As we count down the days to the 2019 College Football Season’s opening kickoff, we have given our thoughts on the best players in the Big XII at several positions. So far, we have offered our thoughts on quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line, and linebacker. Now, we keep our focus on the defensive side of the ball and present our picks for the Big XII’s best returning cornerbacks.
Big XII’s Best Returning Cornerbacks
Only a few of our selections really stood firmly above the rest, so we had a tough task in selecting the final two on our list of the Big XII’s best-returning cornerbacks. Our two honorable mentions at this list just missed the cutoff. Justus Parker from Texas Tech offers a lot to the position. In the first instance, Parker represents a heart-warming story. Parker held no offers out of high school and enrolled at Texas Lutheran to play football his freshman season. He decided to walk on at Texas Tech and did not even earn a scholarship until a surprise presentation by Kliff Kingsbury late in his redshirt sophomore season. Parker broke out in a big way in 2017, racking up four interceptions and four forced fumbles. He led the conference in both categories. And he also returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown. This season earned him a second-team All-Conference nod. Parker regressed somewhat in 2018, but look for Parker to reestablish himself as the dominant ball hawk he was two years ago in 2019.
Our second honorable mention hails from Oklahoma. Tre Norwood barely edges out his teammate Tre Brown for this final spot on our list. But we really could have gone either way. Norwood and Brown each had 58 tackles. And while Brown found his way into the backfield a few more times than his teammate, Norwood simply performed slightly better in coverage overall and netted an interception in 2018. Brown could certainly find himself on anybody’s list as top returning specialists, as he is dangerous in the return game. But Norwood has produced more consistently in his two seasons at cornerback. Expect him to take a big step forward in Alex Grinch’s revamped defense.
We could have just as easily picked Josh Norwood here, but word around the Mountaineers locker room is that the coaching staff may slide Norwood back over to his natural position at safety to help offset the Mountaineers’ recent losses at that position group. Keith Washington had a solid season in his first with the Mountaineers, and the former Michigan recruit yielded 40 tackles, two-and-a-half for loss, one-and-a-half sacks, to complement his two interceptions (with one for a touchdown), and one forced fumble. Washington also tallied nine pass breakups (PBUs). He received an honorable mention for last year’s All-Conference team, and there is no reason to believe he won’t improve significantly in his final season.
Kansas State’s AJ Parker has been a steady force on the Wildcats’ defense since earning his first starting nod late in 2017. Last season, Parker recorded 53 tackles, including one tackle for loss. Parker also broke up six passes and intercepted two passes. Parker even shined on special teams, blocking a punt against Texas. Expect Parker to improve significantly in his redshirt junior season. He should provide balance and a steady hand for a Wildcats team in transition.
Oklahoma State’s A.J. Green’s 2018 season concluded with a spot on the All-Conference Second Team, and he certainly earned the accolades. Green enters 2019 having started each game in the last two seasons. As a result, Green is one of the more veteran cornerbacks in the league. In 2018, Green racked up 49 tackles and 11 PBUs and added an interception and forced a fumble to his totals. Expect him to carry this strong performance forward into his senior season.
TCU arguably has the best cornerback duo in the conference going into 2019, though we think they finish in a close second. The Horned Frogs’ Jeff Gladney has performed exceptionally for two straight seasons, earning himself an honorable mention for the All-Conference team in 2017, and also on the All-Conference Second Team by both the Associated Press and the Big XII coaches last season. Pro Football Focus even named Gladney to the All-Conference First Team. There is good reason for that, too. Gladney finished second in the conference with 13 PBUs, and he surrendered the fewest receptions per coverage snaps of any member of the conference. Gladney added 41 tackles, four for loss, a sack, two interceptions, and a forced fumble to those impressive totals. The senior has been a buoy for Gary Patterson’s defense over the past two years. Expect that to continue into 2019.
Perhaps to the surprise of many, the best returning cornerback in the Big XII hails from Texas Tech. The Red Raiders’ Adrian Frye put up a monster season in a much-maligned secondary bereft of many bright spots. Just a freshman in 2018, Frye appeared in all 12 games while starting in four. He led the conference with 18 PBUs, and Frye also led the conference with five interceptions. He finished seventh in the nation in the first category and tenth in the nation in the second. Simply, he played well for anybody, but he played like a superstar for a freshman. This performance earned Frye Freshman All-American honors by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). And both the AP and conference coaches selected Frye to represent the All-Conference First Team. And it seems Frye has only just scratched the surface of his potential. As a result, Frye earns the number one spot on our list of Big XII’s best returning cornerbacks for 2019.