Dillon Gabriel among best draft-eligible players returning for 2023

One of the more important dominos to fall this offseason was the decision of Dillon Gabriel. He didn’t wait long after the Cheez-It Bowl to make it known that he was sticking around Norman, saying Norman was his “Forever Home.”

Gabriel had a really good year for the Oklahoma Sooners. It wasn’t worthy of a Heisman, but he had the offense humming, helping put Oklahoma in a position to win every game. The only two games in which the Sooners lost by more than a touchdown, Gabriel missed all or most of the game. The TCU game, when he suffered a concussion on a brutal hit and the subsequent Texas matchup in the Cotton Bowl.

Oklahoma averaged 32 points per game, even when factoring in the 49-0 shutout vs. Texas. There’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins the Texas game, but it takes on a much different look if he’s available.

Take the Texas game out of the equation, and the Sooners’ offense averaged 35 points per game over the other 12 games.

Gabriel’s return is one of the reason’s there’s optimism surrounding the Sooners heading into the offseason. Continuity at the game’s most important position allows Oklahoma to build on what they did in 2022.

While it’s unlikely Gabriel would have been selected with a premium pick in the 2023 NFL draft, his return was critical for the Sooners. Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports ranked his top 20 returning draft-eligible players for 2023. Gabriel comes in at No. 14.

Gabriel was named the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year after throwing for 3,168 yards, rushing for 315 yards and accounting for 31 touchdowns in 2022. The Sooners desperately need stability after a disappointing 6-7 season, and Gabriel’s presence should go a long way toward bring them back into Big 12 contention. – Sallee, CBS Sports

The Sooners’ offense has work to do on third and fourth down and in the red zone. They’ve got to be better in those situations. At the same time, the offense was far from the biggest issue in their 6-7 season. Oklahoma’s defense allowed 35 points or more in seven games and went 1-6. In games where they allowed 25 or less, they were 5-1.

Only one of the games decided by a touchdown or less did the defense hold the opposition to less than 30 points, the overtime loss to West Virginia. It wasn’t a good performance from the offense on a wet day. But that was the one bad performance the offense had all season in which Gabriel played the entire game.

Dillon Gabriel’s return allowed the Sooners coaching staff to focus their efforts in the transfer portal elsewhere. They didn’t have to spend time and resources looking for their next quarterback.

Instead, they added a couple of offensive linemen, a tight end, and a wide receiver to supplement the talent in-house. They made significant moves on the defensive side of the ball as well, which will be the greater determining factor as to how Oklahoma’s season goes in 2023. If the defense can take significant steps in 2023, Oklahoma could be contending for the Big 12 title.

List

Oklahoma Sooners make top 10 for 2024 4-Star OT Daniel Calhoun

List

Sooners offer 2024 DL Xavier Porter out of Tampa Catholic

Contact/Follow us @SoonersWire on Twitter, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Oklahoma news, notes, and opinions. Let us know your thoughts, and comment on this story below. Join the conversation today. You can also follow John on Twitter @john9williams.

Story originally appeared on Sooners Wire