As Oklahoma Sooners fans well know, not every unit is created equal.
Winning big requires excellence on both sides of the ball, but unless you’re Alabama it’s tough to make everything great at the same time. In OU’s case, a trendy young coordinator has led to an offensive explosion while Mike Stoops’ early-aughts era defense struggles to keep up with the Big 12. So it goes.
But to be more specific, which position groups really stand out in this 2017 Sooners lineup? OU’s groups aren’t nearly so lopsided as, say, Texas Tech’s, but there’s a definite hierarchy to the talent on Owen Field this year.
Here are OU’s position groups, ranked from first to worst:
Even on an offense chock full of talent, there’s no doubt that OU’s quarterbacks — including one Heisman finalist, one five-star recruit and two four-stars — have the most concentrated quality on the whole roster. And while it’s disappointing to have lost out on Cameron Rising, many fans have correctly pointed out that this unit will still be set for years to come barring a mass exodus or some awful busts.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already looking forward to a battle royale for the starting spot next spring.
2. Offensive Line
At the all-important left tackle position, Orlando Brown looks poised to end OU’s streak of first-round NFL Draft shutouts. Ben Powers, Dru Samia, Alex Dalton and Jonathan Alvarez provide crucial positional flexibility, Erick Wren is a diamond in the rough at center and Cody Ford is an absolute beast — who might not even start! Top it off with Bobby Evans at right tackle and you’ve got a reasonably young, talented unit that’s the best in the Big 12. Heck, Creed Humphrey may even prove to be too good to redshirt.
3. Wide Receiver
Minus Dede Westbrook this becomes a tough-ish call, but there’s plenty of returning talent and exciting new faces that make this group one of the best on the team. Mark Andrews is a red-zone handful no matter where he lines up; talented veterans like Jeffrey Mead give this unit a pretty high floor; and there are plenty of reason to get excited about potential breakout players like Marquise Brown and Mykel Jones (as well as freshmen CeeDee Lamb and Charleston Rambo). I think this group is going to be better than fine (again).
4. Running Back
I really almost went with linebacker here — it’s not ideal for the offense to have a clean sweep of the top spots — but with the depth they’ve amassed and the potential they’ve shown, I think these backs have earned the benefit of the doubt. What’s the worst-case scenario here — that Rodney Anderson isn’t a superstar (or, God forbid, gets hurt again)? Give Marcelias Sutton a try. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
What this group lacks in proven depth, it makes up for with promise and a couple of big-time guys. I’m leaving out Obo Okoronkwo here — like it or not, his hand will be in the dirt much more often. But Caleb Kelly might turn into the best player on the whole defense, and Emmanuel Beal had an underrated first year. With the recruiting class OU just pulled down, this linebacker unit might be leading the defense for awhile.
6. Defensive Backs
I could have broken this down into corners / safeties, but the whole unit is basically in the same place. It’s a frustrating but potential-filled mix of high-ceiling veterans (Steven Parker, Jordan Thomas), exciting young stars (Parnell Motley, Jordan Parker) and the hold-your-breath-and-say-a-prayer types (Will Johnson, Will Sunderland) who will have to play much better collectively for the Sooners to make the Playoff this year.
Many also all happen to share names.
I’m expecting better things from this group than what we saw in the first half last year. Maybe Parnell Motley and Jordan Thomas can be the lockdown corners OU so desperately needs.
7. Defensive Line
Admittedly, since Obo’s quasi-arrival, this unit isn’t the total basement-dweller it used to be. But beyond him and Neville Gallimore there are still huge questions about this group and how effective it can be at getting after quarterbacks and stuffing runs.
Maybe the transition to a 4-3 is exactly what this group needed to rejuvenate — and start recruiting big-time players — again.
What do you think, Sooner Nation? Share your rankings in the comments and let us know which groups will surprise this season.