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2015 NFL Draft: Plenty of questions with Big 12's best talent

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman has every trait of a great pass rusher, but like many of the conference's best players, he's largely a projection.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman may be some type of otherworldly superhero. A muscled-up 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds, Oakman is an imposing presence on the field. He's not just some brute of a pass rusher either. There's a quickness and aggression to Oakman's game. Cue the proof:

Right now, though, draft lovers are more enamored with Oakman more than those who cover college football – he didn't land in ESPN's top 100 players, for instance. Why? Because for all his spectacular plays, Oakman was largely a backup last season. For his vast potential – he has the skill to be a top 10 pick – Oakman is still more potential than actuality. Oakman's biggest knock is his footwork. He'll get put on the ground too much when he gets lazy in his technique.

If a single player can sum up the Big 12's NFL Draft prospects this college football season, it is Oakman. He is the most obvious of several intriguing projections.

Baylor's quarterback Bryce Petty makes people wonder if he's a product of Art Briles' exciting system. In 2013, Petty threw 32 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Petty is a solid athlete and has size at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. The velocity on his passes leaves something to be desired and his footwork needs work. His top target, Antwan Goodley, is somewhat of a project too. He's built like a running back at 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, and at times has the hands of one. Press coverage has given Goodley trouble as well.

There's not a lot to wonder about with left tackle Spencer Drango. The powerful blocker for the Bears missed four games last season, and Baylor's offense suffered because of it. When healthy, Drango can handle power rushers and is just quick enough to stop speed at the edge.

The good but questionable Big 12 prospects aren't only in Waco.

Oklahoma outside linebacker Eric Striker can be a terror as a pass rusher. He likes to play near the line of scrimmage and rely on his first step and closing speed. Striker has to rely on his speed to make up for his lack of size. He's only 221 pounds and will struggle when blockers engage him. The Sooners have the ultimate project player in Blake Bell. After struggling as a quarterback, Bell is moving to tight end this season. His size alone – 6-foot-6, 259 pounds – makes Bell intriguing. Oklahoma has a trio of draftable offensive linemen in Adam Shead, Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams. Thompson, the team's left tackle, has the most potential and best athleticism. Williams, the team's right tackle, is more of a technician.

The best blocker in the conference may be Texas Tech's Le'Raven Clark. After starting at left tackle last season, he'll move inside to right guard in 2014. Clark has experience inside and projected better there anyway.

Texas has a handful of decent prospects, but no great ones. Defensive end Cedric Reed may be the best of the bunch. While he’s not an explosive pass rusher, he’s steady and productive, finishing 2013 with 19 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Junior Malcom Brown can handle the nose next to him. Brown isn’t just a space filler, though. He showed range at times to make a play away from snap point. Cornerback Quandre Diggs is one of those players who seems like they’ve been in college for a decade. Finally a senior, Diggs is at his best when he can line up in the slot.

If Diggs isn’t the conference’s best defensive back, that honor could go to TCU safety Sam Carter. A former quarterback, Carter has size and can close in a hurry. Horned Frogs defensive tackle Chucky Hunter is a squat run defender up front.

Arguably the best non-quarterback skill position player in the Big 12 is Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett. While not particularly big at 175 pounds and 5-foot-11, Lockett is elusive and a threat with the ball in his hands. Expect Tavon Austin comparisons.

Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs flashed at times for the Cyclones in 2013 with 39 receptions for 462 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a solid blocker, but showed he can catch passes away from his frame.

Kansas wide receiver Nick Harwell is in his first season with the Jayhawks after transferring from Miami (OH). Harwell has good hands and is a crafty route runner. Harwell isn’t especially big or fast, but in three seasons with Miami he had 229 receptions for 3,166 yards and 23 touchdowns.

But back to those intriguing prospects. West Virginia has one in defensive end Shaquille Riddick. He may not have Oakman’s size, but his upside is high. An FCS transfer, Riddick had 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks a season ago. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage and should translate well.

What could have been

Until a few days ago, the conference's best prospect may have been Devonte Fields. But the defensive end has "been permanently separated" from TCU. The redshirt sophomore's future is murky, but he could play this season at a junior college. As a freshman, Fields had 20.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.

Know the name

Rika Levi, DT, Texas Tech: Tech has a mound of a human being in Levi. The junior college transfer hasn’t played a down in Lubbock but has a growing mythical status for tearing phone books in half. Imagine what he can do with an undersized Big 12 center.

Top conference game for prospects

Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8: Petty didn't have a particularly great game against Oklahoma last season, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 204 yards. Scouts will want to see Petty drive the ball in the face of Striker's pressure. They'll also watch Oakman closely against the best offensive tackles he'll face all season.