Best Big 12 Defensive Back Returning For 2024

Editor’s Note: This is the next in our ongoing series, looking at “The Best Returning” in the Big XII.

Big 12 offenses in 2024 will not be looking like the 2000’s version of the Big 12. This is no longer a league that will chuck the ball all over the field. That isn’t to say having elite quarterback play has lost any value in the league. But the stat lines of Big 12 teams throwing the ball 60+ times a game are gone. Even with the stereotypical pass-happy offenses of the Big 12 fading like a West Texas sunset, a shut-down defensive back can erase up to half of the field for a passing attack. The new-look Big 12 has some of the best talent in the secondary in the country. With three first-team all-conference players comprising this unit, which one is the best Big 12 defensive back returning for action in 2024?

Best Big 12 Defensive Back Returning For 2024

All Defensive Backs Are Making A Big IMPACT

All of the players nominated for the best Big 12 defensive back have also been selected as a part of the 42-man Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List. According to the Lott IMPACT website, “this watch list is comprised of 18 defensive backs, 13 defensive linemen and 11 linebackers…The Lott Trophy annually goes to the Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year, a player who has had the biggest impact on his team both on and off the field. IMPACT stands for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.” It is clear that not only can the following defensive backs shut down a wide receiver, but are molding the locker rooms and community around them.

3. Jeremiah Cooper – Iowa State

The first defensive back on our countdown made an immediate impact in Ames. Jeremiah Cooper was the Big 12 defensive freshman of the year in 2022. He only elevated his play in 2023. Last season, Cooper earned first-team All-Big 12 honors while accumulating 45 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and a forced fumble. He was an absolute ball hawk with the ball in the air. In coverage, he snatched five interceptions (returning one for a touchdown) and added on ten pass breakups.

His five interceptions were second most in the Big 12 and sixth nationally. Cooper, a member of the Academic All-Big 12 Rookie team and Big 12 Commissioners honor roll is going to spearhead Cyclone defensive efforts this season. Head coach Matt Campbell knows his secondary is one of the strongest units on his team thanks to Cooper’s leadership.

2. Cobee Bryant – Kansas

Jayhawk head coach Lance Leipold’s turnaround in Lawrence has shined a (deserved) light on his quarterback and some of the offensive playmakers. But make no mistake, Kansas has one of the best defensive players in the Big 12 patrolling their secondary. Cobee Bryant stood out in 2022, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. He finished with a team-high three interceptions. Bryant also collected 38 tackles, half a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

In his 2023 performance, he put himself in some reified Kansas football history. Bryant became the first Kansas defensive back to be named first-team All-Big 12 Conference in back-to-back seasons since future NFL All-Pro Aqib Talib.  Bryant’s 2023 stats included finishing tied for the team lead with four interceptions and nine pass breakups. He also added 32 tackles, five tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.  The Jayhawks finished the season in the final AP poll in the top 25 for the first time since 2007. Bryant looks to elevate his play even higher and help Kansas challenge for a Big 12 title.

The Best Big 12 Defensive Back Is Travis Hunter – Colorado

The selection for the Best Big 12 defensive back should not come as a surprise to anyone. Travis Hunter is one of the best overall players in all of college football. Being a two-way player in college football is almost unheard of in 2024. But Hunter took it to another level in 2023. Essentially Hunter never came off the field once a game started. Not only did he play an absurd 1,074 snaps in nine games (622 on defense, 452 on offense, and 30 on special teams), but he was playing at an elite level.

The consensus first-team All-American earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors as a defensive back and second-team as an all-purpose offensive player. For this countdown though, we are focusing on his stellar work on the defensive side of the ball. Hunter recorded more receiving yards (721) than he allowed on defense as a cornerback (414) in 2023. He had three interceptions (including a jaw-dropping interception against TCU in the 2023 opener), five passes defended, and 31 solo tackles. It is hard to avoid versatile comparisons to his head coach Deion Sanders. Colorado is looking to take the next step in year two under Sanders, and Hunter will have his hands all over any success the Buffalos have in 2024.

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


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