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2018 Big 12 Football Position Rankings | Defensive Backs

M. Hofeld


There isn’t a position group under more pressure in the Big 12 than the defensive secondary. As the spread offense continues to evolve, safeties must walk the fine line between pass coverage and run support. Cornerbacks face a mix of attacks ranging from stretch running plays to bubble screens and still have to find a way to manage tight coverage on downfield shots.

As we preview our final position group of the preseason we’ll take a look at the defensive backs of the Big 12. Below the consensus rankings are a few explanations of the individual rankings.

The consensus rankings come from a points system. A first place selection is worth 10 points, second place is 9 points, and they continue in descending order with tenth place equaling 1 point.

 Heartland Sports Consensus Defensive Back Rankings
Ranking Points
1. TCU 37
1. Texas 37
3. Texas Tech 30
4. Iowa State 28
4. Oklahoma 28
6. Oklahoma State 20
7. Kansas State 14
8. West Virginia 13
9. Kansas 9
9. Baylor 4

1. TCU | Despite losing a couple of graduated seniors, the Horned Frogs have a lot of experience coming back this year. They had one of the two pass defenses in the Big 12 a season ago, and junior Jeff Gladney and senior Niko Small will lead the way this year.

2. Texas Tech | The Red Raiders are rarely known for their solid defense, but senior Jah’Shawn Johnson and junior Justus Parker are both on the Preseason All-Big 12 team after being selected to the Second Team last season. Johnson led all defensive backs in the Big 12 in tackles a year ago, and Parker is a ball hawk, raking in four interceptions and forcing four fumbles while recovering one.

3. Texas | The Longhorns have a lot of experience returning this season with three seniors starting. Senior Kris Boyd leads the way as the conference’s leader in pass breakups a season ago.

4. Iowa State

5. Oklahoma

6. Oklahoma State

7. Kansas State

8. West Virginia

9. Kansas | The Jayhawks had arguably the worst secondary in the conference last season. The only reason they should see some improvement is the fact that they are returning just about every defensive back that saw the field last year.

10. Baylor | Baylor’s secondary was nearly as bad as the Jayhawks last season, and while they hope to see some improvement this year, I wouldn’t bet on it.

1. Texas | For the first time in what seems like a long time, the Longhorns have a veteran group in the secondary. Yet, the program signed high quality players and top notch talent who many think can compete for playing time this season. Forcing 16 turnovers last season, the group looks to improve upon the number and certainly has the personnel to do so. This group has the highest ceiling in my opinion this year.

2. TCU | Returning Jeff Gladney certainly helps the cause of the defensive effort in Fort Worth. Yet, Gary Patterson continues to develop athletes into top notch defenders. I suspect that trend continues for the Horned Frogs while this group has players with plenty of snaps under their belt. TCU could easily take the top spot by the middle of the season here.

3. Texas Tech | The Red Raiders possess two of the top defensive backs in the league in terms of production who both play the safety position. However, the program also sports five seniors on the two deep and returns all the starters from the unit. Needless to say, this could easily be the strong suit of the defense for those in Lubbock moving forward.

4. Oklahoma

5. Iowa State

6. Oklahoma State

7. Kansas State

8. Kansas

9. West Virginia | Experiencing quite a bit of attrition, the Mountaineers must turn to lesser known names to stop the high powered air raid offenses of the Big 12. While Dana Holgerson must rebuild the secondary, the program will lean on the offense to outscore opponents. The biggest question here remains depth.

10. Baylor | The Bears remained relatively inexperienced a year ago in the secondary while starting a freshman in Grayland Arnold. However, the program also shifted one player from receiver into the secondary to help the effort. Regardless of the talent on the field, one thing you can’t teach is size and the Bears simply do not have it.

1. Texas | Texas has had a younger secondary for many years now. This year, the Longhorns will be returning some extremely talented upper class-men. Kris Boyd will be the leader of the secondary for Texas. A year ago, he led the Big 12 in pass breakups with 15. Combined with another senior in P.J. Locke III, Texas will be stacked in the secondary.

2. Oklahoma | Seeing Oklahoma at the number two spot might seem a little crazy. I’m totally putting my credibility on the line with this one. That being said, the defensive culture at OU is changing and in my opinion the biggest impact will be on the secondary. Parnell Motley and Tre Norwood came on strong late in the season last year for the Sooners. I expect an even bigger turnout for these guys in 2018.

3. TCU | TCU is stacked with talent yet again in the secondary. It seems like Gary Patterson always finds extremely well rounded athletes to play on his defense. Niko Small and Jeff Gladney will lead the way for TCU. The experience that TCU is returning is what lands them in my top three.

4. Iowa State

5. Texas Tech

6. Oklahoma State

7. West Virginia

8. Kansas State

9. Kansas | Kansas is actually returning every single starter in their secondary from a year ago. However, that doesn’t mean improvement in my opinion. Unless you consider finishing second to last instead of dead last an improvement. That being said, Tyrone Miller is a name to lookout for in the Jayhawks secondary. He’s a solid open field tackler who can also break up some deep passes.

10. Baylor | Grayland Arnold is a top defensive back in the conference. However, the Bears don’t have anyone else out there to help him. The Bears rank last in my rankings not only due to talent, but also size. Baylor has four guys in their secondary under six feet tall. This could prove to be a huge disadvantage.


1. TCU | I like both the depth and the returning talent for the Horned Frogs. To me, the thing that separates them the most from Texas is that TCU returns their best player in the secondary. Niko Small will make a case to be the best safety in the conference and have cornerback Jeff Gladney as one of the premier pass defenders in the Big 12 taking the field with him.

2. Texas | The Longhorns have to replace DeShon Elliot who was the star of their secondary in 2017. There’s a trio of seniors who all have the potential to do so, led by corner Kris Boyd, who led the Big 12 in pass breakups last season with 15. Davante Davis has 14 career starts and will step in at the other cornerback spot. Safety P.J. Locke III is the third senior in the Longhorn secondary who will be looking to finish his career on a high note.

3. Iowa State | The 2017 rise of the Cylones was made possible by the defense, particularly in the secondary. ISU boosted themselves to a top 3 pass defense in the conference and while they’re looking to replace both safety positions they’ll boast possibly the best lock-down corner in the Big 12 in Brian Peavy. He’ll have D’Andre Payne, who is more than capable of holding his own, on the other side of the field.

4. Texas Tech

5. Oklahoma

6. Oklahoma State

7. West Virginia

8. Kansas State

9. Kansas | The Jayhawks are deep and experienced in the secondary. They are the only team in the Big 12 to have their entire secondary two-deep returning in 2018. Are they improved though?

10. Baylor | The Bears can’t help but get better in 2018 but they’ll have to show significant improvement to rise out of the cellar.

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