The top-ranked recruits in a class aren’t always the quickest to make impacts. It all depends on rosters and situations. If this football season does take place, here’s a list of a true freshman from every Big 12 school capable of earning significant playing time early.
Bijan Robinson, running back, Texas
FYI: Five stars; No. 1-ranked running back; No. 15 nationally
Texas already enters the season with a solid one-two punch at running back in Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson. It’s a testament to the talent of Robinson that the former five-star is expected to push for significant playing time. He was the only five-star to sign with a Big 12 school in the 2020 cycle until Galena Park North Shore running back Zach Evans eventually landed at TCU well after national signing day. Robinson rushed for more than 2,000 yards in each of his final three years at the prep level and was the top-ranked running back in 2020.
Bryson Washington, safety, Oklahoma
FYI: Four stars; No. 20-ranked safety; No. 213 nationally
It’s no secret that Oklahoma must improve in the secondary for the Sooners to push past from being Big 12 champions to becoming national champions. Washington was the highest-ranked defensive back to sign with Oklahoma, choosing the Sooners over Texas. He’s a big, rangy safety with great athleticism. He’ll be counted on to contribute early, even if he doesn’t earn a starting spot.
James Sylvester, defensive end, Baylor
FYI: Four stars; No. 16-ranked weak-side defensive end
The Bears need help along the defensive line after losing six of their top seven pass rushers, including James Lynch and Brayvion Roy. Nine of last years’ 11 defensive starters won’t return. That leaves new head coach Dave Aranda in a precarious position. Prospects like Sylvester must produce, and produce early, for Baylor’s defense to repeat its 2019 success. Sylvester was a Fab 55 member with tremendous upside. He’s facing a stern incline in competition after dominating the Class 2A level.
Zachary Evans, running back, TCU
FYI: 5 stars; No. 2-ranked RB; No. 16 nationally
Evans, out of North Shore, is the first five-star recruit to sign with TCU. He’s one of only two five-star prospects to sign with a Big 12 program, joining Robinson at Texas.
Evans is an incredible talent. He averaged nearly 10 yards a carry on the varsity level, helping North Shore become the premier program in the state over the past two years. He also missed multiple games as a senior due to suspension, including the state finals. Still, TCU found gold if he arrives on campus with an elevated sense of responsibility and maturity.
Evans’ problems as a prep star were more about a lack of discipline and structure than anything criminal. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson added a dynamic piece to the offense if Evans is locked in and ready to produce.
Loic Fouonji, wide receiver, Texas Tech
FYI: Four stars; No. 46-ranked WR; No. 289 nationally
The Red Raiders never seem short on wide receivers. Fouonji, from Midland Lee, was a member of the Fab 55 who turned down an offer from Texas in order to stay in West Texas. Tech should utilize his talents early and often, though wide receiver isn’t always the easiest transition to make from high school to college because of the added emphasis on blocking and more complex route combinations. Fouonji is a big target who can immediately become a go-to weapon in the red zone and on third down.
Latrell Bankston, defensive tackle, Iowa State
FYI: Three stars; No. 8-ranked JUCO DT; No. 26 nationally
Iowa State develops talent more than it recruits it, but the junior college ranks provide the Cyclones with ready-made players at need positions. Head coach Matt Campbell needed reinforcements for the middle of his defensive front, and that’s exactly what he signed in Bankston. The three-star JUCO product from Hutchinson C.C. in Kansas is a 6-0, 300-pound run-stuffer who uses his lack of height to create a leverage advantage.
JaCobee Bryant, cornerback, Kansas
FYI: 6-0, 170; 3 stars; No. 562-ranked player in nation
Kansas needs as much help as it can get, so I fully expect Les Miles to use multiple freshmen in his second year leading Kansas, including Bryant, who signed out of Evergreen (Ala.) Hillcrest.
Nate Matlack, defensive end, Kansas State
FYI: Three stars; No. 676-ranked player in nation
Kansas State manages to win without creating waves on the recruiting trail. Matlack, from Kansas, appears to be the perfect fit for the Wildcats’ defense. He’s a hard-nosed defensive end with the toughness to stop the run and the athleticism to become a solid pass rusher.
David Vincent-Okoli, cornerback, West Virginia
An influx of young talent is needed at every position for the Mountaineers in the second year under head coach Neal Brown. West Virginia took a great step in 2020, signing the nation’s 37th-best class, which was an 11-spot improvement from the 2019 cycle. While Brown did concentrate on premier JUCO talent, Vincent-Okoli (from The Bullis School, in Potomac, Md.) was the highest-rated prep player to pick West Virginia. Possessing quality at defensive back is a must in the Big 12.
Korie Black, cornerback, Oklahoma State
FYI: Three stars; No. 39-ranked cornerback; No. 558th nationally
Oklahoma State’s top-ranked signees were at quarterback and offensive line. Those positions aren’t prone to success for first-year freshmen, especially given that Oklahoma State is set at quarterback. Black was a productive cornerback at Waco Connally, and was close to earning Fab 55 honors. He could provide help at nickel and special teams for the Cowboys in 2020.