Despite ranking near the bottom of the country in points given up per game, Kansas has produced professional-level talent in its defense in this decade. This series looks at the current players in the best position to carry on that tradition set by guys like Dorance Armstrong and Ben Heeney.
For three years, Daniel Wise has been recognized as one of Kansas’ top defensive players, but always slightly behind Dorance Armstrong in terms of star power. Now with Armstrong in the NFL, Wise is back for his (redshirt) senior year for a chance to take over as the leader of the defensive line.
Expectations are high. Wise was named a member of the preseason first-team All-Big 12 Defensive Team from Athlon sports and voted a team captain a year ago. And now with no Armstrong, Wise will draw the majority of the attention of the opposing offenses, especially when centered around the running game.
Among the most positive aspects of Wise’s potential for his senior campaign is that his stats keep improving year after year. Wise has seen double-digit tackle increases and jumps in tackles for loss each season, most recently compiling 53 tackles and 16 tackles for loss in 2017. The defensive tackle also tallied a career-high five sacks and forced two fumbles last year. The stats put Wise near the top of the Big 12—his 16 tackles for loss were good for fourth best in the conference (and 23rd nationally), while he was eighth in sacks and 10th in forced fumbles.
Wise was productive from the start of his career, playing in all 12 games as a freshman and starting in seven. Six of his 27 tackles as a freshman were for a loss to go along with four sacks and a pass deflection. He then recorded 38 tackles—nine for a loss—with three sacks, pass deflection, fumble recovery, and arguably most impressively two blocked kicks as a sophomore.
The reason for such high expectations, as mentioned above, is because Wise has been earning all-conference recognition his entire career. And like his stats, they continue to increase.
After his impressive freshman season, Wise was named a honorable mention Freshman All-American from Campus Insiders. He followed that up with a sophomore year that earned Wise a First-Team All-Big 12 honor from ESPN.com, All-Big 12 Second Team from the Associated Press, All-Big 12 Third Team from Phil Steele, and an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection from the league’s coaches. That brings us to 2017, and his performance that brought him a First-Team All-Big 12 selection from the coaches and All-Big 12 Section Team from the Associated Press.
What stood out looking through Wise’s game logs is that he’s been remarkably consistent. Wise only played in three games last year where he didn’t record either a tackle for loss or a sack. And he ended the season with his best game of the year: a season-high eight tackles, three for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
But if we’re talking about the performance that gave fans a real taste of all Daniel Wise could accomplish, we’ve got to go back to that freshman year game against Texas Tech. It was the middle game of a three-game span in which Wise notched a tackle for loss and sack in each game. But that Texas Tech game was when he really shined. Wise secured five tackles, one for a loss, a sack, a pass breakup, and a blocked PAT attempt.
There’s been plenty of games since then that I could point to, but the home game against the Red Raiders was the best performance of a freshman season that made Wise a player to watch on Kansas’ defense.