it's "not his choice," as Patmon tweeted after the news broke.

Even rarer: A 28-game starter transferring within the conference. Both happened in Patmon's case on Monday.

From my news story:
Former Kansas cornerback Tyler Patmon has transferred to Oklahoma State, the Cowboys announced in a release on Monday. ...

When asked for comment back in December, Kansas coach Charlie Weis told the Lawrence Journal-World, "we appreciate all that he's done during his time at Kansas and we wish him well."

Patmon's 58 tackles were fourth most for the Jayhawks, and he started all 12 games at cornerback. He started nine games at nickel back as a redshirt freshman in 2010. He also had 11.5 career tackles for loss and broke up 22 passes in three seasons.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder is a native of Round Rock, Texas and will have one year of eligibility remaining.

I don't know the back story behind Patmon's exit, so I won't venture a guess, but there's plenty of skepticism surrounding Patmon's future impact.

But here's two reasons for Oklahoma State to be very happy it landed the senior:
  • Critique Patmon's cover skills all you'd like, but he still intercepted three more passes last year than any cornerback on OSU's roster. He returned one for a touchdown against Northern Illinois and his final pick of the year came against West Virginia's Geno Smith. Patmon's not exactly an impact corner, but you're crazy if you don't think he provides quality depth and a possible starter opposite Justin Gilbert. OSU's other two options are Ashton Lampkin and Kevin Peterson, a pair of green sophomores who will have their share of growing pains if they're first-year starters next season.
  • As for those cover skills, is it really fair to critique Patmon when he's trying to cover with the Big 12's worst defensive line rushing the passer? Have we really seen what he's capable of? No corner is going to look good having to cover for the length that Kansas' cornerbacks had to last season. The past two seasons when Patmon's played cornerback, Kansas has logged 20 total sacks. No other Big 12 team has posted fewer than 32. Like I said, Patmon's not a game-changer, but don't be surprised if he looks much, much better next fall at OSU than he did at KU.

It's not hard to see why Gundy took a shot on Patmon. Even if he doesn't start, he's badly needed. All-Name teamer Miketavius Jones was the only other scholarship cornerback in camp this spring for OSU, but that position's no doubt bolstered by adding Patmon, even if he doesn't start a single game in 2013.
Last season, the Big 12 had just one starting quarterback (Oklahoma State's Wes Lunt) begin the year without a career start. It could look much, much different this time around. Experience at the position is always helpful, and here's a look at who's got how much across the Big 12 among players who could be Week 1 starters:

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesDavid Ash has the most starting experience of any Big 12 quarterback next season.
1. David Ash, Texas (18 starts): Ash has gotten better and better as his career has progressed and he threw almost twice as many passes in 2012 as a full-time starter as he did in 2011. The result: A jump from four to 19 touchdown passes and the same number of interceptions. He also completed 11 percent more of his passes (67 percent). But he also has to eliminate games like he had in 2012, when he completed 50 percent or less in three starts.

2. Casey Pachall, TCU (17 starts): Pachall was leading the nation in passing efficiency before an October drunk driving arrest led to him leave the program to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. His decision-making on the field is his biggest asset. He has 36 career touchdown passes to just eight interceptions.

3. Jake Heaps, Kansas (16 starts): All 16 of Heaps' starts came at BYU, but he lost his job after some sophomore struggles in the wake of a breakout freshman season. He threw for almost 3,800 yards and completed 57 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in almost two seasons in Provo.

4. Trevone Boykin, TCU (nine starts): Boykin's got a ton of speed and a big arm and did better than most figured he would while filling in for Pachall last season. The rising sophomore completed just 57 percent of his passes but threw for at least 250 yards in four games.

5. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State (five starts): Chelf's upside is minimal, but he proved himself more than competent after sticking out the first half of the season as OSU's No. 3 quarterback. A year after being beaten out by a true freshman in the spring, he's OSU's presumed starter. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and six interceptions after stepping in for an injured Wes Lunt against Kansas State.

6. Sam Richardson, Iowa State (three starts): Richardson was the third ISU quarterback to get a start last season and had a huge game in a blowout win over Kansas but completed less than 50 percent of his passes the rest of the season. It's his team for the time being, but I'm betting Paul Rhoads is prepared to hand the ball to Grant Rohach if Richardson strings together many more games like he had against West Virginia and Tulsa.

6. J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State (three starts): Nearly knocked off Texas in his first start, but played well in blowout wins over Kansas and Iowa State. A leg injury cost him half of his season, but he's found a niche in the offense with a short yardage package and proved himself a capable starter.

8. Clint Trickett, West Virginia (two starts): Trickett appeared in 16 games at Florida State, nearly knocking off Oklahoma in 2011 in Tallahassee. He made just two starts at FSU, but threw for 336 yards in a close loss to Clemson in one of them.

9. Michael Brewer, Texas Tech (zero starts): Brewer got a little bit of playing time behind Seth Doege last season, completing 70 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions. It'll get tougher as a full-time starter if he officially wins the job ahead of Davis Webb this fall.

9. Blake Bell, Oklahoma (zero starts): You know him as the BellDozer, and he has more career rushing touchdowns (24) than pass attempts (20). He left the spring as the Sooners' almost sure heir to Landry Jones.

9. Daniel Sams/Jake Waters, Kansas State (zero starts): Waters is a junior college transfer who hasn't played a snap of major college football. Sams rushed for 235 yards and three touchdowns in mostly mop-up duty last season, but after Collin Klein suffered a head injury against Oklahoma State, he completed 6 of 8 passes for 55 yards.

9. Bryce Petty, Baylor (zero starts): Petty's never played a meaningful snap with the Bears and has just 14 career pass attempts. He's been in the program forever and has the physical skills to be great, but his career is starting on a fresh slate in 2013.

9. Paul Millard/Ford Childress, West Virginia (zero starts): Millard has served as Geno Smith's backup in mop-up duty, and threw 34 passes in the past two seasons. Childress redshirted last season and hasn't seen any playing time.
Thanks for all the mail this week. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

Mulley in Cleveland, OH writes: For the Playoff Committee, not that anyone would go for this, but wouldn't a Committee consisting of smaller schools (ie, AD's from old Non-BCS schools) work nice? That way the Big Boys would have to play nice with the little guys, as not to make them angry and give them a reason to not vote them into a playoff.

David Ubben: That's definitely an interesting idea, Mulley. Hadn't heard that one before. That said, I think you might run into some snags if some of those guys are angling for jobs at the bigger schools. A lot of major school ADs come from those smaller schools, so it's not a bad idea at all, but you're not going to find any suggestion for selection committee members that don't have some appearance of bias.

Interesting suggestion, though. I could be on board.

Bobby in Portland, Ore. writes: At Kansas State, this coming year reminds me A LOT of the 2001 season. Bill Snyder was deciding between a potentially dynamic running quarterback (Ell Roberson/Daniel Sams) and a highly touted juco transfer (Marc Dunn/Jake Waters). He was also trying to replace several defensive stars (Beisel, Fatefehi, Cooper and Butler were all drafted). That year resulted in a see-saw battle between the quarterbacks that lasted all year, and a 6-6 record (3-5 Big 12) with a loss to Syracuse in the insight.com bowl. I fear that the 2013 Wildcats can expect a similar result this year.

DU: Decent comparison, Bobby. That 2001 team, though, was sandwiched between a pair of 11-win seasons. If that means enduring a six-win season this year, I'm betting K-State folk would take that one.

Ryan in Austin writes: I have this scary feeling Baylor is going to be really good and people are sleeping on them. I flipped on that K-State game last year and didn't recognize Baylor. So I decided to watch the Bowl game. Again, that team looked incredible. And I can't believe Wright, Williams, Gordon and RG III were all on the same team at one time. I feel weird about this Art Briles guy. He knows something.

DU: His eye for offensive talent is just absurd. I agree with you on the Bears, but I would say this: The Bears have never had a better chance to win the Big 12 title than they do this season. That's the case for a couple reasons. For as much attention as offenses get, everybody in the Big 12 knows you can't win league titles without a good defense. Time will tell how good Baylor's truly is, but that spurt last year was good enough to win Baylor a Big 12 title in a number of seasons. They completely shut down UCLA and K-State. We'll see if it carries over, but I know this: They aren't short on athletes. Guys like Javonte Magee and Ahmad Dixon and Bryce Hager along with K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson give Baylor a great shot athletically to have a fantastic defense. That hasn't been the case in the past. RG III was a transcendent player, but Baylor has a better shot to win a title this year than in any year Griffin was on campus. This is simply a more complete team. Briles has that crazy eye for offensive talent, but his development on the team defensively is what has Baylor in position to do some special things this year.

Nathan Nely in Kansas City, Kan. writes: I get the sense from the blogs that it kind of bothers you that Bill Snyder is not more forthcoming when dealing with the media. I'm always wondering, would you feel more at ease if he gave up all his secrets about where his team is at and what direction the Wildcat's are moving in for their upcoming season? I know from being a K-State fan for many years now, it takes time but you get used to not knowing what kind of football team is going to show up on opening day. I guess for most of us, it's part of the magic!

DU: No, not really. Coaches are CEOs, and they've got a right to handle programs however they see fit. Is it easier and more fun for me to do my job if they open up practice and answer questions directly? Definitely. But I'm not going to blame a coach if he doesn't want to do things that way.

It's not really about me feeling at ease, though. I'm not nervous. I just like to be more informed, and that's hard to do when programs lock it up so tight. If I was a coach, I'd probably handle it more like Snyder than I would coaches who operate programs with a lot of openness.

Bill in Orange County, Calif. writes: Geno Smith and Justin Blackmon could wind up teammates in the Arena League before you know it. When you're their age, you don't always see clearly how tenuous that link to your brilliant future can be. Here's hoping they both get a clue before it's too late.

DU: This is so, so misguided. Terrible comparison that's not even close to the same thing. Blackmon has gotten into trouble twice on alcohol-related offenses and now violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Geno Smith is battling anonymous reports with vague critiques that don't really fall in line with what his college coaches say and the reputation he had in college.

Both should be great players, though the deck is stacked against both with no offensive weapons in New York for Geno, and no quarterback in Jacksonville for Blackmon.

Blackmon's choices have gotten him suspended four games in the NFL and one game in college. They've put charges on his record.

The stories about Smith are reports people think will affect his ability to succeed at the next level. They might. They might not. If he plays well, they largely go away. He can also defeat them by being a good teammate and going about his business with the Jets whether he plays or not.

Neither of these guys will be in the Arena league anytime soon, but they're not even close to the same level of issues. That's silly.

janorman74 in Fort Worth, Texas writes: In your recent post on the 2014 draft you mentioned that you were surprised not to see Jeffcoat as the biggest surprise -- what about Casey Pachall? No one is talking about this guy in terms of the 2014 draft despite his prototypical height and arm -- is his past really weighing him down so much? If he has a solid season and stays clean don't you think he'll run up the draft board?

DU: He has to prove he can play. He's got NFL-type size, and if he has a huge season, he'll definitely get a lot of NFL attention. His past is obviously a red flag, and those kinds of struggles are never 100 percent behind you. It's a daily battle. It sounds harsh, but it's the truth. For now, though, Pachall is a player whose troubles with alcohol and the law are more recent than his success on the field. He's got to change that this season.

If he does, you can bet he'll show up on NFL teams' draft boards.

Video: Friday Four Downs

May, 10, 2013

David Ubben is talking Bob Stoops, Big 12 draft, nonconference schedules and Geno Smith in this week's Friday Four Downs.

Which Big 12 talent has brightest future?

April, 16, 2013
Colleague Todd McShay turned in his latest mock draftInsider, and he's got four Big 12 players going in the first round. How do you see their respective NFL careers panning out?

He says Cleveland will make Geno Smith the first Big 12 talent off the board at No. 6, making life a little nerve-racking for another Big 12 quarterback: Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, who had an underwhelming rookie season.


Which Big 12 player will have the best NFL career?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,451)

Oklahoma offensive lineman Lane Johnson is projected a pick later to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7. Will he build on his potential and become the player NFL scouts are projecting him to become?

West Virginia's Tavon Austin had a stellar college career and a combine performance that gave his stock a big boost. If Tampa Bay picks him with the 13th pick like McShay says it would, could he be the Big 12's best talent from this class in the NFL?

What about another guy with a great career: Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro? He was one of the league's biggest hitters, and McShay says he'll give the Dallas Cowboys' secondary a boost with the No. 18 pick. Could he stay in-state and become a fan favorite?

In McShay's mock draft 4.0, he didn't have any Big 12 talents going in Round 2, but we'll throw Baylor receiver Terrance Williams in the mix, too.

How will the nation's leading receiver's career play out? Will he make the transition and become the Big 12's best? Vote in our poll.

Big 12 NFL prospects rising in latest mock

March, 29, 2013
You've got to love NFL draft season. After players finish their performances at the combine and their respective pro days, their stocks can still fluctuate as opinions sway and NFL teams jockey for position.

The Big 12? Its best prospects are trending upward in colleague Todd McShay's latest mock draftInsider.

Not long ago, the Big 12 looked like it might not land a single player in the top 15. McShay has four Big 12 players in his top 18. You'll need Insider to see the rest of his mock draft through the second round, too.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is as high as I've seen him on any mock draft, checking in at No. 3 on McShay's mock, where he would head to Oakland and become an Oakland Raider (shudder). He thinks the Raiders could send Carson Palmer packing and build up Smith's weakness with his strong work ethic, even though he only grades out as a late first-rounder.

Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson has bubbled up into McShay's top 10 for the first time, checking in at No. 7 to the Arizona Cardinals. That pick is contingent upon Smith being off the board, but with Johnson, his biggest plus is his upside as a talented prospect who has little experience at his current position.

West Virginia WR Tavon Austin's impressive combine performance and follow-up show at the WVU pro day shot him all the way up to No. 13, where he'd go to the Tampa Bay Bucs. McShay likes that Austin can do what far too few in the NFL can these days: create space and make plays after getting the ball in his hands.

Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro may not have to go far to find his new pro home. He's been a popular pick in this spot lately, and McShay agrees: He makes sense at No. 18 to the in-state Dallas Cowboys. Vaccaro's only concern is his straight-line speed, but McShay loves his toughness in run support and his cover skills. I couldn't agree more. He's a complete player at the position and has a great football IQ.

The NFL draft is a humorous exercise in public opinion and haranguing, but we'll see who's for real and who's bluffing when the draft takes place on April 25.

Video: Friday Four Downs -- Big 12

March, 15, 2013

David Ubben is talking rising quarterbacks, leaving quarterbacks, and spring ball in this week's Friday Four Downs.

Closer look at the Big 12 NFL draft board

March, 14, 2013
You're seeing pro days start to come and go across the Big 12, and the NFL combine wrapped up late last month. With all of that, there's plenty of shake-up in the position rankings from NFL draft guru Mel Kiper . Here are the Big 12 guys who cracked his top five at each position.

  • Geno Smith moved into the No. 1 spot for quarterbacks, ahead of USC's Matt Barkley. We'll see if that changes with a good pro day from Barkley, but Smith definitely has a shot to crack the top 10, especially after Buffalo cut Ryan Fitzpatrick loose on Tuesday and looks as if it's in the market for a quarterback with the No. 8 pick.
  • Tavon Austin secured the No. 1 spot with his huge day at the combine, sliding ahead of Cordarrelle Patterson. It's not quite a consensus if you look at other mock drafts, but Kiper's buying what Austin is selling.
Offensive tackles
  • Oklahoma's Lane Johnson is rocketing up draft boards now that scouts have had a chance to see what he can do athletically. He's No. 3 on Kiper's list of tackles, despite not being an All-Big 12 first-teamer a year ago.
  • Texas' Kenny Vaccaro is widely considered the most complete safety in this draft, and he held strong with a good combine performance. He's still at Kiper's No. 1 spot.
  • Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp's recent rough pro day wasn't factored in, but he's still No. 4 on Kiper's list.

Big 12 stars make moves up NFL boards

March, 12, 2013
The NFL scouting combine changed plenty of Big 12 players' fates, highlighted by West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who made a big move up Todd McShay's latest mock draft Insider.

His teammates, Geno Smith, also validated his status as the No. 1 quarterback on the board ... for now. We'll see if Matt Barkley's pro day changes anything, but my bet is Smith hangs on to his status on the strength of his huge senior season in 2012.

McShay has Smith going No. 7 to the Arizona Cardinals, the first Big 12 player taken in the draft. Like most (myself included), he's not exactly on board with Smith as a top-10 talent, but the importance of quarterback play in the changing NFL means their stock often gets a boost as the draft gets closer and teams talk themselves into passers who maybe wouldn't go as high in a year when the quarterback pool was a bit stronger.

McShay says he doesn't have a first-round grade on Smith, which is a lot more down on him than I would be, but if he turns out to be a big talent, nobody's going to mind taking him in the top 10.

Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson is turning heads with his athleticism and sky-high potential after a strong 2012 season but very little experience at the position. McShay has the former junior college quarterback going No. 11 to the San Diego Chargers.

The Big 12 looked like it might get shut out of the top 15, but moves from Smith and Johnson have changed that a bit. Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro is slotted at No. 13 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a player McShay calls the most complete safety in the draft.

West Virginia's Austin is still behind Cal's Keenan Allen as the first receiver taken, but he passed up Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson to grab the No. 16 spot to the St. Louis Rams. That's a really interesting mix, and one former Sooner Sam Bradford would like to see. Mardy Gilyard did little before being cut, and Bradford needs weapons fast. Austin clearly qualifies. Riding Danny Amendola as the lone star receiver isn't good enough in the NFL.

Landing four first-round picks would be a solid finish for the Big 12 in a down year. Johnson and Austin's stock is sky-high, and Vaccaro and Smith's stock has remained relatively constant. We'll see what happens as pro days start to take place.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.

Looking ahead to Big 12 pro day schedule

February, 28, 2013
The NFL scouting combine has come and gone, but there are still plenty of workouts left on the table and guys who can make a name for themselves in the next month and end up getting drafted.

UT safety Kenny Vaccaro joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss reports that he wants to be a Cowboy, the emergence of A&M as the class of college football in Texas, what he brings to an NFL team and his friendship with TCU quarterback Casey Pachall.

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Campus pro days will kick off in March, and here's when the Big 12's teams will be holding theirs, according to NFL.com.

Baylor - March 20

Iowa State - March 26
  • You'll be able to get a look at A.J. Klein and Jake Knott here for sure. Klein missed a few workouts this week after suffering a knee injury, and Knott is still waiting for his shoulder to heal up from surgery. Both should be on display at this workout.
Kansas - March 15

Kansas State - March 12
  • An injury kept Arthur Brown from recording a 40 time and doing a handful of other workouts, so expect a whole lot of NFL teams to show up in Manhattan for this one. We'll see if Collin Klein sticks with his plan to stay at quarterback or does some other position work at pro day, too. I'm betting on the former, but you never know. This is probably the most interesting pro day of any in the Big 12.
Oklahoma - March 13
  • Kenny Stills was blazing and did a nice job on the bench press at the combine, so expect him to take a seat for much of Oklahoma's pro day, but we'll see what Landry Jones has to offer, too.
Oklahoma State - March 12
  • Not a ton of intrigue in Stillwater, but I'm interested in seeing if Joseph Randle can improve on a poor 40 time at the combine. He tallied a 4.63 40 time in Indianapolis. He doesn't have breakneck speed, but that seems about a tenth of a second slow for him. Something in the 4.55 range would help him out. He can get there. Randle should also do some position work and the bench press after sitting out following thumb surgery at the end of the season.
Texas - March 26
  • Marquise Goodwin did some major damage at the combine with the fastest 40 time of anyone in attendance, but his position-specific work could talk more scouts into him and improve his stock. He's got to show a better ability to track the ball and haul it in.
TCU - March 8

Texas Tech - March 6

West Virginia - March 14
  • Not a ton to see here. Geno Smith sounds like he was the best of the QBs at the combine, but USC's pro day when Matt Barkley throws may have more impact on Smith's stock. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are who we thought they were after a strong combine.

Catching up on Big 12 and NFL combine

February, 25, 2013

Two Big 12 receivers were the biggest head-turners on Sunday as the skill position players went through their workouts in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine.

Texas' Marquise Goodwin is hoping his 4.27 40 time -- the fastest of any player at the combine -- is enough to outweigh his lack of production throughout his career and convince an NFL team to see his potential. He was well ahead of a trio tied for second at 4.34, a group that included West Virginia's Tavon Austin. The two earned a whole lot of buzz early in the morning when they tied for 4.25 unofficial 40 times, just one-hundredth of a second slower than Chris Johnson's 4.24 time in 2008, the fastest of any player in combine history.

Goodwin caught just 26 passes for 340 yards and three scores last year, which certainly makes one wonder about how well he was used in Texas' offense. The Olympic long jumper was way out in front of the pack in the 40, though, and his time is the second fastest in combine history.

TCU receiver Josh Boyce and Oklahoma receiver Kenny Stills tied with the sixth-fastest time at 4.38. Those are two really strong times, and Stills definitely turned heads.

Baylor's Lanear Sampson was 13th overall with a 40 time of 4.46. Here are some other top performers at the combine from the Big 12, according to NFL.com. You can see the full results here on the NFL's very cool searchable database.

40-yard dash
  • West Virginia QB Geno Smith: 4.59 seconds, fastest among quarterbacks.
  • Kansas State QB Collin Klein: 4.78 seconds, fifth among quarterbacks
  • Oklahoma QB Landry Jones: 5.11 seconds, 13th among quarterbacks
Broad jump
  • Texas WR Marquise Goodwin: 11 feet, second overall
  • TCU WR Josh Boyce: 10 feet, 11 inches, fourth overall
  • Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills: 10 feet, four inches, 13th overall
  • West Virginia QB Geno Smith: 10 feet, four inches, 13th overall
Three-cone drill
  • Boyce: 6.68 seconds, third-fastest
  • West Virginia WR Stedman Bailey: 6.81 seconds, 12th fastest
20-yard shuttle
  • Austin: 4.01 seconds, third overall
  • Bailey: 4.09 seconds, 10th overall
  • Boyce: 4.1 seconds, 12th overall
60-yard shuttle
  • Boyce: 11.26 seconds, third overall
  • Baylor WR Terrance Williams, 11.5 seconds, 12th overall

You can see top performers in every event by position at that database, too, so check it out.