The prolific passing attacks of the Big 12 see their fair share of turnover at wide receiver this upcoming season. The dynamic West Virginia Mountaineers duo of Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are gone. As is Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills. Baylor’s Terrance Williams, the nation’s receiving leaders? Onto the NFL.
But as it has routinely in recent years, the members of the Big 12 are stocked with the right talent to simply reload for another
1. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State Wildcats
In a conference filled with uptempo, pass-happy offenses, the No. 1 receiver just might come from one of the more conservative systems. Tyler Lockett’s numbers are not the gaudiest — Dana Dimel and Del Miller don’t run a scheme conducive to huge statistical output — but his value to the Wildcats is undeniable.
Lockett fulfills a number of duties for the Wildcats. He’s used in the running game sparingly yet effectively, peeling off nearly eight yards per carry. He was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2011, and one of the nation’s most dangerous return men. He’s an All-American in special teams, boasting two kicks returned for touchdowns in each of his first two seasons.
As a wide receiver, he’s in position to be K-State’s most important asset. Lockett’s 687 receiving yards accounted for more than 25 percent of the Wildcats’ passing offense last season. With receptions leaders Chris Harper gone, Lockett’s role is even more vital.
2. Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma Sooners
The NCAA granted Jalen Saunders’ waiver for immediate eligibility following his transfer from Fresno State a little before the halfway mark of 2012. Despite missing four games, Saunders caught 62 passes for 829 yards. At the same pace playing in all 13 of the Sooners’ contests, Saunders would have reached 1200 yards.
Saunders is reminiscent of recent Sooner great Ryan Broyles in several key areas. Both are lightning quick and can shed tacklers in tight spaces.
3. Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State has churned out one great receiver after another during Mike Gundy’s tenure in Stillwater. Josh Stewart is lined up to be the next. Stewart is coming off a 1210-yard, seven-touchdown campaign to pace the Cowboys’ No. 7 ranked passing offense.
Stewart is as quick as a hiccup, to borrow a phrase from noted Oklahoma Sooner Jim Ross. His speed led to five 100-plus yard performances, and a sixth of 98 yards.
4. Tevin Reese, Baylor Bears
In 2011, it was Kendall Wright. Last year, Terrance Williams broke out. This year, Tevin Reese is primed to be a star in Baylor’s wide-open attack. Reese’s numbers would have led plenty of teams in college football, as he hauled in 957 yards and nine touchdowns.
5. Eric Ward, Texas Tech Red Raiders
The top returner in Texas Tech’s air raid spread is in position for a tremendously productive senior season. Eric Ward eclipsed the 1000-yard mark in 2012 and scored 12 touchdowns, and even bigger numbers could be in his future.
Facets of Ward’s game are reminiscent of A&M star Ryan Swope (not the first reference to Swope vis a vis Kliff Kingsbury you’ll read today, be forewarned). Should Ward emerge as the Big 12′s most productive pass catcher in 2012, it won’t be a surprise.
6. Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State Cowboys
An injury sidelined Tracy Moore for much of 2012, snuffing out a hot start that included a four-touchdown performance in the loss at Arizona. He was granted a medical redshirt this winter, and his return further solidifies the strength of what is arguably college football’s best receiving corps.
7. Mike Davis, Texas Longhorns
The big play threat in Texas’ offense last year was Mike Davis, a three-year contributor with veteran savvy and play-making abilities that scream NFL. His decision to come back for one more season gives the UT passing game a much sunnier outlook than it would have had without him.
Davis was the Longhorns’ top receiver in 2012, bringing in 939 yards on a whopping 16.5 per catch. Such proficiency for the long yardage play prompted ESPN.com’s David Ubben to project Davis as a 1000-yard receiver in 2013.
8. Brandon Carter, TCU Horned Frogs
Brandon Carter was TCU’s second option a season ago, but still put up some impressive numbers: 36 receptions for 590 yards, six touchdowns, all of which was done with a converted wide receiver manning quarterback duties for much of the campaign. A more stable situation behind center and a likely move to No. 1 in Josh Boyce’s absence spell a big season ahead for Carter.
9. Jaxon Shipley, Texas Longhorns
The Shipley legacy continues to grow in Austin. After brother Jordan was integral in the Longhorns’ last Big 12 championship, Jaxon arrived a year later with much fanfare. He didn’t disappoint, grabbing 44 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns. His sophomore year production improved by 15 receptions, 130 yards and double the scores.
Shipley gives David Ash a reliable target to throw to with consistency, setting up the big plays as defenses wear down and thin out.
10. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma Sooners
Four-star 2012 recruit Sterling Shepard saw action in his true freshman campaign, showing off flashes of the same brilliance that made his late father a Sooner star a generation prior. Shepard caught 45 passes for 621 yards.
Shepard is similar to Saunders in that both are smaller, fast targets with skills suited to the slot. Their styles should feed off one another, similarly to Stills and Broyles in the first half of 2011. Not a bad one-two combination for a team with “brutal” wide receivers, eh Trent Dilfer?
11. Kevin White, West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia receiving corps is in flux, with last year’s top three players all gone. But Dana Holgorsen isn’t exactly going to install the Wishbone this season, which means a newbie must emerge.
JUCO transfer Kevin White made his case in the Mountaineers’ spring game, with five receptions for 72 yards. WVSports.com describes White as “an athletic freak that can stretch the field with his speed but also has the size to out jump defensive backs if needed.”
12. Charlie Moore, Oklahoma State Cowboys
His Oklahoma State bio describes Charlie Moore as “a big play specialist,” and with good reason. The senior-to-be scored touchdowns of over 70 yards in consecutive conference games. He finished the year with 542 yards and six scores.
13. Blake Jackson, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Blake Jackson gives the high octane OSU offense a big target. At 6-foot-3 and nearly 240 pounds, Jackson is almost more like a tight end than a possession receiver, though he functions as the latter. His size makes a possible threat in red zone situations.
Jackson caught for 598 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.