Dallas Colleges: Kenny Vaccaro

Phil Steele knows college football, and rolled out his preseason all-conference teams recently, including the Big 12.

You can see the full conference picks here, but plenty of interesting selections from the college football guru. ESPN.com's teams won't be released until much later this offseason, but here's a few thoughts on Steele's teams:
  • Is it a little bit crazy to pick a guy who has thrown 10 career passes as your first-team All-Big 12 quarterback? Absolutely. If I had to pick one, though, would I tab Baylor's Bryce Petty as the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback to close the season? Yes, I would. Generally, I see preseason honors as a "Who's had the best career to this point?" type of deal and not as much of a prediction, but that's a personal belief and not anything the Big 12 officially states when it sends out preseason All-Big 12 ballots. Petty is an intriguing choice as the Big 12's No. 1 quarterback that's obviously going to draw attention, but I'm not going to be one to argue.
  • I'd say selecting Petty as the Big 12's No. 1 QB says just as much about the rest of the guys in the Big 12 than it does about Petty. Steele tabbed TCU's Casey Pachall as his second-teamer, Texas' David Ash as his third and Oklahoma's Blake Bell on the fourth team. I'd say Clint Chelf or Michael Brewer belongs in that mix, but none of those guys have the statistical potential of Petty. Pachall makes great decisions on the field, but TCU's offense doesn't give him the capability to routinely roll up 400-yard games. Ash is above average, but he's not a world-beater (doesn't need to be for Texas to win a Big 12 title, I might add) and still has to prove he can be more consistent.
  • This might be the deepest season at running back we've seen in a long time. I'd put John Hubert or James Sims ahead of Oklahoma's Damien Williams, but good selections from Steele to give Andrew Buie, Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown a little love, too. Opportunities are all that's limited Jeremy Smith from having a big year. He'll have them now, and I'm betting on him to be the seventh consecutive Oklahoma State running back to top 1,000 yards.
  • Conversely, this could be one of the weakest years for wide receivers. There are a lot of above average receivers in the league, but there's not a guy that jumps out as one defenses really fear and spend a ton of time game-planning for. Mike Davis and Josh Stewart are good, somewhat obvious picks for the first team, but I'd go with Jalen Saunders ahead of Tracy Moore, and probably Eric Ward, too.
  • Tough picks this year at safety, which has been easy for a while in the Big 12 with Tony Jefferson and Kenny Vaccaro hanging around. Tons of depth at that position. Steele went with Ty Zimmerman and Daytawion Lowe as his first-teamers. I'd probably say Joseph over Lowe by a hair but even when you get down to third-teamers like Baylor's Ahmad Dixon or fourth-teamers like Iowa State's Jacques Washington and Texas' Adrian Phillips, you're talking about guys who can really, really play. Could be a very defensive year in the Big 12, relative to what we're used to seeing in this league. Look at the cornerbacks, too. The dropoff from the first to third teams is negligible. Aaron Colvin and Jason Verrett have NFL-type measurables, but so do Justin Gilbert and Quandre Diggs and third-teamers Carrington Byndom and Joe Williams could be strong.
  • Steele illustrates the weight of Delvon Simmons' departure from Texas Tech. The defensive lineman was on Steele's second team before leaving school and electing to transfer. Kliff Kingsbury said last week he wants guys who want to be Red Raiders, but it's still a big loss for the Tech defense.
  • What about the kickers? It seems like everybody in the league hates their kicker these days, but two guys on Steele's list have their jobs up for grabs. Iowa State's Edwin Arceo is a second-teamer, but he'll be battling freshman Cole Nettlen to even get on the field once fall camp begins. Fourth-teamer Ron Doherty from Kansas is on the chopping block, too. Weis was displeased with just about every facet of his special-teams units last year, and completely revamped the way the units are coached. Every assistant coach now is in charge of one facet of special teams, instead of having one special teams coach. He brought in juco kicker Nick Pardula to try and fix those issues, too. He'll compete with Doherty in the fall, but Weis raved about Pardula's big leg when I talked with him last month. First-teamers Jaden Oberkrom from TCU and Iowa State's Kirby Van Der Kamp are certified studs, but it could be an ugly year elsewhere in Big 12 special teams.

Which Big 12 talent has brightest future?

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
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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.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 player will have the best NFL career?

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    19%
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    11%
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    38%
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    16%
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    16%

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
3/29/13
12:00
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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.

Closer look at the Big 12 NFL draft board

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
12:15
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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.

Quarterback
  • 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.
Receiver
  • 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.
Safeties
  • 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.
Punters
  • 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
3/12/13
3:00
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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.

Catching up with Big 12 DBs at the combine

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
12:24
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The defensive backs took their turn at the combine on Tuesday, the event's final day before players scatter to work out before their respective pro days.

Here's a look at the Big 12's top performers in each event on Tuesday:

40-yard dash
  • None
225-pound bench press
Vertical jump
Broad jump
  • None
Three-cone drill
  • Vaccaro, 6.78 seconds, No. 12 among DBs
20-yard shuttle
  • Vaccaro, 4.06 seconds, No. 4 among DBs
60-yard shuttle
  • None

Obviously, a very, very quiet day from the Big 12 defensive backs in attendance on Tuesday. You can see the full results here. The only other Big 12 defensive back working out on Tuesday was Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson. The league sent 30 players to the combine this week, but just three were defensive backs.

You can see the measurables that make Kenny Vaccaro more than just an instinctive player. He has those instincts, but he can move with the best of them and has that quickness required at the position. Not hard at all to see why he's a first-round talent.

Breaking down spring camp: Texas

February, 20, 2013
2/20/13
9:00
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As spring camps begin, we'll offer up a preview and let you know what to watch for in each team's 15 practices over the next couple of months. Texas will start spring practice first, so today we start with the Longhorns.

Schedule: The Longhorns begin spring practice on Thursday and will host a spring game on March 30.

What's new: Offensive playcalling duties have fallen to co-coordinator Major Applewhite now, who was promoted when partner Bryan Harsin left to become Arkansas State's head coach. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz mulled a move after the season, but ultimately stuck around to help revive a defense that struggled in 2012.

On the mend: Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat will likely be limited after undergoing surgery on a torn pectoral, but linebacker Jordan Hicks should return following a hip injury that cost him his 2012 season and a sexual assault charge that was eventually dropped stemming from an incident during the Longhorns' bowl trip.

Stepping up: Kenny Vaccaro's versatility will be tough to replace, but figuring out who will try and fill his role at safety will be huge for Texas' defense during the spring. My money is on Mykkele Thompson, but don't rule out junior Josh Turner or even a position move for physical junior cornerback Quandre Diggs.

New faces: Texas is welcoming a handful of early enrollees this spring, headlined by quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Offensive lineman Jake Raulerson, the 2013 class' first commit, is also enrolled along with linebacker Deoundrei Davis and tight end Geoff Swaim, the nation's No. 4 junior college player at the position.

Breaking out: Linebacker Peter Jinkens already made an impact as a true freshman, but don't be surprised if he leaves spring practice with a starting gig, beating out a few older players like Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson. Jinkens earned a start against Iowa State and snagged an interception in Texas' Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State, but the 6-foot-1, 213-pounder from Dallas could be a budding star in a linebacking corps that needs help after a disappointing 2012.

Under the radar: Texas struggled in the kicking game throughout 2012, making just 11 of 19 attempts, the lowest percentage of any Big 12 team. Nick Jordan had to carry the load as a freshman while Penn State transfer Anthony Fera battled a groin injury. They'll be back to battle this spring, and though it won't get much attention in a camp loaded with intrigue, its importance can't be overstated for a team that doesn't hang points by the buckets and played in six games decided by one possession a year ago.

All eyes on: Quarterback David Ash. Being just OK is no longer acceptable. He was reasonably efficient last season with a passer rating of over 153, but faltered late in the season and struggled with inconsistency. If Texas is going to be great, he has to be great, and most importantly, consistent. No more well-deserved benchings in favor of Case McCoy. Ash limited his interceptions and was fifth in the league in passer rating, but he's got to be even better as a junior.

More booms and busts from the 2009 class

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
10:00
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Earlier this morning, we broke down half of the big surprises and big busts from the 2009 recruiting class in the Big 12. Let's take a look at the rest of the Big 12.

Oklahoma State

Best surprise: OL Levy Adcock (Claremore, Okla.)

Adcock came to Oklahoma State as a juco transfer but had a quiet beginning to his career. He was the Pokes' No. 4 tight end in 2009 but moved to the offensive line and won the right tackle job, emerging as one of the Big 12's best lineman, and certainly the league's best in 2011. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and an All-American as a senior.

Biggest bust: RB Dexter Pratt (Navasota, Texas)

Pratt came as the only ESPN 150 member of Oklahoma State's 2009 class, but left the team in the spring of 2010. He was the nation's No. 15 running back and No. 139 overall recruit, but redshirted his first season on campus. He transferred to a junior college but was arrested in April 2011 on drug charges. That came less than two years after Pratt was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge in July 2009.

Texas

Best surprise: S Kenny Vaccaro (Brownwood, Texas)

Vaccaro was just the nation's No. 42 safety and entered Texas more highly ranked than just two of the Longhorns' 20 signees. Still, he emerged as a playmaker throughout his career. He was a three-year starter and a two-time All-Big 12 selection, earning All-America honors as a senior. It's not as tangible of an honor, but for my money, he's been one of, if not the hardest hitter in the Big 12 the past two years.

Biggest bust: QB Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas)

Gilbert might be one of the biggest busts in Big 12 history. He was a hometown talent and the nation's No. 2 quarterback and No. 11 overall recruit, rated higher than guys like AJ McCarron and just behind talents like Matt Barkley and Manti Te'o. He showed big promise in the 2009 national title game against Alabama when Colt McCoy was injured, but threw 17 interceptions in Texas' 5-7 nightmare season in 2010. He returned in 2011, but threw two quick interceptions as Texas fell behind BYU. Gilbert was benched as fans booed him off the field, and he never saw any more time. He underwent shoulder surgery later that year and transferred to SMU, where he started and threw for 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2012.

TCU

Best surprise: DE Stansly Maponga (Carrolton, Texas)

Maponga came to TCU as the nation's No. 111 defensive end and ranked higher than just a handful of TCU's high-school recruits. He was a freshman All-American in 2010 after redshirting and became a full-time starter, earning all-conference honors. In 2011, he was a first-team All-Mountain West honoree and was TCU's only preseason representative on the All-Big 12 team. He battled injuries, but still had 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, a year after making nine sacks.

Biggest bust: OLB Justin Isadore (Beaumont, Texas)

Isadore redshirted in 2009 but left the team after the season and transferred to Stephen F. Austin. He was the nation's No. 38 outside linebacker and the Frogs' second-highest ranked recruit. After transferring to the FCS level, he still has yet to record more than 20 tackles in a season.

Texas Tech

Best surprise: S D.J. Johnson (Austin, Texas)

Johnson was a middle-of-the-road recruit in a Texas Tech class that was just OK, but he emerged as a huge contributor and a three-year starter for the Texas Tech defense. He was an All-Big 12 honoree in 2010 and 2012 and racked up 90 tackles in 2012 for a much-improved Texas Tech defense under coordinator Art Kaufman.

Biggest bust: OLB Brandon Mahoney (Keller, Texas)

Mahoney was the class' highest-ranked signee and the nation's No. 13 outside linebacker. At one time, he was committed to Oklahoma, but Texas Tech made a swipe on the recruiting trail, but Mahoney didn't pan out. He left the team in August 2010 after redshirting in 2009.

West Virginia

Best surprise: S Darwin Cook (East Cleveland, OH)

Cook was the nation's No. 89 safety and didn't attract much attention on the way into Morgantown, even though he's got a pretty crazy backstory. He emerged to be a two-year starter at safety for the Mountaineers and a three-year contributor, providing the biggest defensive highlight of 2011 when he returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson.

Biggest bust: WR Logan Heastie (Chesapeake, Va.)

Heastie was the nation's No. 19 receiver and only Geno Smith (known by recruiting services as "Eugene Smith" ... awesome) was rated higher in the Mountaineers' class. Heastie, though, never caught on with the Mountaineers and reportedly didn't take to offseason workouts and didn't do much to impress coach Bill Stewart. Heastie transferred in April 2010.

Postseason position ranking: Safeties

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
8:42
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We'll continue looking at the Big 12's best at positions across the Big 12 today with the guys who serve as the last line of defense: the safeties. It's a pretty strong position across the Big 12, just like pass-rushers. In this league, it has to be. Let's get to it:

Here's what you've missed so far: 1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: Vaccaro is quick, explosive, versatile and has a great feel for the game. That's a fantastic combination for a safety and he patrols near the line of scrimmage for the Longhorns, but has great cover skills, too. The top three safeties in the league are really tight, but for my money, Vaccaro is the top of the list.

2. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma: Jefferson was the biggest piece of Oklahoma's defense this past season, and finished second in the league with 119 tackles. The Sooners' new scheme fed ball carriers his way, but Jefferson was there to make plays all year long. He moved to a more traditional safety spot after spending much of his first two years at nickel back. He's good in coverage, though his straight-line speed isn't eye-popping, and part of that is being a very instinctive player, just like Vaccaro.

3. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State: Zimmerman's got a nose for the ball that's as solid as anybody on the list, and had a great year despite missing the last few games of the regular season with a broken bone in his leg. He picked off passes in four consecutive Big 12 games and finished with 50 tackles.

4. Cody Davis, Texas Tech: Davis has tons of experience and had a great year for a very improved Texas Tech defense. He picked off three passes, broke up seven passes and made 101 tackles as part of a secondary that limited offenses through most of the season.

5. Sam Carter, TCU: Carter made a splash in his first year in the Big 12 for the league's best defense. He broke up 10 passes, picked off four more and made 63 tackles. He also forced a fumble and had three sacks.

6. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor: Dixon's got a ton of talent and probably has the most NFL potential of any Baylor defender. He had a solid year, and could put together a big year in 2013. Baylor's defense still struggled for much of the year, but Dixon helped spur a late-season charge alongside linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey. Dixon made 102 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss, and intercepted two passes.

7. Javon Harris, Oklahoma: Harris tied for the Big 12 lead with six interceptions, though half of them came in games against FCS Florida A&M and 1-11 Kansas. He excelled this past season in Mike Stoops' defense, morphing the Sooners' biggest weakness -- defending the long ball -- into one of its strengths for most of the season.

8. Durrell Givens, Iowa State: There were more talented guys on Iowa State's defense, but there's something to be said for being a turnover machine in a breakout season like the one Givens had in 2012. He produced nine turnovers (three INTs, six fumble recoveries) and forced four more fumbles while making 80 tackles.

9. Bradley McDougald, Kansas: Kansas' defense was pretty ugly, but McDougald was a bright spot with 93 tackles, three interceptions and four tackles for loss with a pair of forced fumbles.

10. Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State's secondary was a bit disappointing, but Lowe had a decent season with 75 tackles, three tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown.

Thirty Big 12 players off to NFL combine

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
2:00
PM CT
The NFL scouting combine is the biggest annual showcase of future football stars before the NFL draft, where players who have entered the draft get measured, run through drills and show scouts and coaches what they can do without any pads on.

This year, a record 333 players have been invited, and the Big 12 landed 30 invitations.

Draft stock can swing wildly during the week, with the main event -- the 40 time -- often serving as the catalyst for that stock. Call it silly, and in some ways it is, but it's the reality of the process. Here's who's headed to Indianapolis from the Big 12:
Pretty good set of players there. You can see them when the combine kicks off Feb. 20.

Ranking the Big 12's top 25 players: No. 13

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
1:00
PM CT
We’re continuing our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players from the 2012 season. Here's more on my criteria for the list. You can take a peek at how the preseason list looked here.

The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing one player a day moving forward.

On with the show ...

No. 13: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

2012 numbers: Made 96 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, intercepted two passes, broke up five passes and forced two fumbles.

Most recent ranking: Vaccaro was ranked No. 8 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Vaccaro: Vaccaro made his name early in his career as one of the Big 12's biggest hitters, but he was the league's best safety this past season and kept on pounding ball carriers, too. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder made an immediate impression on defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Texas' defense was a bit underwhelming this past season, but Vaccaro was solid. The team captain ranked ninth in the Big 12 in tackles and had double-digit stops in two of Texas' final three games. One of his biggest strengths is his versatility, too. He'll probably spend more time as a traditional safety in the NFL, but he was a big playmaker near the line of scrimmage and in run support for the Longhorns. He moved around a lot, but one thing was certain: Wherever he was, offenses made sure to find him and keep an eye on where he was headed.

The rest of the list:

Offseason to-do list: Texas Longhorns

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
11:46
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Every year, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's continue our look with the Longhorns down in Austin.

1. Figure out the offensive identity. Bryan Harsin is gone, and he's probably taking most of his pre-snap shifts with him. Will Major Applewhite still look to run a power offense? Texas has recruited and developed its offensive line really well lately, but David Ash has matured, and even with a wealth of backs in Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Daje Johnson, Texas hasn't been able to keep them healthy or get consistent production out of one for an entire season. Will Applewhite put more responsibility in Ash's hands? He was good at times last season, but the rising junior was inconsistent. His ceiling is probably a legitimate Heisman campaign. His floor is probably getting benched in favor Connor Brewer or Jalen Overstreet -- or maybe even incoming freshman Tyrone Swoopes. Where will he fall on the spectrum? Will Texas continue to try to pound the trenches?

2. Plug up the middle of the defense. Texas' defense made no sense last season. The personnel is absolutely there to be great up front. The defensive tackles are deep and talented, led by guys like Malcom Brown, Ashton Dorsey, Desmond Jackson and Chris Whaley. The linebackers were solid, even without Jordan Hicks, who should be back next season. Peter Jinkens is a rising star and a few others have potential. Coordinator Manny Diaz didn't take another job, electing to stay in Austin and attempt fix the most underwhelming unit in the Big 12. It all starts with the ability to stop the run, something Texas never did consistently last season. Fix that, and the rest of this defense comes around, I say.

3. Discover and develop leadership. Texas was still a pretty young team last season after rebooting on both sides of the ball after the 2010 season. The freshmen and sophomores who contributed in 2011 are juniors and seniors now, but the team is losing guys like Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro, players who had been around awhile and served as role models for younger guys. Look for Jackson Jeffcoat and David to fill the role this year, but other players, like Malcolm Brown or Jaxon Shipley, might emerge, too. We'll see who steps up in the spring.

More offseason to-do lists:

Who will be the first Big 12 player drafted?

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
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Colleague Mel Kiper released his first mock draft earlier today, but Big 12 fans may look a little bored during the first round this year.

He only has two Big 12 players going in the first round: Texas' Kenny Vaccaro and Baylor's Terrance Williams. The Longhorns safety is slotted at No. 16 and headed to the St. Louis Rams. The Bears' receiver is headed to the Minnesota Vikings, Kiper writes.

It's a little surprising, but the simple fact is the Big 12's draft class this year is pretty weak. We'll see if quarterbacks like Geno Smith and Landry Jones can play their way into the first round in the lead-up to the draft, but the Big 12 won't be making much noise until the middle rounds.

Take a look at Kiper's full draft .

Preseason All-Big 12 checkup: Defense

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
12:00
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It's always fun looking back on what we thought in the preseason, and today, we'll take another look.

Here's who made the postseason team.

How did our All-Big 12 preseason team stack up at season's end? Here's how the preseason All-Big 12 offense ended up. Now, let's look at the defense.

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

Jeffcoat was off to a solid start with 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks with a pair of forced fumbles in his first six games, but a torn pectoral muscle ended his season early and he didn't make the postseason team.

DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU

Maponga was TCU's lone representative on the preseason team, but he didn't quite live up to expectations, and was overshadowed by teammate Devonte Fields. Maponga made just six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, neither of which ranked in the top 10 of the Big 12. He did force two fumbles but didn't make the postseason team.

DL: Alex Okafor, Texas

Okafor was solid this season, and wasn't far off from being the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year. He was third in the league with eight sacks and sixth in the league with 11.5 tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles and made the postseason team.

DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State

I took some flack for including Williams on my preseason team, but I'll have the last laugh here. I loved his relentless motor and underrated technique and use of hands in 2011. This year, it paid off with a Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year trophy after leading the league with 9.5 sacks and finishing third with 13.5 tackles for loss. He obviously made the postseason team.

LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State

Klein returned as the league's Defensive Player of the Year and had a really solid year with 98 tackles and an interception returned 87 yards for a score. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss and made the postseason team.

LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State

Brown didn't have a huge statistical year but he held together a solid K-State defense and flew around all season, even playing through a painful ankle injury. He won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors for his efforts and made 91 tackles, six tackles for loss and intercepted two passes, returning one for a score. He obviously made the postseason team.

LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State

Knott was having a great year with 79 tackles and two interceptions through eight games, as well as five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, though, and played one last game, going out on top with a win over Baylor. Despite the injury, I still placed him on the postseason team.

CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas

Byndom was my pick as the league's top corner this year, but he was part of Texas' defensive struggles and got surpassed by some better players. The Longhorns pass D ranked third in the league, but Byndom was 21st in pass breakups, though he did have three interceptions and two blocked kicks.

CB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State

Brown and teammate Justin Gilbert were two of the bigger disappointments across the league this year. The duo combined for 10 picks a year ago. Neither had one this year, and OSU ranked seventh in the league in pass defense. He was surpassed by better performances on this year's team by Aaron Colvin and Jason Verrett.

S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas

Vaccaro had a solid year with 93 tackles, two interceptions 3.5 TFLs and two forced fumbles, but I gave the narrow nod to K-State's Ty Zimmerman for the second safety spot on the postseason team.

S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

Jefferson was one of the league's best defenders this year and finished second in the league with 113 stops. He picked off two passes and broke up three more. He made the postseason team.

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