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Tom Herman’s first Junior Day was probably the most successful recruiting moment yet for the new regime. In addition to successfully drawing in the “who’s who” of 2018 Texas recruiting, they also made great impressions with many of the state’s elite prospects.
The most prized members of the 2017 crop largely chose to go elsewhere, with Ohio State snagging three of 247’s top 10, and eight of the top 10 choosing out of state programs.
Thus far, Texas is in good shape with 247’s top 10 for 2018 and likely to snag at least as many as Ohio State got from the 2017 crop. Evidently Herman’s vision to fill up in 2017 with prospects that were lower rated but already evaluated while at Houston but then get after the big fish in 2018 is proceeding according to plan.
Of all the big 2018 fish that came to campus for Junior Day, here are the five that stand out as the most important for this class:
In the spread era of football, and the Big 12 in particular, the elite skill athletes on defense are some of the most valuable prospects you can land. There are tons of athletes in the state of Texas every year who can dominate their opponents in space but the majority of them end up on offense. The guys that can survive being isolated in space at cornerback or who can erase space inside at safety or nickel are more rare and thus more valuable than even the best offensive stars at wideout or running back.
Snagging the best defensive skill athletes in a given year and maintaining both a reputation and credibility as “Defensive Back University” is thus essential for Texas in finding ways to leverage its advantage as the state’s flagship program.
In 2018 that means landing B.J. Foster, who might be the best all around athlete in the state of Texas and who has chosen defensive back as the place where he aims to specialize after high school in his pursuit of the NFL dream.
As it happens, the new Texas defense under Todd Orlando puts a premium on the safety position. The structure of the quarters coverages that Orlando leans on asks the safeties to be prominently involved at the point of attack against both the run and the pass. That requires both a keen understanding of the game and also the athleticism to navigate all of the grass they have to play in. As a hard-working and serious player with elite athleticism, Foster presents some major possibilities for Texas in this regard. You can dominate games with an elite safety in today’s era.
The quarterback commitment in every class is always extremely important, every QB you sign could potentially be the guy who’s skillset defines the direction of the offense. Thompson has been developing a pretty standard smashmouth spread skillset up in Moore, OK playing at Southmoore high school.
The SaberCats run a smashmouth spread similar in design to Herman’s own system. The 2016 iteration was built off a two-back run game featuring a really effective senior fullback and an OL or two up front that are garnering some major attention. Casey Thompson’s role in this offense was to handle a wide variety of run and pass options and to effectively hit receivers outside of the hash marks when teams went crazy loading the box to handle the run.
One run play that stood out in particular was this shovel option play they ran effectively against regional powerhouse, Tulsa Union:
I’m honestly not even entirely sure what the QB’s read progression is on this play other than an initial read of the unblocked DE but his options include pitching the ball back inside to the running back who’s running behind normal “power” blocking, keeping the ball on the edge, or throwing a bubble to the slot out wide on the perimeter. Thompson was a good decision maker in Southmoore’s very multiple spread-option run game and they were able to catch Union a few times with this one on both the pitch and the bubble.
Other than handling all of their option reads, the other impressive aspect of Thompson’s play was how well he delivered the ball to Kansas State commit Gervarrius Owens, who had 40 catches for 811 yards and eight TDs last year. Because their run game was so multiple and they had as much talent up front as they did, Owens regularly found himself facing man coverage.
If you want a glimpse into Thompson’s ability as a passer go pull up Owens’ HUDL and watch how well the QB managed pressure in the pocket and take note of the placement he’d use to lead Owens away from coverage.
This is a high floor QB prospect who really understands how to set up his teammates for success in this kind of system. Consequently he’ll very likely be the guy Texas zeroes in on and trusts as the signal-caller for this class.
Overshown is the Baron Browning or Malik Jefferson of the 2018 class, the sensational athlete with an otherworldly combination of size and athleticism who will probably end up as a sort of hybrid linebacker in college.
Currently Overshown serves in the Arp defense as a free safety, but his downhill speed and the aggression with which he plays against the runs from their 3A opponents makes him more of a rover at his current level. Blake Gideon played a similar role at Leander high school but not quite to this level and not at 6’4” and 200 pounds.
Where he’d fit at Texas is a bit of a mystery as we watch to see how his body fills out, but there are three positions that make some degree of sense for his future. The first is as a boundary safety, who’d be regularly involved in the run fits up front supporting the linebackers and forcing the edge or smashing people that tried to catch the ball over the middle.
The next would be the “Roy-backer” nickel spot made famous by that similar overgrown freak of the past, the “evil” Roy Williams of Oklahoma. The nickel position has an active role in supporting the run and blitzing the edge in Orlando’s defense, although it’s less downhill and more lateral than the boundary safety.
Then there’s the “rover” linebacker position where it appears that Malik will end up. This spot gets to perform a wide variety of different tasks but in some sense he’d be attacking downhill like he currently does at Arp but from a much closer alignment.
Everyone in the country wants to sign him and have the problem of figuring out how to translate his absurd size, speed and aggression into a modern defense. Texas needs to prove with Malik that they know how to make the most of such players and they need to sign Overshown and build a tradition of doing exactly that.
Ingram is the sole RB that Texas is gunning for in 2018, which alone makes him a considerably important player at this stage in the recruiting process. Currently at Carthage HS, Ingram had a huge role in 2016 with 292 carries that he took for 2045 yards (seven yards per carry) and 29 TDs along with another 43 receptions, 452 receiving yards, and two more TDs.
It’s a “pro-style” offense that they run at Carthage and Keaontay is the main feature and gets a lot of work in a variety of run game schemes as well as running some release routes, screens, and serving in pass protection.
Ingram has two skills that I think translate very nicely to Herman’s run game, his ability to make lateral cuts while keeping his shoulders square to the line and the explosiveness of his first step. At times you see him use these skills on schemes like lead draw or power where he’s running behind a lead blocker and he’ll manipulate a defender in one direction before jump cutting into a lateral crease and then firing through it.
This could be a devastating at Texas where he’ll regularly find himself isolated against linebackers that need to make sure they get their run fits right or else get burned. The ability to use head fakes and cuts to influence linebackers into the wrong gaps before darting into another is magnified if the safeties are playing deep on the hash marks and the offensive line is adept at opening holes big enough to allow the back to really get up to speed quickly.
The most important part of Herman’s offense is attacking downhill in the A and B gaps and Ingram is the primary guy in this class who will be utilized towards that end.
The first Lamar star to sign with Texas
Right now 247 has Lamar’s CB Anthony Cook as one of the two 5-star players in the state of Texas while Inside Texas might think a little more collectively of his smaller but sudden teammate D’Shawn Jamison. Lamar high school can also boast of 247’s no. 10 ranked player in the state, WR Al’Vonte Woodard, as well as three-star slotback Ta’Shawn Henry and three-star DT Josh Landry.
Jamison, Cook, and Woodard are the major prizes here with Jamison and Cook as the highest priorities for the same reason that B.J. Foster is so important to this class. Every team in this league has good receivers that are dangerous in all of the space they can put them in, very few of the teams in this league have the athletes at defensive back to keep up and survive against them. If Texas can get Jamison and Cook they’ll maintain that advantage over the rest of the league.
The clincher here is that the Lamar guys are likely to end up together in college so if Texas can get one of them to pull the trigger it could have a domino effect that draws in as many of the rest of them as Herman wants to offer.
Cook is a rather obvious cornerback prospect, hence his high rating, and at 6’1” 173 with eye-opening testing results he hearkens back to the days of 2005 when Texas could put five 6’0”, 200 pounders with NFL athleticism on the field in the same secondary. Jamison is a tad smaller at 5’10” 173 but he’s an explosive ball of energy in the mold of a Quandre Diggs or Nathan Vasher that might factor in at corner, nickel, or safety. If Texas can get these guys on the field with B.J. Foster they’ll really be able to shrink the field and make it seem tiny to Big 12 QBs accustomed to easily finding places to locate the football.
Honorable mention: Brennan Eagles
When there are dozens of explosive WRs in every class of Texas recruits and you can’t even throw a rock in the DFW metroplex without one of them catching it before it hits the ground then it becomes hard to overly obsess over particular players.
However that isn’t to say that there aren’t guys who can be major impact players that can stand out above the others. There are a couple of guys that stand out in the 2018 pack and Brennan Eagles is one of them.
The main reason Eagles stands out, besides a cool name that makes him sound like he’s an entire high school team, is because he’s both massive and athletic. The Houston opening had him measured at 6’4” 214 with a 4.51 40, 3.99 shuttle, 37” vertical, and 39’ powerball toss. That’s very close to approaching big Roy Williams levels of size and athleticism and well beyond what you tend to find in guys this big. The last guy in the league with these kinds of measurables ended up having a pretty successful collegiate career.
Eagles is also pretty good at football, as you can see from his film, and he’s already using his coordination and short area quickness to get open with devastating effect in his junior highlights.
If Texas wants to set up Casey Thompson to have guys he can trust to play pitch and catch with like he trusted Gervarrius Owens at Southmoore, they should go to the mattresses to get Brennan Eagles and then make them room together. Something similar has paid dividends in the past. Recruiting just got exciting again.