Big 12 football players poised to break out in the fall
By The Associated Press
Some of the Big 12 Conference players who could have breakout seasons and be impact players in 2018:
DE BJ Thompson, sophomore. The 6-foot-6 Thompson got some experience as a true freshman last season, and even started a game. Thompson should be a big part of the Bears’ effort to improve their pass rush. He is rangy, tall and athletic. After impressive development last fall, he was impressive through this spring while adding at least 15 pounds, to about 225 pounds.
LB O’Rien Vance, redshirt freshman. Joel Lanning’s conversion from quarterback to linebacker was more than just a cute story in 2017. Lanning proved to be a crucial piece of a defense that vastly exceeded expectations. So it was a major relief to the Cyclones that perhaps their breakout star of spring camp was Vance, a two-time All-State pick out of Cedar Rapids who is expected to fill Lanning’s spot at middle linebacker.
WR Daylon Charlot, junior. The former Alabama transfer caught only one pass last season for the Jayhawks, then for a time was moved to defense because of a lack of depth at safety. Now Charlot is back on offense, and could be ready to contribute as a big-play receiver.
WR Chabastin Taylor, freshman. A big, physical receiver who redshirted last season, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Taylor had five catches for 118 yards and two impressive touchdowns in the spring game. Coach Bill Snyder said Taylor has skill and physically can play. “He has just got to learn to get into the system and the process,” Snyder said. “It is just going to depend about his investment during the course of the summer.”
TE Grant Calcaterra, sophomore. Calcaterra will replace Mark Andrews, the winner of the Mackey Award for the nation’s top tight end. Calcaterra caught 10 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns last season, then had 59 yards receiving with a TD catch in the spring game. Even while Andrews was dominating last season, there was buzz about Calcaterra’s potential.
QB Taylor Cornelius, senior. The 6-foot-6, 232-pound Cornelius took control of the position during spring practice. He succeeds Mason Rudolph, who started 41 games and set many of the school’s passing records. Though Cornelius has only passed for 220 yards and rushed for 108 in his career, the transition has been seamless and coach Mike Gundy feels he’s ready.
WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, junior. Humphrey was the standout performer of the spring game with seven catches for 100 yards. He also ran for two touchdowns, including one in which he lined up in the backfield in the goal line offense. Humphrey was an all-state running back in high school and he even threw two passes last season. “LJ’s about as versatile an offensive skill player as I’ve ever been around,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.
S Innis Gaines, junior. Gaines’ only interception last season came with 2 minutes left in the Alamo Bowl, preserving TCU’s 39-37 win over Stanford. Gaines has played in 24 games for the Horned Frogs, and the bowl game was only his second start. Gaines had 37 tackles with two sacks last season and is now set for his chance as a full-time starter, a role he solidified with a strong performance in the spring.
QB Jett Duffey, sophomore. While the Red Raiders quarterback situation remains unsettled after Nic Shimonek’s senior season, Duffey is a dual-threat option with some similarities to former top 10 NFL pick Patrick Mahomes. McLane Carter started the finale against Texas last year, though Shimonek came on to finish that victory.
WR T.J. Simmons, sophomore. The Mountaineers — and the rest of the nation — found out how good quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills V were last season. Now West Virginia fans will learn more about another wide receiver. Simmons is a transfer from Alabama, who played mostly special teams while playing 12 games as a freshman for the Crimson Tide in 2016. Grier and Sills are both back but 1,000-yard receiver Ka’Raun White was a senior last season.
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