- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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With the season just a month away, we’ve used this week to rank the top 25 players in the Big 12.
You can click here to see the previous four installments.
Today, we wrap up the series with who we think the top five players in the league will be in 2014:
5. Cedric Reed, DE, Texas: Overshadowed by his Big 12 defensive player of the year teammate in 2013, Reed had almost as productive a season as Jackson Jeffcoat. Reed was third in the Big 12 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. With Jeffcoat gone, Reed takes over as the centerpiece of coach Charlie Strong’s defense. He bring as much speed off the corner as any defensive end in the league and could play himself into the first round of the NFL draft with another big season.
4. Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma: He’s the Lawrence Taylor of the Big 12. Striker still needs to refine other parts of his game, but when it comes to rushing the passer off the blitz, there’s no one better in the country. Everyone remembers his three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, including the game-clinching forced fumble that led to an exclamation-point touchdown. But Striker had a penchant for creating big plays all season. On the first possession at Notre Dame, Striker slammed into quarterback Tommy Rees, knocking the ball into the air and into the arms of linebacker Corey Nelson, who gave the Sooners a quick 7-0 lead on the way to a 35-21 victory. Reed, Shawn Oakman and Ryan Mueller are all double-digit sack contenders, but Striker could be the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12’s sack crown in 2014.
3. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor: Goodley was arguably the league’s most improved player in 2013. He exploded right along with the Baylor offense, hauling in 1,339 receiving yards and a Big 12-best 13 touchdown catches. The big-play deep threat also led the nation with five receptions of 60 yards or more. Goodley won’t sneak up on anyone this season, but that doesn’t mean anyone will be able to contain him. The Bears have plenty of other weapons in the passing game and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks to get him the ball in Bryce Petty. Goodley has a legitimate chance to join Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree as the third Big 12 wideout to win Biletnikoff Award.
2. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State: One of Goodley’s prime competitors for the Biletnikoff Award figures to be Lockett. Prone to utterly unconscious performances in big games, Lockett combined for 35 receptions, 631 yards and six touchdowns in the three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan last season. He’ll have a prime opportunity to show the nation what he can do in September, when defending SEC champion Auburn visits Manhattan, Kansas, for a Thursday night clash. Lockett is on pace to break every school career receiving record held by his father, Kevin Lockett. Tyler Lockett will square off against Goodley in the final week of the regular season in a showdown featuring two of the best wideouts to come through the Big 12.
1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: The Dairy Queens in Salem, Oregon, might not appreciate Petty, but we do here, as slotting Petty No. 1 was the easiest decision we made while putting together this top-25 player ranking. In his first season as a starting quarterback, Petty totaled 46 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions while earning Big 12 offensive player of the year honors. It will be difficult for Petty to replicate such gaudy numbers, but with a year of experience behind him operating Art Briles' offense, Petty should be even sharper in 2014. If he is, he’ll have a chance to become the second Baylor quarterback to capture the Heisman Trophy in the past four seasons.
That’s it for our top 25 player ranking. Did we get it right? Send your thoughts to the Big 12 mailbag.
11hEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough
1dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman