“In many ways, Gilbert had the most impressive game tape/metric review of any cornerback in the Big 12 last year,” Joyner wrote. “He displayed superb skills in coverage and had uncanny ball hawking instincts that led to six near-interceptions in addition to his five picks. Few cornerbacks can excel in both of those areas, and Gilbert is one of them.”
One of OSU's fastest players, Gilbert excels at his other role, standing tied for the NCAA lead among active players with four kickoff returns for touchdowns.
While Gilbert is a relative newbie to his full-time job as a corner, Elkins is only entering his fourth season of organized football and just his second at this level. As a Big 12 newcomer a year ago, he finished second on the team with 90 tackles, improving as the season progressed.
Elkins plays with passion and toughness and a nastiness that makes him a feared defender when he frequently arrives on the scene. He should be expected to take another major step in his second season.
Lowe led the Cowboys with 97 tackles, returning strong from an injury that forced him to miss all of the 2011 season.
Weeden and Blackmon enjoyed their breakouts two years ago, rising from way off the map to become Big 12 difference makers. Sure, they're gone.
Big 12 Breakouts?
The Big 12 media poll produced four Cowboys on the preseason all-conference team: running back Joseph Randle, cornerback Brodrick Brown, offensive lineman Lane Taylor and punter/kicker Quinn Sharp.
Here's a look at other Cowboys who could emerge as all-league performers by season's end:
Justin Gilbert, CB, Jr. The only thing getting in the way of Gilbert's appeal might be Brown's big shadow.
Daytawion Lowe, S, Jr. He led the Cowboys in tackles a year ago and assumes the enforcer role of Markelle Martin.
Alex Elkins, LB, Sr. Adjustment to Big 12 football went well; Year 2 should be even better.
Tracy Moore, WR, Sr. He's always been a talent who somehow got sidetracked; seems focused for final go-round.
Josh Stewart, IR, So. Coaches have raved about him since his arrival on campus and a spread-the-wealth switch should benefit him.
Shaun Lewis, LB, Jr. The co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, Lewis is a playmaker with star potential.
Caleb Lavey, LB, Jr. Not flashy, but productive, and always in the right spot.
Michael Bowie, OT, Sr. Was inconsistent in his first season, but it often takes junior college transfers a year to figure things out.