Big 12's Top Five Returning DL

Ryan Mueller narrowly edges Cedric Reed to be the Big 12's top returning defensive lineman

You might have heard: Quarterbacks are kinda important in the Big 12. But to go all the way, you need to be able to get to the other team's QB, too.

A panel of eight Big 12 and recruiting reporters voted on the best defensive linemen in the conference. Voting was redone after Devonte Fields was suspended by TCU.

No. 1: Ryan Mueller, Sr., Kansas State, 35 points (5 first-place votes

Another walk-on-turned-star under Bill Snyder, Mueller registered 18.5 tackles for loss last season, ninth-most in school history, including 11.5 sacks. Disruptive off the edge, Mueller also forced four fumbles and swatted away six passes. The conference's coaches tabbed Mueller as the Big 12 best d-lineman in 2013. We give him the same honor heading into his senior season.

2013 Stats: 62 tackles, 11.5 sacks for loss of 66 yards, 18.5 TFL, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery.

2.: Cedric Reed, Sr., Texas, 32 points (2)

The Longhorns lose Hendricks Award winner Jackson Jeffcoat, but nobody's sweating it, with Reed primed for a monster year after a breakout junior campaign. A first-team conference player by the AP, Reed led the Longhorns in forced fumbles and was second to Jeffcoat in sacks, with 10. Reed will have a big role as a run-stopper as the strongside defensive end in Charlie Strong's system.

2013 Stats: 79 tackles, 10 sacks for loss of 61 yards, 19 TFL, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries.

No. 3: Charles Tapper, Jr., Oklahoma, 19 points

The 6-foot-4, 281-pound Baltimore native is a perfect fit at end in Mike Stoops' 3-4 scheme and was a key as the Sooners experienced a defensive renaissance in 2013 — first in the conference in total D after finishing fourth the year before.

2013 Stats: 49 tackles, 5.5 sacks for loss of 31 yards, nine TFL.

No. 4: Chucky Hunter, Sr., TCU, 17 points

Hunter's the first of two defensive tackles in our top five, a stout 6-foot-1, 305-pound anchor in the middle of the Horned Frogs' defensive line. Interior lineman aren't prone to stuff the stat sheet, but Hunter came up big in a several games in 2013: Ten tackles against Texas, six versus LSU, two TFL against Oklahoma State and five stops against Baylor.

2013 Stats: 43 tackles, two sacks for loss of 23 yards, six TFL, one forced fumble.

No. 5: Malcom Brown, Jr., Texas, 8 points (1)

Despite receiving a first-place vote, Texas' other Mal Brown — note the spelling is different than running back Malcolm — barely managed to crack the top five. A former five-star recruit, Brown started all 13 games last season and was among the Longhorns' leaders in tackles for loss, passes broken up and QB pressures. Another sterling campaign could cause Brown to skip his senior year for NFL riches.

2013 Stats: 68 tackles, 2 sacks for loss of 12 yards, 15 TFL, one forced fumble.

Also received votes: OSU's James Castleman (4), BU's Andrew Billings (1), BU's Shawn Oakman (1), BU's Jamal Palmer (1)

Recruiting Angle

“Another true KSU find, as Ryan Mueller was not even listed in a recruiting database coming out of prep ball in Kansas. Charles Tapper (East) and Chucky Hunter (Southeast) were both Scout three stars coming out of region to the Big 12. Both Longhorns listed were very highly rated as Reed was in the Top 100 and Brown was in the Top 50 nationally.” — National Analyst Greg Powers

Voting Panel

Jeremy Clark - HornedFrog, Jarret Johnson -, Kevin Kinder -, Greg Powers -, Bob Przybylo -, Trey Scott -, Terry Tush -, William Wilkerson -

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