The top 10 Oklahoma football players you need to know for 2016. These are the Sooner stars to watch out for.
1. RB Samaje Perine, Jr.
While he doesn’t get the same love and attention nationally of a Leonard Fournette, or a Christian McCaffrey, or a Dalvin Cook, Perine is every bit as strong and productive a back building on his 1,713-yard freshman season with a 1,349-yard, 16 touchdown sophomore season averaging almost six yards per pop. The one thing missing is steady production as a receiver, catching just 15 passes for 107 yards and a score, but that’s only because he’s not involved much as part of the passing game.
At 5-10 and 234 pounds, he’s a compact power runner who can grind out yards in chunks, and can take off for big runs when he gets a little bit of room. He’s hardly a blazer, but he can get on the move and hit the occasional home run. With the fire, the Academic All-Big 12 smarts, and the toughness to handle the ball 20+ times, he’s a 100-yard machine whenever he has to be. With the current style of offense – and with other options – he doesn’t have to be run into the ground, but he can do it if needed.
2. QB Baker Mayfield, Sr.
The hope was for Mayfield to take to the up-tempo style of Oklahoma offense after transferring over from Texas Tech, and it all turned out to be terrific completing 68% of his passes for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns with seven picks, and running for 405 yards and seven scores on the way to Big 12 Player of the Year honors and a spot in New York as a Heisman finalist. Very confident, very bold, and very clutch, he managed to pull a win out of the fire on the road against Tennessee when things weren’t going all that well, and he was able to bomb away time and again against the mediocre teams.
Can he crank it up against the big boys? He was just okay in the biggest of games – outside of a 311-yard day in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson – and he has to prove he can stay in one piece. At his 6-1, 212-pound size and with his tough style of play – he doesn’t back down from anything – he has to make sure he doesn’t take any unnecessary chances. He’s not built like Cam Newton – he can’t take too many big shots. The ultimate baller, he needs to take his experience, his moxie, and his skills, and try taking his game to a whole other level.
3. LB Jordan Evans, Sr.
The 6-2, 233-pound tough-guy inside linebacker might not have gotten too much attention on a defense full of big-name stars, but he was what the run defense needed over the last two years earning all-star honors with 83 tackles and a sack – despite missing two games in the middle of the year banged up – after cranking up 93 tackles as a sophomore. There’s nothing too flashy about his style, but he’s a smart, solid hitter who eats up everything against the run and isn’t bad in pass coverage. He’ll be the one the front seven works around – everything will flow his way.
4. RB Joe Mixon, Soph.
The biggest question mark is his off-field problem. While he went through the legal process after getting into a fight and hitting a woman, video of the incident is surfacing to bring it all up again. The public perception and all-around attention to follow could be a problem throughout the season. On the field, he’s an ultra-talented all-around back who’s a perfect complement to Samaje Perine, running for 753 yards and seven touchdowns, while catching 28 passes for 356 yards and four scores.
The 6-1, 226-pounder is ultra-quick with a smooth running style and the speed to break off the big play, but he’s not necessarily a workhorse. When he gets his chances, he can be a true difference-maker running for 154 yards and two scores on just 16 carries against Texas Tech, and ran 14 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma State.
5. DT Charles Walker, Jr.
How quickly can he come back to anchor the line? The 6-2, 299-pound All-Big 12 tackle underwent wrist surgery this offseason, but he’s expected to be fine by the time the season starts. Extremely quick, he’s an interior pass rusher coming up with six sacks with ten tackles for loss and 36 tackles. While he wasn’t a big-time recruit, he’s made himself into a player on hustle, work ethic, and with a great motor to find his way into the rotation. Not necessarily an anchor, he’s good against the run, but he’s better with raw bulk around him.
6. TE Mark Andrews, Soph.
The All-Big 12 pass catcher only started one game and made 19 catches for 318 yards, but he made the plays count with seven scores. The 6-5, 244-pounder is really a wide receiver who can hit a little bit, but his main job is to stretch the field and be a big target in the red-zone. A great get for the program, he’s got the hands and he knows how to get open. With a year under his belt, and with the loss of some key targets, he’s going to be a bigger factor in the passing game.
7. S Ahmad Thomas, Sr.
A steady tackler over the last two years, he followed up a 75-tackle sophomore season with 75 more as a junior, with three interceptions after coming up with one in 2014. The 6-0, 199-pound Miami native earned All-Big 12 honors at free safety coming up with 11 tackles against Tennessee and followed it up with ten against Tulsa. He’s a good, sound hitter with range – he’s great in the open field.
8. CB Jordan Thomas, Jr.
A great-sized physical corner, he’s 6-0 and 187 pounds with ball-hawking skills, coming up with five interceptions – with two against Oklahoma State and taking one for a score – with 46 tackles. Smart and savvy, he’s been a good tackler from the start, but last year he was better at attacking the play. An All-Big 12 performer, he’ll be avoided as teams pick on the other side, but he’ll still get his chances taking on most No. 1 targets.
9. P Austin Seibert, Soph.
One of the nation’s best all-around kickers, he’s got a solid leg hitting 18-of-23 field goals – with his range topping out at just under 50 yards – and he averaged 432 yards per punt. Accurate and consistent for a freshman last season, he only came up with two touchbacks, put 23 inside the 20, and forced 30 fair catches. He might not have a cannon, but he’s good enough to have been in the mix for the Ray Guy.
10. SS Steven Parker, Jr.
Expect an all-star season – again – from the 6-1, 208-pound veteran who started out his career with a good 31-tackle freshman season by coming up with 60 stops with four tackles for loss. Versatile enough to play either safety spot, he’s more of a strong safety as a better run stopper than playmaker on the ball. He has yet to come up with an interception in his first two seasons, but he’s broken up ten passes.