Fields set the Big 12 on fire as a true freshman, leading the league in tackles for loss with 18.5 and finishing third in sacks with 10.0. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder was named the Big 12's preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and he should have a great setup to make a run at it. Not only will the Frogs have a chance to create coverage sacks with the league's best secondary, but a strong defensive line around Fields should have him operating without offensive lines being able to shift their protections his way. Fields has a lightning-quick first-step and the ability to change direction fluidly. He'll miss two games with a suspension, but after that, he should be back to wrecking shop.
Jeffcoat might be the Big 12's best defensive lineman, indeed he has top-half of the first-round potential in the upcoming NFL Draft. But until Jeffcoat shows the ability to make it through a season healthy, it's really difficult to pick him in the top spot. Jeffcoat played in just six games last year, but still recorded 11 tackles for loss and four sacks before missing the second half of the season with a ruptured pectoral. He's an elite talent who, when he's on, can swing the course of a game against the pass, or in chasing down the run from behind.
This 6-2, 300-pound menace in the middle does an outstanding job of disrupting offensive lines. His eight tackles for loss don't tell the story as much as the number of plays exploded and the number of double-teams eaten up. That Barnett as able to accomplish so much despite being in his first season out of JUCO at Navarro CC is amazing. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection by the coaches and was tapped as the Big 12's Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Kerry Hyder is one of the more interesting defensive linemen in the league from a versatility standpoint, having played both defensive end and defensive tackle at the college level. He's been a handful at either spot, racking up 14.0 tackles for loss, which was fifth in the Big 12 a year ago, and tying for seventh with 5.5 sacks last season. Hyder will play an even more different role this year with the Red Raiders looking to run a 3-4 defense … he was listed at nose tackle coming out of the spring. But don't focus too much on where he's listed — Hyder has the ability to play up-and-down a 3-4, or 4-3 front.
5) Chucky Hunter, TCU
Hunter started a game as a true freshman, then really took off as a sophomore, making 36 tackles, 23 of which were unassisted, with 6.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Now, the junior from West Monroe, La., will team up with Davion Pierson to form what should be the Big 12's top defensive tackle duo. Hunter lacks ideal height at 6-1 300, but he's stout enough and active enough to earn double teams and allow his teammates to go one-on-one, a big part of the TCU defensive line's dominance over the last year or so.