Football season is almost here for Oklahoma. And SoonersIllustrated.com is eager to get you ready for what could be a memorable 2014 season.
During the next two weeks, Bob Przybylo and Justin Hite are going to reveal their top 11 players on offense and defense and how those players will impact what happens on the field this fall. Let the countdown and debates begin.
Bob Przybylo: Wide receiver Sterling Shepard. I can already hear the cries of favoritism across the board since I've been covering Shepard since the first game of his freshman season at Oklahoma City Heritage Hall, but there’s so much about Shepard that’s important for this season.
You have to start with his production on the field. Shepard is a dynamic threat. He doesn’t have the home-run breakaway speed, but he showed enough times last season he has some quality quickness. And everybody knows he has great hands.
Shepard had 51 catches for 603 yards and seven touchdowns last season. But the one thing Shepard has done to separate himself from the large pack of receivers has been his ability to block and to embrace the role of being a blocker.
He was a quasi-leader as a sophomore, and he knows he’ll have to be the guy this season. If Trevor Knight goes down with an injury, the replacement quarterback knows he’ll have at least Shepard to count on when needed.
Add in the fact Shepard can make plays on reverses and could end up as OU’s punt returner, and his importance cannot be understated.
When Shepard left last season’s Baylor game with a concussion, the whole offense looked out of whack. He needs to be there. And if he’s there, he’ll show why he’s No. 1 in this list.
Justin Hite: Offensive tackle Daryl Williams. There’s one undeniable fact about Williams. He is the best offensive lineman on one of the Sooners’ better offensive lines in recent history. That’s the main reason Oklahoma could be headed to the four-team playoff. It’s not because everyone thinks Trevor Knight will be a Heisman contender.
Play starts and ends up front, as I’ve hinted at multiple times. With a talented front line that is filled with experience albeit at different levels, the Sooners are the Big 12 Conference favorite because of its offensive line – and a little of its defense.
Williams is the best of the unit, and it’s not all that close.
He’ll likely be the highest drafted player in the 2015 NFL Draft from the Sooners. Right now, he could come off the board in the first round. A dominant year puts him close to the top-15.
Williams is a road-grader when it comes to run blocking, and in order for Knight to be successful, Oklahoma will have to run the football. The Sooners will aim to average more than 220 yards per game, the majority of which should be behind Williams.
Not without his flaws, Williams still has to work on his agility, his burst off the ball and his hands in order to climb up into the first round next year.
If he puts it all together and takes the next step as the leader of the offensive line, Oklahoma will be in the national title game.