Eleven Big 12 defenders recorded three interceptions or more last season. Just three return in 2017.
Who will repeat their big seasons in the secondary? And who might join them?
Here’s our prediction:
1. D.J. Reed, Kansas State: The Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year in 2016, Reed formed a solid cornerback duo with Duke Shelley. Both return after they tied for the team lead last year with three picks apiece. Reed led the league with 19 passes defended and tied for second on the K-State defense with 75 tackles. Look for his production in the interceptions column to jump as a junior.
2. Nick Orr, TCU: The rising senior is a smart and versatile defensive back. He came to TCU as a corner but settled immediately at safety and has started 26 games over the past two seasons. Orr led the Horned Frogs with four interceptions a year ago and broke up six passes. He teams with Niko Small to form the Big 12’s best safety duo amid one of its best secondaries.
3. Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma: The senior cornerback, a two-time All-Big 12 pick, picked off five passes in 2015 and just two last year. But he was equally as active, breaking up 15 balls while surrounded by a secondary that experienced its share of issues despite the emergence of Jordan Parker and the presence of veteran Steven Parker at safety. Thomas and the Sooners are intent to bounce back in 2017.
4. Ramon Richards, Oklahoma State: A move to safety won’t slow the junior from San Antonio. Richards intercepted two passes last year at cornerback and three as a true freshman while starting nine games. A quarterback in high school, he’s a quick study and a student of the game with speed to burn. That's a lethal combination at his new position, which will provide Richards more freedom to roam and anticipate QB decisions.
5. Brian Peavy, Iowa State: Twice a member of the ESPN.com Big 12 all-underclassmen team, Peavy picked off just one pass last year as a sophomore, but he led the Cyclones in pass breakups with 11. He had two interceptions as a redshirt freshman in 2015. Offensively, Iowa State is potent, which may lead to a few shootouts -- never a bad thing for a cornerback in search of interceptions.
6. Dravon Askew-Henry, West Virginia: His season-ending knee injury last August served as a devastating loss for the Mountaineers. Askew-Henry was a true freshman All-American, as picked by ESPN.com, in 2015, when he intercepted two passes, and he's a 26-game starter over his first two seasons. He’s back and fits nicely at his safety spot alongside Kyzir White. Someone must pick up the slack for Rasul Douglas, who picked off a Big 12-high eight passes a year ago. Why not Askew-Henry? He’s the leader of the group.