Maybe the biggest difference between this Oklahoma team and those that have previously fallen short in the playoffs is where the talent lies, because this year’s Sooners squad has arguably the most defensive-line talent they’ve had in a decade-plus.
But don’t sleep on the only other Big 12 school that has a quarterback in the top 10. Iowa State has talent at the positions that matter in college football — quarterback and running back — along with several other studs who barely missed out on this list.
1. QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (Junior)
The Oklahoma starting quarterback isn't just QB1; he's the No. 1 player on the PFF Preseason Draft Board.
Rattler isn’t close to the prospect Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields were at this time a year ago, but the talent is undeniable. He takes out-of-structure playmaking to a degree we haven’t seen at the college level; his 830 passing yards outside the pocket in 2021 — 27.4% of his total passing yards — were 228 more than any other quarterback in the country. And that’s not even counting the two dimes below that fell harmlessly to the ground.
Going to go on record to say 3 of Spencer Rattler's best throws last year were incomplete
These 2 out-of-structure throws are perfectly thrown where only his WRs can make the play, yet they're not made (sure difficult catches, but catchable nonetheless)pic.twitter.com/Y2vz6lCMGn
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) July 15, 2021
While he won’t be confused for Kyler Murray any time soon, Rattler is still a weapon with his legs, and defenses can’t afford to break contain against him in the pocket.
Of course, all that would be rather meaningless if he couldn’t hold his own from the pocket, but Rattler has a live arm and can attack all levels of the defense within the structure of the offense.
We’d love to see him operate from the pocket more frequently and cut back on the ugly decisions in 2021 to solidify his spot atop the PFF draft board.
2. EDGE Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma (Redshirt Junior)
You won’t find an edge rusher with a better feel for rushing the passer in the country. He understands approach angles so well and regularly takes advantage of mistakes from opposing offensive linemen. It’s why he racked up 49 pressures on only 186 pass-rushing snaps last season.
The Oklahoma edge rusher still needs to add some muscle mass to his frame, though. Barely scraping 240 pounds at 6-foot-3 is almost a nonstarter to be a full-time player in the NFL. If he can get into the 250s and maintain his movement skills, Bonitto should insert himself into the first-round conversation.
3. CB Noah Daniels, TCU (Redshirt Senior)
Daniels’ merits as a prospect revolve almost entirely around his health. He missed all of 2019 with a shoulder injury and then tore his ACL four games into 2020. But Daniels has shown lockdown capabilities on the field, allowing just 12 catches from 28 career targets for 162 yards and breaking up no fewer than eight of those targets.
Noah Daniels is a beast pic.twitter.com/uJDB1HhHHG
— TCU Burner Account (@BurnerTcu) April 16, 2021
While he’s still slim, Daniels has the explosiveness and speed to keep making plays at the next level; the only problem is that he has played all of 353 snaps in his career. We need to see more of him in 2021.
4. RB Breece Hall, Iowa State (Junior)
Hall is currently PFF’s RB1 heading into the 2021 season, as no draft-eligible back features a more complete all-around game. He has the size at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, the speed (25 runs of 15-plus yards in 2020, leading all returning backs) and elusiveness (120 broken tackles on 464 career carries) to be a bell cow at the next level.
Breece Hall (Iowa State RB 28) spin cycle pic.twitter.com/MNGjcZhsi4
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 14, 2021
Hall has done it all so far in his career, without the advent of any sort of special offensive line in front of him. In 2020, Iowa State ranked 31st out of 65 Power Five schools in team run-blocking grade. Being able to produce despite your offensive line will always be looked favorably upon by us at PFF.
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5. LB DeMarvion Overshown, Texas (Redshirt Junior)
To say this ranking of Overshown is a projection is an understatement. At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, the former safety is playing the linebacker position at a size that’s almost unheard of.
While he looked like a safety in coverage in his first season as a starter last year, breaking up five passes and picking off two others, Overshown also looked like a safety against the run, earning a 62.7 run-defense grade and missing 20 tackles on 83 attempts.
With a unique frame and skill set for the position, it’s OK to say the Texas product is still a massive work in progress who is no sure thing to even declare after this season.
Someone I'm keeping an eye on is #Texas converted Safety turned LB DeMarvion Overshown (#0) this season. Has some versatility in coverage, and put in a four tackle (2 TFL) effort on Saturday.
He played eight games at safety last season. pic.twitter.com/W3cUqS28An
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) September 17, 2020
6. CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU (Junior)
Listed at 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, Hodges-Tomlinson is going to be inextricably linked to his size — or lack thereof — whenever his draft stock is discussed. He’s undersized not only for a cornerback but also for the game of football itself.
Despite all that, the TCU corner balled out in his first year as a starter, allowing 16 catches from 49 targets for 192 yards. He notched 14 pass breakups and put up an 89.1 coverage grade. And that was as an outside cornerback.
Ready to feel old? LaDainian Tomlinson has a nephew who’s eligible for the 2022 draft.
— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) May 20, 2021
Often lining up as the field corner in TCU’s defense, Hodges-Tomlinson produced some of the best breaks on tape you’ll see from a college defensive back. His low center of gravity allows him to change directions in the blink of an eye and come flying downhill from off-coverage.
While the chances of him sticking as an outside corner in the league are obviously slim, THT can be a ballhawk from the slot.
7. S Tre Sterling, Oklahoma State (Redshirt Senior)
Sterling has made a living around the line of scrimmage for the Cowboys over the past couple of seasons. His 65 defensive stops over that span are far and away the most of any defensive back in the country.
Flip on the tape, and it’s easy to see why. Despite being only 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Sterling plays with no fear or hesitation.
Watching OK State corner Rodarius Williams (Bottom of screen) but OH MY GOD LOOK AT TRE STERLING ALMOST BEHEADING THIS RUNNING BACK pic.twitter.com/zfbnQbnpVo
— Mike Spencer Hrynyshyn (@MikeH_Draft) July 24, 2020
While he’s not going to tick every box NFL evaluators want to see from a physical perspective, he plays the game in a way they can’t help but love. Even if he may not be an all-around starting safety, Sterling can easily be a slot corner/dime linebacker.
8. QB Brock Purdy, Iowa State (Senior)
Purdy set a very high bar as a true freshman back in 2018, earning an 88.0 passing grade after taking over as the starter midseason. But after losing big-play receiver Hakeem Butler to the NFL, the Cyclones signal-caller's downfield risk-taking came to a screeching halt. His average depth of target dropped from 11.8 yards in 2018 to 8.8 over the past two years, and his big-time throw rate got chopped in half.
Purdy is still a gamer and a playmaker who operates well from the pocket. He consistently throws on time and in rhythm.
Louisiana @ Iowa State
Brock Purdy's timing and anticipation is as good as it gets. He hardly makes a bad throw in rhythm (2nd lowest negatively graded throw % since 2018 on such plays). It’s the wild play we see from him when he’s knocked off rhythm that he has to clean up. pic.twitter.com/h7A8OgmrAI
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) September 11, 2020
While not much of a true running threat, Purdy is an escape artist in tight quarters and can make plays as a scrambler. His pressure-to-sack conversion rate the past two seasons is just over 10%, one of the best figures in college football over that span.
While not blessed with ideal physical tools, the Iowa State quarterback will have to perform at an elite level in 2021 to hear his name called early in the draft.
9. DI Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma (Senior)
Winfrey impressed in his first season with the Sooners in 2020 after transferring from junior college, tallying a 75.9 run-defense grade and a 68.8 pass-rushing grade on 404 total snaps.
He’s a tad undersized at 6-foot-3 and 297 pounds, but he packs a powerful punch nonetheless. Winfrey plays from snap to whistle every play and has the kind of motor NFL evaluators will love.
Now this is how you start a game! Watch this 2-play sequence from Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey to open the game vs Texas
Love seeing the hustle/effort/motor from a nearly 300lb NT… I don't know if he caused that fumble or not – but when you chase the ball, good things happen! pic.twitter.com/T33r4CzlRr
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) May 20, 2021
He just needs to develop his hands at this point. He’s got the physical part of the game down pat but could control blockers with better technique far more often than he does.
10. EDGE Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma (Redshirt Senior)
Thomas has the kind of long-limbed body type that is tailor-made for the defensive line.
At 6-foot-5, 267 pounds, Thomas also boasts some versatility to his game that Oklahoma has already tapped into. In fact, 280 of his 451 snaps came over or inside opposing offensive tackles last year, yet he still earned an 85.6 pass-rushing grade and a 79.0 run-defense grade on the season.
Oklahoma's Isaiah Thomas (6'5 262) is one of those 'no-nonsense' DEs that we love…
Prototypical H/W, 3-down player, alignment versatility (3-tech in subpackages), heavy handed/stout at POA, violent handed pass rusher, etc
Loves to swat/chop to soften edge for himself! pic.twitter.com/W73bbvff0p
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) July 21, 2021
It’s a tad concerning that it took Thomas until his redshirt junior season to even start to see meaningful playing time, but he can prove his production last season was no fluke with a big 2021.