Historically, the Big 12's receiving title is won by a small margin, particularly recently, with the margin being fewer than 75 yards each year from 2013-15. Dede Westbrook didn't want a close finish in 2016.
Westbrook had 1,524 receiving yards last year, nearly 150 more than the next closest player. But the Oklahoma star is now gone, as are the conference's third- and fourth-leading receivers, Baylor's KD Cannon and Texas Tech's Jonathan Giles. Cannon left a year early for the NFL and Giles transferred to LSU after spring practice.
The Big 12's second-leading receiver does return, Oklahoma State's James Washington. And the senior who spurned the NFL Draft for another shot at the conference title and a playoff berth headlines five players who could lead the conference in receiving yards this year.
Here are those five players, ranked.
5. Taj Williams – TCU
No TCU receiver is leading the Big 12 — or even sniffing the top five — in yards if quarterback Kenny Hill doesn't average better than 7.3 yards per attempt. More importantly, it's also not happening if they don't stop dropping passes and running sloppy routes. Hill's 38 dropped passes were most in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.
Taj Williams had his share of mistakes but was still their best and most explosive receiver. He had 702 yards on just 39 receptions (18.2 yards per catch) and twice topped 150 yards.
4. Jeffery Mead – Oklahoma
Someone has to be on the receiving end of Baker Mayfield's 4,000-plus yards, right? With Westbrook's 80 receptions and 1,524 yards gone, Mayfield needs a new target. Hybrid receiver/tight Mark Andrews could average 15 yards per receptions again but won't have more than 50-60 receptions — and even that's generous.
That leaves a whole bunch of guys who were largely afterthoughts for most of 2016, including Jeffery Mead, who tied for ninth on the team with 10 receptions.
3. Allen Lazard – Iowa State
Already the most decorated receiver in Iowa State history, a Big 12 receiving title could be much-deserved icing on the cake for Allen Lazard, a former four-star recruit who passed on big-time offers to stay close to home.
The 6-foot-5, 222-pounder had 69 catches for 1,018 yards, ranking fifth in the conference. Sophomore Deshaunte Jones' production will increase after a terrific freshman season, but Jacob Park's overwhelming No. 1 target is still Lazard, who could catch 80 passes.
2. Keke Coutee – Texas Tech
Keke Coutee could've had 1,000 yards even if Jonathan Giles didn't transfer to LSU. Now the 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior will comfortably top 1,000 yards and could flirt with 1,300 if new quarterback Nic Shimonek posts gaudy numbers.
Though head coach Kliff Kingsbury and offensive coordinator Eric Morris have stressed a need for better pass-run balance after the run-game was non-existent in 2016 (101 yards per game, 123rd in the FBS), Shimonek will still attempt 500 passes. Coutee had 55 receptions for 890 yards (16.2 yards per catch) last year.
1. James Washington – Oklahoma State
James Washington is No. 1 — by a mile. The senior wideout averaged 19.4 yards per catch last year, recording 1,380 yards on just 71 receptions. Washington not only has the Big 12's pest vertical passer in quarterback Mason Rudolph, he has speedster Jalen McCleskey to help stretch the field.
Washington is averaging 19.9 yards per catch the last two years, had at least least one reception of 30 or more yards in 10 of their 13 games in 2016 and his 19.2 career yards per catch ranks ninth among all FBS receivers who've played the last five years. Also, exactly half of his 1,380 receiving yards last year came on passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield (690), according to Pro Football Focus.