The debate's getting serious.
AllCyclones.com began listing ISU's best 50 players for 2014 earlier, Nos. 50-26 — using production, potential, positional value and a little bit of by-the-gut reasoning.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty, beginning our one-by-one countdown of No. 25 to No. 1, a task that'll run through Spring Football.
The envelope, please ...
No. 12: Devron Moore, Safety, JR
Well, change of plans.
I finalized my top 50 before Rodney Coe was dismissed and Devron Moore left the program (temporarily?), and I'm sticking with my guns, because the point of the exercise was to point to 50 guys and tell you why they're important to the program.
In the absences of Coe and Moore, we flip it: What problems might their departures cause? We'll do Moore now at No. 12, where he was ranked, and unfortunately we'll get very, very, very close to the top before we get to Coe.
First: Whatever Moore is going through, whatever caused him to go home to Missouri, best of luck to him as he wades through a tough decision and its implications.
At the risk of subjecting myself to your scorn, let me tell you a story about the Texas Longhorns.
Texas always has good defensive backs — they call it DBU, after all — and there might not have been a better one in school history than Earl Thomas, who played in 2008 and 2009 before jumping pro, where he was a first round pick.
Thomas was so flippin' good, even as a redshirt freshman, making circus interceptions of Sam Bradford and shading those great Big 12 receivers of the late-2000s. No free safety in the country covered more ground in center field.
A good free safety ties everything together for a defense, serving as the central nexus for the 11 guys playing on a string, moving this way and that, but he mostly helps the strong safety next to him.
Blake Gideon and Thomas were freshmen starters together in 2008, then sophomores in 2009, and the athletically-limited Gideon was protected by Thomas' presence. Less ground to cover. Less guys to track from behind. It's OK if someone gets by me. I don't have to make this play 100 percent of the time.
Aside from a dropped interception against Texas Tech (national championship hopes went tumbling with it), Gideon was pretty dang good those first two seasons.
Then Thomas left and Gideon was suddenly exposed. Texas' defensive metrics were really good in 2010 — at 5-7, the season was not — but it was plain as day to anyone that Gideon wasn't cut out to be a starting safety in the Big 12. As a senior, he nearly lost his job to a sophomore, which tells you something.
Nobody's saying Devron Moore is Earl Thomas or even an NFL player, but there's a reason a few Big 12 schools were after him. He's quite good, a nice mix between speed, instincts, ball speed and hitting ability, and he was expected to be Wally Burnham's glue: Throw a good free safety out there and he can patch up deficiencies at cornerback, strong safety and outside linebacker and make the lack of a four-man pass rush not as costly.
Instead, if Moore doesn't return, the Cyclones will have either Kamari Cotton-Moya or Qujuan Floyd, who can also play strong safety, there. Both are talented. But Cotton-Moya is a freshman and Floyd's a JUCO transfer who won't arrive until the summer and will have two weeks of practice to get caught up to speed.
After a season in which more than a few games were swung by lack of back-end help on defense — goodness gracious, the dropped interceptions Texas and the Hail Mary surrendered — the Cyclones were looking forward to pairing Moore with Floyd or Mutcherson, a combination they viewed as an upgrade over Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield.
It is with caution that I dip my toe into what will likely be choppy waters. Ranking Iowa State's 50 best players is an arduous task. With a number that allows for the two-deep (22 on each side) plus a few, any omission might be construed as an insult. That's not at all what I set out to do here. I wanted to locate and then rank the most valuable Cyclones for the 2014 football season. Read that again. For the 2014 football season. Not from last season. Or for 2017. How'd I do this? I looked at production, sure, and of course I looked at short-term potential — can this player contribute in 2014, and at what level?
Phone calls were made, brains were picked, contributions considered. I tried to think like an NFL executive: Quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback are by many accounts the most important positions in football, but I didn't always obey that rule, not unless the talent stacked up. I went back to my notes for the first and second watches of all the 2013 games, but those were last season's schemes, at least on offense, and I project the change to Mark Mangino's scheme will shake things up.