2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings: Jeremiah Cooper, Beau Freyler Above the Rest

    The backend of the conference's defenses will be protected well as the 2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings are riddled with highly decorated returners.

    Consistency for a college football team in the transfer portal/NIL era is a tall task, but at least one position in the Big 12 will demonstrate it is possible.

    While some of the Big 12’s premier safeties from last year have moved on, like Cole Bishop signing as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills and Kansas’ Kenny Logan doing the same with the Los Angeles Rams, most of the conference’s top-notch backend defenders are back for more in 2024.

    Featuring three tandems on the same team in the top 10, who stands above the rest in the 2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings?

    2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings

    10) Shilo Sanders, Colorado Buffaloes

    The son of Colorado head coach Deion Sanders, Shilo Sanders started his career playing corner at South Carolina for two seasons before following his dad to Jackson State and then again to Colorado.

    Sanders led the Buffaloes in tackles his first season in Boulder (70) despite only playing in 11 games. He also had one pick, returned for an 80-yard touchdown, while forcing four fumbles.

    9) C.J. Baskerville, Texas Tech Red Raiders

    A San Diego State transfer, C.J. Baskerville decided to return to his home state when he joined the Red Raiders last year. In his first season, he finished second on the team in tackles with 78, adding two picks and five defended passes in 10 starts.

    After surpassing his total tackles in his first two years with the Aztecs (74), Baskerville proved he could be depended on to secure the backend for the Red Raiders.

    8) Nikai Martinez, UCF Knights

    Currently in the transfer portal.

    After cracking the Knights DB rotation as a true freshman in 2022, playing in all 12 games with 21 tackles, Nikai Martinez became a starter last season, starting every game and leading the team with three interceptions and 54 tackles.

    Martinez has gained a lot of valuable experience as an underclassman, playing over 700 snaps. He was expected to be a leader for the Knights in 2024, but having entered the transfer portal in mid-April, his future is currently unclear.

    7) Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig, Colorado Buffaloes

    It was a tough season for the Buffaloes, but the backend of the defense was well cared for, thanks to Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig and Sanders. In 10 starts, Silmon-Craig registered 44 tackles, two TFLs, one sack, and a team-leading three picks.

    MORE: 2024 Big 12 Weekly Football Schedule

    With Silmon-Craig and Sanders now seniors, they return to Boulder as the unquestioned leaders of the Buffaloes’ defense after landing on the 2023 CFN All-Pac-12 Second Team.

    6) Trey Rucker, Oklahoma State Cowboys

    One of two safeties for the Cowboys to reach 100 or more tackles, Trey Rucker got it right on the nose, finishing the season with 100 stops. A sixth-year Wake Forest transfer, Rucker surpassed his career tackle total the four years prior (97) in his second season in Lubbock, adding four tackles for a loss and pick.

    Rucker heads into his third and final season in Stillwater as one of two Cowboys in the 2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings, but just outside the top five.

    5) A.J. Haulcy, Houston Cougars

    A New Mexico transfer, A.J. Haulcy led the Cougars with 98 tackles his first year on the team, starting six games at free safety and six games at strong safety. During his freshman season at New Mexico in 2022, he recorded 87 tackles in nine starts, including a 24-tackle performance against Fresno State.

    A true junior, Haulcy cracks the top five of the 2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings with two years left to ascend even higher on the next one.

    4) Dalton Johnson, Arizona Wildcats

    After playing sparingly his first two seasons with the Wildcats, Dalton Johnson exploded onto the scene as a redshirt sophomore last year. He started all 13 games and had 86 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and a Pac-12-leading four forced fumbles. Johnson was named the Alamo Bowl MVP after making 13 stops in Arizona’s 38-24 win over Oklahoma.

    As the Wildcats transition to the Big 12, they’ll be well represented on the backend, with Johnson holding two more years of eligibility.

    3) Kendal Daniels, Oklahoma State Cowboys

    The Big-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2022, there was no sophomore slump for Kendal Daniels, who was one of three Oklahoma State players to record triple-digit tackles, along with linebacker Nick Martin and Rucker.

    His 105 tackles, two picks, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries earned him a 2023 CFN All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selection and a spot in the top three of the 2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings.

    2) Beau Freyler, Iowa State Cyclones

    One of two Cyclones to top the 2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings, Beau Freyler has been an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention each of the last three seasons. As a co-captain last year, Freyler finished third in the Big 12 with 107 tackles, adding two picks, six pass defenses, and a sack.

    KEEP READING: Iowa State Cyclones’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024

    A true senior from the 2021 class, Freyler will be part of the most feared backend in the conference for what is expected to be his final season.

    1) Jeremiah Cooper, Iowa State Cyclones

    After starting seven games with 32 tackles as a true freshman in 2022, Jeremiah Cooper fully erupted as a ball-hawking safety as a sophomore. Missing two games with injury, Cooper started 11, grabbing the second-most picks in the conference with five, including a pick-six against UNI. He added 10 pass breakups, 15 defended passes overall, and 45 tackles.

    A true junior, Cooper enters his third season in Ames on top of the 2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings.

    2024 Big 12 SAF Rankings | 11-20

    11) Shamari Simmons, Arizona State
    12) Kye Stokes, Cincinnati
    13) Cameron Epps, Oklahoma State
    14) Jordan Riley, Kansas State
    15) Kendrick Simpkins, Baylor
    16) Devyn Bobby, Baylor
    17) Gunner Maldonado, Arizona
    18) Aubrey Burks, West Virginia
    19) Jaheem Joseph, West Virginia
    20) Ethan Slade, BYU

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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