The Roundup's position preview continues with our look at the secondary. The defensive backfield is a source of unprecedented stress in college football. With spread concepts, run/pass options, and freakish receivers running rampant, if you don't have the secondary secure it's going to be a long Saturday.
The Frogs lay claim to one of the best secondaries in the Big 12. Ranthony Texada is a legit stopper on the outside. Fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him his 2015 season, Texada give the Frogs the ability to shut down part of the field. Opposite Texada is Jeff Galdney who made eight starts and Julius Lewis a sophomore who made four starts in 2016.
At safety in TCU's 4-2-5 alignment Niko Small and Nick Orr both return. Orr made second team All-Big 12 as a junior and Small started in twelve games last season. Both are candidates for All-Big 12 honors in 2017.
Ridwan Issahaku is the new guy at strong safety, but he's not entirely new. He's made seven starts in his two seasons playing in Fort Worth. Innis Gaines had a great spring for TCU and should see the field quite a bit.
Like so many things in Austin, this doesn't add up. Texas has depth, speed, size, and credentials in the secondary, but the Longhorns still struggled in 2016 against the pass. All that talent is back and perhaps a new voice can harness the talent.
Texas returns four corners that would start for most of the Big 12. The Longhorns will have to sort out playing time which is a good problem to have. Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, P.J. Locke and Devante Davis. They'd have five with John Bonney, but Bonney moves to safety. Boyd and Hill will start at corner. Davis can play in relief of either or nickel corner Locke.
Someday Charlie Strong should get credit for the assembly of talent he left in Austin.
At safety the Horns lose playmaker Dylan Haines, but they return sophomore 5-star Brandon Jones who is ready for prime time. At strong safety DeShone Elliott and Jason Hall will compete in the fall for job. Both are capable, Hall is coming off an injury.
3. TEXAS A&M
The Aggies finished 45th in QB rating allowed at 124.2. Texas A&M was about the same in most statistical categories in 2016, not elite, but pretty good. This unit should be better.
The strength of A&M's secondary will be at safety with Armani Watts. Watts is a potential All-SEC performer or even better. He's put together a pretty great A&M career since arriving from North Forney. Larry Pryor will move in at free safety after starting the final three games of 2016.
The other strength is nickel back Donovan Wilson. He's listed as a nickel, but chances are he won't come off the field much. He's been a consistent playmaker in the backend of the Aggie defense for three seasons.
A corner Priest Willis is a steady force and, if he can stay healthy, he's got lockdown potential. On the other side the Aggies will look to one of two young players to step up after losing Nick Harvey to injury. Sophomore Charles Oliver was very effective in the spring and could take the job. If not Roney Elam is the next man up. A&M's secondary has been remade by John Chavis to be taller and longer. Freshman safety Ikenna Okeke at 6-3 and 219 pounds is the mold that Chavis has moved towards.
4. North Texas
Ranked too high? You didn't see this group play last year. They were top 45 in the FBS in QB rating allowed and they are ball hawks. The Mean Green finished in the top 35 in interceptions. Only SMU finished better among Roundup teams. Opponents completed just 51% of their passes against North Texas. That was seventh in the FBS. If anything they might be too low.
North Texas returns a trio of playmakers in their secondary led by safety Kishawn McClain. McClain was second team All-CUSA in 2016. He had 91 stops to lead the team as a junior. As a sophomore he contributed 110 tackles, also tops on the team. Taylor Robinson will back up McClain. He played in eleven games as a redshirt freshman.
North Texas has two very good cover corners in Eric Jenkins and Nate Brooks. Both were Honorable Mention All-CUSA last season. Brooks led the Mean Green in picks with four. Jenkins was right behind him with three picks. Jenkins steps in for Chad Davis.
Sophomore Khairi Muhammad steps in at strong safety. The DeSoto product played in twelve games last season backing up senior James Gray. The nickel will be either Dee Baulkman or Ashton Preston. Preston made nine starts last season while Baulkman started four games. Preston had a pick last season.
Baylor stymied defenses to the tune of a 54.9% completion percentage allowed. That number was aided by allowing a 44% completion percentage in non-conference games. In their wins, Baylor defended the pass at an elite level. In their losses they were a broken screen door.
The Bears replace arguably their top two defensive backs in Orion Stewart and Ryan Reid. They also lost nickel Patrick Levels. Davion Hall is at times frustrating and looks like a converted receiver, which is what he is. But then there are times, more and more regularly now, when Hall makes an instinctual, uber athletic play and you forget everything else. Hall is back at safety and he's now the leader with Stewart gone.
Grayland Arnold was thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2016. At 5-9, he's not ideally sized but he plays like a natural and with instincts beyond his experience. Redshirt sophomore Jameson Houston picks up on the other side and he's a blazer with two starts to his name. Junior Verkedric Vaughns is set to either challenge for a starting spot or get plenty of action in nickel packages.
Baylor lists Taion Sells as the starter opposite Hall. Sells is a senior from Irving who is a mystery, other than his measurables, which aren't great at 5-8. Expect Chance Waz to make the start when the season begins. He's made eighteen career starts.
Houston is quickly becoming DBU. The Cougars lost both corners to the NFL, just a year after losing multiple secondary defenders to the league.
This group's strength is at safety where Garrett Davis, Khalil Williams, and Terell Williams all return. Add in Collin Wilder and the Coogs return one of the deepest safety units in the AAC. Davis and Khalil Williams are the keys here. Davis is a big, rangy player just tapping into his potential. He was good enough to garner second team All-AAC selection in 2016. Khalil Williams is a downhill, physical safety who finished third on the team in tackle last year.
At corner Jeremy Winchester bring the most experience. Javian Smith played big minutes as a true freshman, as did Ka'Darian Smith. The most intriguing prospect at corner might be converted receiver Isaiah Johnson who at 6-4 should translate his receiver skills into great ball skills on the defensive side.
SMU is replacing two giant playmakers from the 2016 squad in Darrion Millines and Horace Richardson. Jordan Wyatt is a nice place to start in terms of replacement. Wyatt made all twelve starts and had four picks. He's made nineteen total starts as a Mustang and he's a player.
True sophomore Eric Sutton gets his chance at the other corner. He's a Cedar Hill product who saw limited action last season. The Mustangs are holding out hope that senior Cedric Lancaster can stay on the field and contribute, something he's struggled to do because of injuries. Lancaster is undersized but was once considered the most explosive player on the Mustang roster.
Christian Davis and William Jeanlys are both vying for playing time at corner. Jeanlys is a big athlete at the position and started four games as a true freshman in 2015.
At safety Rodney Clemons is back after starting all twelve games as a redshirt freshman. Clemons from Katy, finished fourth on the team in tackles. He's backed up by Kevin Johnson a sophomore from Waskom who finished eighth on the team in tackles last season in spot duty. At the boundary safety the Mustangs are young and inexperienced by comparison. Mikial Onu played in parts of twelve games as a true freshman. Behind him a true freshman Elijah McQueen is listed.
The Roadrunners lost a lot with the departure of Michael Egwuagu and, to a lesser extent, Jordan Moore, but they have talent coming back.
The guy we like is Devron Davis a dog at cornerback. Davis plays the pass well, but is a willing tackler in the open field. With the full-time job his, Davis should excel. East Central product and one-time Baylor transfer Austin Jupe gives the Roadrunners a taller option and a plus athlete on the other side. Teddrick McGee gives the Roadrunners experienced depth, something they sorely need at corner.
At safety Nate Gaines is a very good run stopper and looks like he played linebacker in a former life. Gaines has 23 career starts and now becomes the undisputed leader of the group. The RAM and LION positions will be manned by unknowns. Darryl Godfrey and C.J. Levine have all of one start between them. They played big roles on special teams. Levine, a senior from Port Arthur, is the most experienced of the two.
9. Texas Tech
Texas Tech is really counting on an influx of JC transfers to fix its ills in the secondary. That's a dangerous proposition. Though it's probably a better plan than relying on the guys on campus.
Jah'Shawn Johnson is back at safety after finishing second on the team in tackles as a sophomore and starting all twelve games. That's a good foundation. D.J. Polite-Bray is another piece of the puzzle at corner he made nine starts last season as a redshirt junior.
At the other corner Octavious Morgan comes to Lubbock via Butler JC. He had a number of Power 5 offers. Backing him up is the rangy Jaylon Lane from Independence JC. At the safety opposite Johnson is another JC newcomer Vaughnte Dorsey. Dorsey was ranked the eight best JUCO safety in America last year. He and junior Kisean Allen will battle for the starting nod.
It's not that these JC players aren't talented or highly regarded, but when they're making up half your secondary it could be a huge problem. JC ball, while a better barometer than high school football, is not a one to one evaluative process. Tech will either be improved or continue to plunge down the statistical standings. Well, technically they don't have far to go.
We've said this before, but we're not sure what purpose UTEP's defense served in 2016. The Miners allowed opposing QBs to throw for a 142.9 rating and 26 touchdowns. UTEP only mustered six picks by comparison.
There's talent here, just not production. Nik Needham is a skilled and long corner who's got a ton of experience. He's got nineteen starts under his belt and led the 2016 defense with eleven pass breakups. On the other side Kalon Beverly has seventeen starts. Both Needham and Beverly give the Miners good size on the edge. Justin Rogers started four games at corner near the end of the season and made the All-CUSA freshman.
At safety Devin Cockrell recovered from an injury that cost him his 2015 season to play all twelve games in 2016. He's a thumper in run support, in the pass game...well he's a thumper in run support. Cockrell is a real asset on special teams as well. Redshirt freshman Broderick Harrell provides depth for Cockrell.
Michael Lewis will get the first crack at free safety. The junior from tiny Trinity, Texas has bulked up this offseason after redshirting in 2016. JUCO transfer Kahani Smith will push Lewis for playing time.
11. Texas State
Opposing quarterbacks completed 68% of their against the Bobcats. Opponents were playing glorified 7 on 7 drills against the 'Cats. The touchdown interception ration was 28-3 in favor of the offense. It was a one-sided 7 on 7 drill.
Anthony Taylor, Jordan Eastling and Jashon Waddy were thrown into the fire as true freshmen in 2016. Down the stretch Taylor and Eastling each made four starts, and Waddy saw his time increase. Necessity is the mother of invention and in this case the mother of experience. Taylor has some dog in him and is the most physical of the three young corners. Junior Anthony Aneke will be in the rotation as well after backing up the departed Brandon McDowell.
If the season started today, and there's no reason it should, Taylor and Waddy would start with Eastling being the first guy in.
At safety Quinn Tiggs a JC transfer from Itawamba is back after five starts in 2016. Tiggs is versatile enough to play either position, but seems more natural at strong safety. Dila Rosemond made seven starts at safety. He showed a lot of flashes as a younger player but struggled to get on the field the past two seasons. He could shift to corner or play more of a nickel role.
Free safety provides an interesting prospect in converted running back and receiver A.J. Krawczyk. Krawczyk, a walk-on from Kingwood, earned a scholarship in 2016 after starring on special teams. He had a very good spring. Chances are his spot will be hotly contested come the fall.
Rice needs help on the back end. They allowed an FBS worst 170.55 passer rating in 2016. That was over eleven points worse than the next worse pass defense. The Owls gave up 10.2 yards per completion. Lots of help.
J.T. Ibe is the best of the bunch here if he's healthy. Ibe has made seventeen career starts and put up career numbers last season even though he missed time. With Ibe at strong safety, Cole Thomas moves over to free safety. Thomas spelled Ibe when he was injured in 2016. Destri White was one of the more productive Owls last season, but he finds himself in a backup role. His starting experience is a plus.
Senior V.J. Banks is back at corner, a position he started in eleven of twelve games. Banks will play the field corner or the corner on the wide side of the field. On the other side D'Angelo Ellis was pressed into action as a true freshman and made three starts. Behind Ellis is the undersized but experienced Brandon Douglas-Dotson.