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Since I’ve been breaking down every Big 12 class it only makes sense that I would include the Texas Longhorns, with their 2018 class parsed just as I have for their competitors in the conference.
The 2017 class, Tom Herman’s first at Texas, was an underrated success and for being a lower rated class it seems likely to punch above its weight. The 2018 class is a heavyweight group rated third nationally and first in the Big 12 by 247 and including much of the state’s top rated prospects and 19 Texans overall bolstered by seven out of state signees. Here’s how it should fit together into the Herman vision for the program.
Herman’s offense is actually somewhat flexible in being primarily inside zone-based and a “pro-style spread” in design intended to power the ball between the tackles and spread the field with 11 personnel sets and some dropback passing concepts included. QBs with varying skill sets could potentially fit here but Herman has a personal preference for using guys that can allow the offense to run option or direct snap QB run game to gain a numbers’ advantage and be able to control the ball by running on the ground. Additionally, run-centric spread offenses usually fare better with a QB that can do some of his own pass protecting. The ideal QB here is one that can execute a spread passing game and be both an outside constrain threat or an inside track runner in the option game.
Casey Thompson: 6-1, 184. 4**** from Newcastle, OK (Newcastle)
Thompson is a prototype Herman QB recruit, a sort of “jack of all trades” QB prospect with good athleticism and a solid arm that could grow into executing most of the offense at a workable level. He’s like J.T. Barrett in that with added bulk, good decision-making, and a good supporting cast he could become proficient enough to unlock a diverse playbook and set up teammates for big success.
Cam Rising: 6-2, 230. 4*** from Newbury Park, CA (Newbury Park)
Rising could also grow and master a pretty diverse set of skills and concepts that would open up the playbook nicely but he has a better arm than Thompson and can beat safeties in the seams or push the ball outside of the hash marks. He’s probably a touch less athletic and dangerous than Thompson in the run game but not by too great a distance.
Rising’s HS film shows him utilizing the tools that would make for a guy that could run the option, be nails on RPOs, and then burn opponents down the field with play-action BUT he didn’t operate any RPOs or a very diverse QB run game playbook at Newbury Park. So like Thompson, he’ll need some time in the oven to add a lot of understanding of defenses and new techniques to make good on his potential.
Texas got two guys that can probably carry the kind of run game load that Herman prefers (8-15 carries a game) and execute a spread passing game while adding extra dimensions that could make the offense special. In Thompson’s case, he might prove a really dangerous runner whereas Rising has a really special arm. The QB room will be well stocked now which should ease the worries about QB health and allow Texas to build a future in which their team is finally led by a developed, experienced upperclassman. Can you imagine?
This is could be the primary featured skill position for Texas if they have a stud, or it can be diminished in role if Herman wants to emphasize a running QB or the H-back. Having that flexibility is nice, but ultimately this offense is definitely at its best with a feature back that can hammer opponents downhill on inside zone.
Keaontay Ingram: 6-1, 190. 4**** from Carthage, TX (Carthage) IT #14
The Carthage run game is very similar to the Texas system, emphasizing inside zone as the starting point and often running it as a belly play that cuts back hard and fast. Ingram was devastating in it, easily reading the blocks and cutting through the creases. He has some speed to burn teams in the open field but is also just a guy that easily navigates the creases with speed and power, he reminds me of DeMarco Murray. He’ll need to add some weight of course but that won’t be any issue and his familiarity with the scheme could allow him to play relatively early.
Texas only got one guy here but the room is well stocked (and will likely add much more in coming seasons) and he’s not only a great fit but a potentially dominant back.
Texas uses a TE as an extensive part of the strategy. Herman likes to have the ability to create an extra gap in the run game that forces a DB to be a primary part of the run fit and also likes to flex the TE out to either serve as some extra muscle in the screen and rub routes or to mess with opposing defensive schemes, create favorable matchups for more athletic receivers, and to allow Texas to attack opponents on third down without allowing the defense to substitute into a sub-package. So this guy needs to be a jack of all trades and add enough in each area to complicate matters for opposing defenses.
Malcolm Epps: 6-6, 218. 4**** from Houston, TX (Dekaney) IT# 34
Epps has a lot of the receiving end of things down after spending the last two seasons moving around for Dekaney and running some in-breaking and out-breaking routes from an attached alignment or flexed out. He definitely has to be accounted for as a receiver, he has good hands and is a fluid runner even if he isn’t lightning quick in the open field. He’ll need to learn how to block and his height could work against him somewhat in trying to get low working from an H-back alignment but he should have time to work that out before he sees the field.
Having a TE that can create mathup difficulties is a major plus in the college game and the Big 12 in particular. Teams are figuring out how to adjust to spread tactics with their schemes and personnel decisions and fielding a good TE is a major solution for dealing with those evolutions.
There are really three main positions here in the Herman offense with potential overlap in who fills what role. The first is the Iso guy who needs to be a deep threat that commands safety attention, ideally on the boundary where being able to win back shoulder fades is a key attribute. Then there are the guys who are working against zone brackets or man coverage elsewhere on the field that need to be good route runners and speedy enough to do some damage when they catch the ball on the run. Finally there’s the H-back, who’s a RB/WR hybrid that is primarily a flex RB that gets the ball in space and then looks to pick up yards with speed and agility but also may run some vertical routes as well when the matchups are there.
Al’vonte Woodard: 6-1, 193. 4**** from Houston, TX (Lamar) IT #19
Woodard is functional speed on the field, a burner with some real developed skill running routes and nice hands to boot. He fits into the second mold as a guy that could play outside at Z or inside in the slot, running a variety of routes to attack coverages as a featured target or to hold safeties with the threat of speed over the top. He should grow into a guy that can beat good man coverage.
Joshua Moore: 6-1, 170. 4**** from Yoakum, TX (Yoakum) IT #33
Moore is similar to Woodard in his high capacity for running routes from a few different alignments and burning past defenders trying to keep up with him. He’s smaller though and less refined and also due to start “in the slot” potentially picking up some of the trades of the H-back as well. He’s explosive enough to be a real threat moving into the backfield…and he’s also explosive enough to move over to CB if the need arises.
Brennan Eagles: 6-4, 215. 4**** from Houston, TX (Alief Taylor) IT #17
Eagles is impossibly large and fast. At the Sparq test he dropped a 4.51 40, 3.99 shuttle, 37″ vertical, and 39′ power toss. Here’s the list of guys Texas has had this century with that kind of size and explosiveness: Roy Williams, Limas Sweed, end of list. He only played four games as a senior so the world hasn’t fully seen what he’s capable of as a featured receiver in a high level passing game. Texas will undoubtedly put him in that Iso X spot on the boundary and let him command double teams that prevent defenses from getting numbers in the box or out wide against the athletes on the other side of the field.
This is a really strong WR haul that should allow Texas to somewhat stand out in a league where everyone always has strong WR hauls.
Texas’ base inside zone play is about controlling DL quickly and preventing penetration before generating some “knock-back” with any double teams shoving DL three yards or so off the ball before climbing up to LBs. Shorter, feisty OL can work here if they have the power and feet for it but size is valuable. The nature of the inside zone scheme is such that guys can be pretty interchangeable, which is why coaches like Joe Wickline and Herb Hand will regularly cross-train and move guys to all five spots to get the best combos on the field. They need a true left tackle as well to make the spread protection schemes work more easily.
Christian Jones: 6-6, 285. 3*** from Cypress, TX (Cy Woods) IT #95
Jones was a late steal that sorta flew under the radar as a recruit despite the fact that he already has tackle size and athleticism as a high schooler. The key detail is that Cy Woods runs a Wing-T type offense that doesn’t look anything like a college spread offense and didn’t ask him to do much in the way of pass protection or to use the techniques he’ll need to master at Texas. If he proves adept as a learner he could prove to be the best player in this group, if he’s only solid as a learner he’s good enough at getting low to translate inside to guard.
Rafiti Ghirmai: 6-4, 290. 4**** from Frisco, TX (Wakeland) IT #36
Ghirmai is pretty much the prototype inside zone OL. He’s athletic enough to play any of the five positions although he’s not a brilliant LT prospect and should be a guy that Herb Hand can move around to either get on the field quickly or to shore up weak spots until he becomes one of the stronger components of the unit.
Reese Moore: 6-6, 280. 4**** from Seminole, TX (Seminole) IT #26
Moore played as an attached TE in high school so he was basically a de-facto tackle in a run-heavy system and even ran down the seam for easy scores at times. They used him alternatively to control DEs at the end of the line or to climb up and hit quick LBs and DBs in space, both of which he did without apparently difficulty. He’s already up to 280 or so and has the quickness and length to potentially be the LT of this group.
Junior Angilau: 6-6, 297. 4**** from Salt Lake City, UT (East)
Personally I think Angilau is a guard all the way despite his size and length. He played LG as a senior and would regularly knock back DL with or without the aid of a double team and could also pull and execute the kick out block on counter runs. He’s basically an even bigger Patrick Vahe and he looks like the guys that made the 2005 USC Trojans one of the all-time great college offenses. Taitusi “Deuce” Lutui anyone?
Mikey Grandy: 6-5, 305. 3*** from San Mateo, CA (College of San Mateo)
Grandy will be an interesting one to watch, it seems like the staff took him early to guarantee some immediate depth help and a safe floor for the class even after landing Angilau and before landing Jones later on to guarantee quality depth and upside in the class. He played LT at San Mateo but he’ll play inside at Texas. He has solid feet but its his size and power which make him a nice fit for Texas.
Taking five OL is pretty ideal for every class and Texas not only landed some great raw talent and good fits but also multiple guys that could end up being feature, All-conference players including at the invaluable LT position.
We’ve devoted a lot of ink now to explaining the Texas DL system, this bit I did on the 4-0-4 front preferred by Todd Orlando is a useful aid to understanding how it works and what Texas is asking of their DL in this defense.
Basically you want a war daddy at the nose who’s stronger and faster than the center across from him and then a pair of scrappy, length tweeners at either DE spot who can slant and stunt or maintain the B-gap against a down-blocking tackle or a reach block by the guard. The 4i alignment actually makes their lives easy in terms of squatting in the B-gaps but they need length and athleticism for the other assignments they tend to draw.
Keondre Coburn: 6-1, 330. 4**** from Houston, TX (Westfield) IT #24
Coburn is a great prospect at the nose because he fits the bill of being athletic enough to win a gap and strong enough to overpower a center and to hold up against a double team from the guard. He’s also an iffy prospect because he’s extremely heavy and appeared a bit flaky at times in recruiting, guys who you plan to count on eating double teams and setting the stage for the rest of your defense are probably not going to be the same guys who love attention. If he wants it, or the surrounding culture is strong enough to demand it from him, he could be special.
Moro Ojomo: 6-3, 280. 3*** from Katy, TX (Katy) IT #11
Ojomo is a phenomenal nose tackle prospect for this front, particularly since that’s exactly what he did at a high level with the Katy Tigers. His length and athleticism means he could also fit as a 4i DE or a 3-technique but I’m guessing he’ll end up winning the nose tackle job.
Daniel Carson: 6-5, 260. 3*** from Independence, MO (William Chrisman)
Carson is precisely the sort of tweener DL that the 4i-technique can unlock by simplifying their assignment. He’s probably a two-down player at that position unless he builds up some stamina and tricks for pushing the pocket but he’s really sturdy and quick enough to be a problem shaded inside of a tackle. He could also grow into a strong 3-technique, he more or less fits the profile of guys that schools like K-State will chase after when they’re trying to find guys that can play that position.
Michael Williams: 6-2, 240. 3*** from Baton Rouge, LA (Dunham School)
It’s not obvious to me that Ed Orgeron knows Louisiana that well, even though it’s where he’s from and has recruited for decades, because I’ve seen them allow a lot of no-brainer upside kids to get away in the last two years. Williams is one of Herman’s favorites in this class because he’s absurdly bouncy and quick for his size and basically looks like Swamp Thing 2.0. He’ll probably need time to learn how to play the position but he should become a nightmare for offenses that is simultaneously hard to root out on downhill runs and then impossible to predict or stay in front of when slanting in the blitz package.
Joseph Ossai: 6-4, 220. 4**** from Conroe, TX (Oak Ridge) IT #9
Ossai projects as an OLB but he’s a big, powerful kid that I think may spend some time as a 4i much like Hager does now so I’m listing him in this group. Anyways, he’s big, powerful, likely to end up 250 or so, and can bend around the corner. It was a major coup to get him over competing offers from four-down teams that could have offered him a role as a full-time DE on the edge but I doubt that Orlando will fail to utilize his pass-rushing gifts and Ossai was obviously convinced. The staff moved Roach and Hager outside to some traditional DE alignments at times and could do the same for Ossai, or just leave him at B-backer and teach him to drop into coverage.
Texas got a lot of good fits here and it’s hard to see this group producing less than three All-B12 caliber players given the latent potential in Williams, Ossai, Ojomo, and Coburn.
All three linebacker positions in this defense have to master three major assignments. The first is playing as a LB in the quarters coverages that provide the foundation of the Orlando’s defensive backfield. The second is executing a base rush, which means winning the edge for a B-backer or timing an insert blitz for the Mac and Rover. Finally there’s playing matchup zone/man coverage on a blitz against an RB, TE, or perhaps even a slot WR. Orlando is a good teacher but there’s a lot to learn.
Byron Hobbs: 6-4, 216. 3*** from Fort Worth, TX (Eastern Hills) IT #39
It’s not impossible that Hobbs and Epps could switch places, with the sturdy and powerful Epps moving to B-backer while the faster and equally skilled Hobbs played as a TE. Hobbs could also fit inside at Rover as he has the lateral quickness to run laterally and pursue the ball. His most obvious destination is as a B-backer who already has some skill at executing coverage drops and plenty of length and explosiveness turning the corner in the pass-rush. Pretty impressive athlete that the staff may want to redshirt in order to make sure he becomes an impressive football player somewhere.
Ayodele Adeoye: 6-0, 230. 4**** from Bradenton, FL (IMG, originally MO)
Dele pretty much has to pan out for Texas given the lack of players ahead of him on campus at Mac LB and the lack of players at Mac or Rover in this class. Fortunately he’s a good prospect with underrated quickness and real power playing downhill. He’ll probably play early so they can groom him into a quick answer at Mac LB opposite all of the athletes they’re stockpiling elsewhere.
Texas really needs to load up in future classes or else find a LB from another position room. Adeoye is a great addition that should be able to shore up the need at inside-backer and Hobbs (or Epps) could prove to be really special and unique players with time but there’s not enough help here at the inside backer positions and not much proven ability on the current depth chart.
Texas asks a lot of the secondary, or at least they did before going dime last year and shifting the burden up front to the DL. The initial plan for the season required that the boundary CB frequently play on an island and sometimes as a safety while the nickel and safeties rotated into a variety of different positions including B-backer, ILB, and the other safety positions.
This scheme is at its best with versatile, coverage-savvy safeties who can each perform each other’s duties to allow shifting and rotations. The corners have to learn to play pattern-match coverages and the 2-robber dime package asks them to play as run support defenders on the edge. You can’t really have enough skill or athleticism at DB in this league and Orlando and the staff made the most of a wide array of skills last year. Guess what though? I have some good news about the incoming DBs…
D’Shawn Jamison: 5-10, 174. 4**** from Houston, TX (Lamar) IT #8
An IT staff favorite, Jamison looks like another ultra-quick, and undersized but scrappy athlete turned monster by the spread offense in the mold of a Tyrann Mathieu, Quandre Diggs, or Lamarcus Joyner. He could end up at nickel, combining the ability to cover receivers with closing speed and physicality on the perimeter against runs and screens. He could also end up at safety or even cornerback. Even as talented as this class is, I think things may shake out in a way to make the most of his style of play.
DeMarvion Overshown: 6-4, 200. 4**** from Arp, TX (Arp) IT #6
Overshown could stay at safety, playing the rangy strong safety position or sliding over the boundary where he could more easily get involved supporting the run over the top. He might also end up sliding down to play as a Rover or B-backer depending on how his frame fills out and how well he holds up playing close to the action.
My favorite dystopian adventure story features Overshown playing as a safety/B-backer hybrid filling out the role that the staff was building for Jason Hall that included work as a robber safety, deep zone defender, 9-technique player on the line, and TE matchup eraser.
Jalen Green: 6-0, 171. 4**** from Houston, TX (Heights) IT #1
Green has insane, effortless speed that has been consistently timed in the 4.6 range but appears much faster on film. That’s good for a CB who needs to be able to track a lot of things at once while moving at high speed in order to keep WRs on lockdown. I think he’s the boundary CB of this group who will draw simpler “don’t let this guy catch it!” assignments.
Anthony Cook: 6-0, 170. 4*** from Houston, TX (Lamar) IT #10
Obviously Lamar was loaded with athleticism and skill this past season. Cook was perhaps the most sought after and contested prize of this group even though our own Eric and other knowledgeable recruitniks prefer Green or the safeties. What’s impressive about Cook is that he plays team coverage concepts at a high level already so he’s less likely to have to deal with the normal growing pains that come for DBs trying to read 2-to-1 or what have you for the first time in their lives. I have him pegged as a field corner playing in tandem with the strong safety and nickel if and when he’s strong and physical enough to beat WR blocks on the edge.
B.J. Foster: 6-1, 188. 5***** from Angleton, TX (Angleton) IT #4
Foster is yet another great athlete who’s wisely determined that DB presents the best opportunities for developing a professional career. He played some safety and some tailback at Angleton and in both regards where he stands apart as a player is his ability to break down and line things up so that his 4.65 speed looks like 4.4 speed.
As a safety he’s fantastic coming downhill to deliver tackles or crushing blows and that’s not always something that top athletes can do, either due to an inability to break down in the open field or a lack of willingness to violently mix it up. When he’s a 6-1, 210 pounder blowing people up he’ll be pretty famous around the league in short order. I think he’ll end up on the boundary.
Caden Sterns: 6-1, 192. 5***** from Cibolo, TX (Steele) IT #3
Sterns is nearly an identical prospect to Foster in terms of their basic athleticism and skill set, he’s excellent at playing with depth, covering ground, and fearlessly delivering big hits in the hole or over the middle, wherever violence is needed.
You really need safeties that can hit and tackle to play dominant defense and finding guys like that who still have the athleticism to hold up in the spread and the intelligence to handle everything offenses will throw at them is pretty difficult. Texas found two guys in Sterns and Foster that are more or less your gold standard for prospects that can thrive in these conditions.
Texas is well poised in the future to both hold up against the Big 12’s abundance of skill talent, to match it with their own, and also to set themselves apart in the trenches with big, athletic brutes that can allow Texas to bully opponents into submission. Maybe most importantly they added depth at QB that can allow Texas to play some field generals that make sure this isn’t all wasted as it has been in the past.
There are still some holes here and there on the roster but there’s also a lot of infrastructure pieces and potential superstars. Texas did well to land several blue-chippers but they also found good fits and built out a class that should win some titles