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Josh Newton? Johnny Hodges? Our list of the top 14 defenders in the Big 12

My final Big 12 power rankings takes a look at some of the top defenders around the league.

Over the last few years, the conference has committed to playing better defense and has seen it pay off. Three pass rushers from the Big 12 were selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

TCU cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, another draft pick, was voted as the Jim Thorpe Award winner, given to the best defensive back in college football.

Stars like Hodges-Tomlinson and Tyree Wilson may be at the next level, but there are still plenty of standout defenders around the league.

Here are the 14 I think could be the best:

Josh Newton, TCU cornerback

The top returning cornerback in the conference, the Louisiana Monroe transfer was a massive pickup for the Horned Frogs last season. Newton was tied for second on the team with three interceptions and was voted first team All-Big 12. Newton takes over as the undisputed No. 1 corner for Hodges-Tomlinson.

Johnny Hodges, TCU linebacker

Hodges was another big pick up for the Horned Frogs out of the transfer portal. The Navy transfer quickly became one of the leaders on TCU’s defense and was the Horned Frogs’ leading tackler with 87. Hodges voted second team All-Big 12 and the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

Hodges had three games with double-digit tackles in win overs Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Jaylan Ford, Texas linebacker

Ford had a breakout season and earned some All-American buzzer as he was voted third-team by the Associated Press. Ford had a career-high 119 tackles and was voted first team All-Big 12. The Frisco native had seven games with double digit tackles including a streak of four straight to open the season.

Cobee Bryant, Kansas cornerback

The Jayhawks defense struggled last year despite the excellence of Bryant. Teams didn’t go after Bryant much last season, a sign of how solid he was in coverage. Bryant had the game-sealing interception against West Virginia and returned a blocked kick for touchdown early in the season.

Bryant was a first-team All-Big 12 pick along with Newton and Hodges-Tomlinson.

Lonnie Phelps, Kansas defensive lineman

The Miami Ohio transfer quickly established himself as one of the Big 12’s top pass rushers in his first season. Phelps was fifth in the conference in sacks with seven. The four players in front of him were all drafted in this year’s NFL draft. The edge rusher will aim for double digit sack numbers after being voted second team All-Big 12.

T.J. Tampa, Iowa State cornerback

The Cyclones had one of the country’s best defenses in part to Tampa’s coverage skills. The 6-foot-2 corner led Iowa State in pass breakups and picked off his first career pass against Oklahoma State. Tampa was voted second team All-Big 12 by the league’s coaches.

Ethan Downs, Oklahoma defensive lineman

Downs was a disruptive force for a defense that underachieved last season. The second team All-Big 12 selection finished just outside the top-10 of the league with 4.5 sacks and was fourth in the conference with 13.5 tackles for loss.

Kobe Savage, Kansas State safety

Savage missed the final four games of the year, but was still voted second team All-Big 12. Savage picked off three passes and finished top-five in tackles for the Wildcats despite the injury. Savage shined with 11 tackles against Oklahoma and nine with a forced fumble against Texas Tech.

Kendal Daniels, Oklahoma State safety

A top-50 prospect coming out of high school, Daniels lived up to the hype his redshirt freshman season. Daniels was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and a freshman All-American. He wasn’t even starting at the beginning of the year, but came on strong to close it. His three interceptions were the fourth most by a freshman.

Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State defensive lineman

Oliver won Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2021 and followed that up by being voted second team All-Big 12 last year. Despite only starting five of 13 games, Oliver led the Cowboys with five sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. Oklahoma State lost a few pass rushers to the portal, but keeping Oliver was a massive win.

Dasan McCullough, Oklahoma linebacker

McCullough was a huge transfer portal pickup for Brent Venables. The 6’5, 222 pound Indiana transfer could be one of the most versatile defensive weapons in the league. Whether it be as a pass rusher or dropping in coverage, McCullough can do a lot. He was a Freshman All-American with 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

Daniel Green, Kansas State linebacker

Green was one of the heroes during the Wildcats’ Big 12 championship win over TCU as he combined for the game-sealing stop on fourth-and-goal. The honorable mention All-Big 12 selection was top five in tackles to go along with two sacks and two interceptions. Can Green finally make first or second team All-Big 12 in his senior season?

Billy Bowman, Oklahoma safety

The future is bright for the Denton Ryan native. As a freshman Bowman was one of the Sooners’ top defenders with 60 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups despite missing basically three games with injuries. All three of his interceptions came after Nov. 5.

Bud Clark, TCU safety

There’s ball hawks and then there’s Clark. In his first season as a starter Clark picked off a team-high five passes including a pick six in the Fiesta Bowl win over Michigan. His five picks were the second most in the Big 12 and he did it despite missing three games with injuries. Clark was one of TCU’s top defenders during the spring.