Oddly, in a sport literally built on teams' ability to tackle each other, tackles — as an individual stat — carry minimal weight. Until now, how many fans knew Andrew Wingard led the nation in tackles in 2016? Heck, how non-Cowboy fans have even heard of him?
Where does Howard rank among the top five candidates to lead the conference in tackles in 2017?
5. Ty Summers – TCU
Don't let Ty Summers' "nicest player in the Big 12" tag fool you; TCU's junior linebacker is a fierce and violent defender.
Summers had 121 tackles last year, second to only teammate Travin Howard. And though that production suggests he should be higher, a deep Horned Frogs' group will eat into his total.
Not only is Howard back, so are sure-tackling safeties Nick Orr and Niko Small (86 tackles apiece) and linebacker Montrel Wilson, who missed all but one game last year.
4. Chad Whitener – Oklahoma State
Chad Whitener, a former Cal transfer, was an All-Big 12 Second-Team pick by the coaches last season after registering 71 tackles. Obviously 5.9 tackles per game isn't enough to lead the conference — or even come close — but the two-year starter will be their primary tackler with the departures of Jordan Burton and Devante Averette.
3. Jordyn Brooks – Texas Tech
Jordyn Brooks was one of few bright spots on a porous Texas Tech defense. The true freshman linebacker led the team with 85 tackles — while adding 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
The biggest concern for his tackling bid isn't his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, it's the return of Dakota Allen. Like Brooks, Allen was a freshman stud for the Red Raiders in 2015 before playing last season at East Mississippi Community College.
2. Taylor Young – Baylor
Matt Rhule's Temple teams were laced with reliable tacklers. Is Taylor Young his best defender in year one at Baylor? Yes, says coordinator Phil Snow.
“As I watch all the kids, Taylor is our best defensive player, by far,” Snow told Athlon Sports. “He’s playing a position that allows you to make a lot of plays, so he should have a really good year.”
Young only had 93 tackles (tied for seventh in the Big 12) but ranked third in the conference in tackles per game in (9.3). He is the Bears' only returning starter at linebacker and will benefit from increased outside attention on senior end K.J. Smith.
1. Travin Howard – TCU
Travin Howard has back-to-back 100-tackle seasons, including last year's 130-tackle explosion (ninth in the FBS). As noted for Ty Summers, the group's depth is a concern for Howard's quest to repeat as tackling champion.
Still, the senior is an elite player who's still improving — and recovering.
“Travin was really hurt most of the year last year,” head coach Patterson said. “He had 130 tackles in the Big 12 at 198 pounds. Now he can lift, he can run, and he can do things. He’s back up to 215, 217.”