West Virginia cornerback Rasul Douglas had one interception in 2015, tying him for 270th in the country. He had eight in 2016, tying him for first.
It's not uncommon to see a massive jump in production in college football, especially for an opportunity-based (and oftentimes luck-based) stat such as interceptions. It was, however, remarkable to see Douglas go from a JUCO transfer who appeared in just five games in 2015 to one of the nation's better cornerbacks who comfortably led the Big 12 in interceptions.
Could we see another similar jump in the Big 12 this year? Here are the top five candidates that could lead the conference in interceptions, ranked.
5. Dravon Askew-Henry – West Virginia
One of the most important Big 12 players returning from injury, Dravon Askew-Henry is back at safety for the Mountaineers. Before missing all of 2016 with a knee injury, he had three total interceptions in 2014 and 2015.
“He’s great with his eyes," safeties coach Matt Caponi said last August, days before Askew-Henry was injured. "He makes plays in the open field."
While Douglas' interception production doesn't simply shift to another player like rushing yards, coordinator Tony Gibson's unit is an advantageous one and could allow some chances for Askew-Henry.
4. Nick Orr – TCU
TCU returns two upperclassmen starters at safety in Nick Orr and Niko Small, the latter of whom turned a corner around midseason and could be a huge factor in 2017. Orr, however, is the most likely of the two to top five interceptions. He had four picks last year and has 15 passes defended the last two years.
His chances heavily depend on a new crop of TCU pass rushers. If Ben Banogu, Brandon Bowen and Mat Boesen can pressure the quarterback, look for Orr to put up big numbers.
3. Brian Peavy – Iowa State
Brian Peavy has three total interceptions in two seasons. Can he double that total in 2017? His other defensive numbers suggest so.
The junior corner has 21 passes defended the last two years and works beautifully with hard-hitting, advantageous safety Kamari Cotton-Moya. His Pro Football Focus grade of 80.7 ranked among the best in the Big 12.
“I want to become that First-Team All-Big 12 player,” Peavy said this summer. “That All-American.”
2. D.J. Reed – Kansas State
D.J. Reed made an immediate impact in his first season with Kansas State after transferring from Cerritos College.
The 5-foot-9, 188-pounder plays much bigger than his size, ranking fifth nationally with 1.6 passes defended per game (16 total) and had three interceptions. He's the Wildcats' second-highest-graded returning player, according to Pro Football Focus and will benefit from having fellow juniors Duke Shelley (corner) and Kendall Adams (safety) alongside him.
“We are going to be really good,” Reed said. “Our secondary is dynamic. I think we are going to be in more man-to-man situations, instead of zone like cover two and cover four. I am going to be more in press or man, just with the trust coaches have in me. That is going to open up more opportunities for other players who play zone to steal picks wile I am going at the receiver.”
1. Jordan Thomas – Oklahoma
Jordan Thomas went from five interceptions as a sophomore in 2015 to two last year, despite being an improved player.
Thomas was not included on the Thorpe Watch List because of off-the-field issues, but he's still one of the nation's premier cover corners and forms the Big 12's best corner duo with sophomore Jordan Parker. Thomas tied with K-State's D.J. Reed with 1.5 passes defended in 2016.