We got a bit more clarity in the Big 12 race this past weekend, with Baylor falling out of contention with both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State picking up necessary wins against inferior competition. It is looking like the season’s final game pitting the two in-state rivals against each other may decide the conference’s winner. Despite the league lacking a bit of panache these days, we have still seen a host of talent emerge over the course of the year and the running back position in particular looks to be relatively stacked. The rundown below features some familiar names as well as some players emerging as the year progresses.
Premier Conference Performers
RB D’onta Foreman, Texas Longhorns
33 carries for 341 yards and three touchdowns
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D’onta Foreman continues to eviscerate Big 12 defenses with his brutish yet elegant running style. While Texas Tech pretty much lays out a red carpet and pampers any opposing offensive player, we continue to see the balanced skill-set which has Foreman cementing himself as one of the better backs available in a class we have discussed at length. With Chris Warren not expected back any time soon and Kyle Porter flashing yet not being ready to handle a heavy workload, we should see plenty of Foreman down the stretch as he puts together a monster statistical season.
RB Kyle Hicks, TCU Horned Frogs
26 carries for 192 yards and five touchdowns; two receptions for three yards
Kyle Hicks looked like a huge question mark to play during the middle of the week, let alone a player who could dominate if he stepped on the field. He delivered a monster performance against a suddenly overmatched Baylor team, tallying five touchdowns and operating as a clear workhorse. A versatile weapon who is also a capable receiver, Hicks has quietly put together an extremely productive season and may be one of the nation’s more unheralded backs. Even though it is his fourth season on campus, he may return to school given he has another year of eligibility and can join a less loaded class.
WR James Washington, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Seven receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns
It was a sneaky tough game for the Cowboys in Manhattan, and their big guns came to play, most notably James Washington. Washington continues to dazzle with his ability to play in space as well as tight spaces, and he may be one of the smoothest movers in all of the nation. There’s a lot of things atypical about his game but most agree he is a day one talent.
WR Allen Lazard, Iowa State Cyclones
Six receptions for 76 yards and one touchdown
Often accused of being big (which he is) and lumbering (not so much), Allen Lazard has had a productive season for an awful Iowa State club thanks to refined route running and wise usage of his body. He can make some silly catches in traffic and he has slowly improved each season, which is always an encouraging sign and an indicator he has put in the work. He resides in obscurity given his collegiate program of choice but he could become a household name as soon as he reaches the NFL.
WR Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma Sooners
Seven receptions for 131 yards and one touchdown
Just another week in the life of Dede Westbrook. A 7/131/1 line is actually modest for a receiver who has been stuffing the state sheet ever since rebounding from a slow start caused by injury. Westbrook’s eye-popping numbers and the ever-increasing nuance to his game has some dubbing him as the WR1 in 2017. I am not ready to go that far, but depending on Combine results and his true weight (he’s awfully slight) he could flirt with round one in a rather pedestrian receiver class.
RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma Sooners
DNP – Suspension
Joe Mixon’s latest offense – ripping up a parking ticket in front of an attendant – seems innocuous enough in a vacuum; plenty of folks are liable to get frustrated if handed a parking ticket. However, Mixon really need to be squeaky clean to get away from an ugly 2014 incident which resulted in a season-long suspension and another suspension – even for a single game – is not the way to do so. Mixon has a ton of talent but the baggage he carries with him may be enough for a few teams to say “no thanks”. It will be an interesting decision to see if Mixon enters the 2017 mix or returns to Oklahoma. A year of being clean off the field could do wonders, though given the odd stance the NFL takes on most things, it is possible his talent transcends any concerns regarding his off-field behavior.
WR Collin Johnson, Texas Longhorns
Four receptions for 47 yards and two touchdowns
Big receivers can often get overhyped due solely to their size. #TeamBigWR has had its heyday across the interwebs and we often dismiss smaller receivers and paint them as complementary or slot options. When you see a big receiver who possesses plus movement skills and plays big, however, you have to take notice. Collin Johnson plummeted down recruiting rankings after an injury truncated his senior season in high school, but he enrolled early and has taken advantage of the youth littering Texas’ roster. At 6’6”, 220, he is certainly imposing at first blush, yet he’s not just a tower winning jump balls; the aforementioned movement skills and the willingness to play in dirty areas make him a weapon in-between the 20’s. I’m pretty bullish on Johnson, and have him near the top of what I consider to be a gifted class of true freshman receivers.