It’s that time of year when we take a good look at the needs and available slots in the current class. Obviously this isn’t the official template, but it’s not like one even truly exists. Numbers are flexible up until the morning of National Signing Day, and needs are open-ended throughout the 2017 season.
Needs affect numbers, and numbers affect how many needs you can address. The bigger the class, the easier it is to address all needs. The more barren your roster is, the harder it is to address all your needs. UT’s roster is anything but barren.
The previous class will always have an affect on the following class. Texas only signed 18 in a cycle in which it felt it could press the number to 22. Those saved scholarships will materialize in an overall improvement of the roster because the staff will undoubtedly land better players in ’18 than it would have in ’17.
For 2017, the staff really liked what it did at quarterback, running back, and tight end. It doesn’t feel the defensive haul is up to its standards, but that’s more based on who it missed on rather than who it landed. They don’t feel like it’s a good class; they don’t feel like it’s a bad class. Essentially, they filled some needs on the roster from a numbers standpoint, but they realize they didn’t accumulate enough difference makers. This will affect needs and numbers in 2018.
The current senior class will obviously affect needs. You tend to want to replace what you’re going to lose, but for a long-curve developmental position like offensive line, it’s best to start preparing a year in advance. Rather than looking at the seniors you’ll lose, you look at the number of juniors.
Because Texas is currently at 89 players on the roster, and will only graduate 11 seniors after the season, it’s going to prove difficult to take a big class this cycle. We’re guaranteed to see attrition, but just how much will affect the final number.
I’m going to work from the very optimistic number of 24. The reason being is Herman understands the importance of getting ‘his guys’ in, and there is always unforeseen attrition after a new coach is hired. I also have some insight into players the previous staff didn’t think would cut it even had they stayed. If the staff thought it could get to 22 in 2017, it’ll think it can get to 24 in 2018, imo.
Current depth chart: The only fit this offense doesn’t make good use of is a pure pocket quarterback. From that we know Herman will always prefer a mobile athlete to a statuesque passer. Buechele is more of a behind the LOS athlete (meaning he can move around), but he’s a deceptive athlete whose main hindrance with running is durability. Ehlinger as we know is a bruising runner with real pocket passing acumen. Matthew Merrick is more of a pocket but when discussing the likely third string quarterback it’s not as important that he’s a great fit.
Need: An ass-kicking dual on the order of Casey Thompson (Southmoore, OK) or Justin Rogers (Bossier City, LA) would be ideal.
Variables: I could see this number stretching to two if the right type of athlete wants to come aboard; not just a dual-threat quarterback, a player who can play two positions.
Current depth chart: Chris Warren is most likely the lead back for next year, but his health will be a concern until he proves he can endure a full season. Toneil Carter will get every chance to make an impact. The staff loves the Daniel Young take. Kyle Porter and Kirk Johnson will compete for snaps. That’s a lot of bodies, but between health, effectiveness, and youth, there are an equal amount of questions.
Need: Texas needs a tried and true feature back. The better he is, the better. Texas has to hit on a lead back in this class. Keaontay Ingram (Carthage) fits the bill.
Variables: Between transfers and injuries I could easily see this number stretch to two. They might stretch it anyway depending on who Stan Drayton can reel in.
Current depth chart: Texas has four coming off the books after next year so immediate playing time should be enticing for the bountiful 2018 crop, even with pre-existing talent on the roster. Texas has a nice mix of inside, outside guys currently, but there’s still plenty of room to infuse talent. We’ve mentioned Devin Duvernay as getting a look on the outside. Armanti Foreman will be looked at inside but he doesn’t affect 2018. Davion Curtis could be the breakout player at the position, and LJH has great appeal in this offense.
Need: If there’s a better offense in America for a dynamic slot receiver I’d like to see it. Texas has to hit at this position every single cycle. Outside receivers also serve an integral function as either big targets in possession scenarios or getting deep on play action. Texas needs two of each which is hard to accomplish when the number is three, but that’s where the Athlete position comes in handy.
Variables: The absolute abundance of talent means the staff shouldn’t have to reach for a marginal take, but if the Texas offense excels and UT can pull in a late war daddy, it has to find a way to make him fit. Robbing from the 2019 class is not a problem, finding room on the current roster is.
Current depth chart: We’ve been discussing/celebrating this for a while; the Texas offensive line depth chart is the healthiest it has been in years and maybe a full decade. There’s competition for first team, and competition to be second team.
Need: After seeing consecutive big o-line classes, Texas fans got a case of anxiety over seeing only two takes in 2017. No need to panic, the next three classes will be 4+. Keep the tackles coming. The only pure guards better be true maulers.
Variable: With the health of the line being what it is, perhaps some guys who will obviously be recruited over look to play elsewhere. This could raise the number. Connor Williams going pro is something the staff should expect and plan for, and use as a selling point to five-stars across the country.
Current depth chart: Andrew Beck will graduate after this year, and I think his usage will be a good indicator of what we’ll see from Cade Brewer. Peyton Aucoin has a big Spring ahead of him as he tries to cement a foothold as the in-line option next season. I have a good feeling about Reese Leitao having a promising freshman season and turning into something we haven’t seen in a very long time. I can’t rule out LJH serving a TE function as a perimeter blocker while working from the slot.
Need: They ask so much of tight ends in this offense it’s very hard to find a single player who can cover all the bases. This means some years they’ll take two (like last year), others they’ll take one, but that one needs to be a baller.
Variable: Texas may look to take two based on three being too low. There are some interesting options emerging in the state.
Current depth chart: In short order we’ll see Orlando’s preference to run a 3-man front. This will be illustrated by the players Texas offers to play DE and NT in the coming months. As of now the roster sets up better to play a 4-man front. There are a ton of options for traditional WDE/SDE/3-tech/1-tech roles, but not nearly as much for 4i and NT.
Need: D-ends that are 6-5 and project to carry 280+. Interior d-linemen with similar length and more size.
Variable: I expect most every contributor on the d-line from last year to make a substantial jump from 2017 to 2018. We’ll also see some talented new blood. Attrition will be marginal and not enough to affect numbers.
Current depth chart: There are three distinct skill-sets required to fulfill the linebacker depth chart and on paper Texas has them all. B-backer: Hughes, McCulloch, Fowler, Bimage. Rover: Jefferson, Freeman, Townsend. Mack: Hager, Wheeler, Johnson.
Need: Big, athletic dudes who project everywhere. Guys like Jefferson and McCulloch are dream takes because of versatility and athleticism. Key is also finding ILB’s who can track ball carriers and fight through traffic.
Variable: Texas won’t lose a single linebacker after this year unless Jefferson truly breaks out. The number three might be a bit high, but UT needs acquire players to learn the scheme ahead of guaranteed heavy attrition in 2018. UT may elect to steal a number here and give it to DeMarvion Overshown, who could eventually grow into a Rover from his safety position.
Current depth chart: Underachieving safeties, sophomore slumping corners, and confusion undermine what is still a physically talented unit. If the collective light switch comes on this depth chart looks quite talented. If not, early playing time will be a strong selling point.
Need: Texas only graduates two after this season but the state is so ridiculously talented the staff has to load up. Here we see the template from 2015: two CB’s, one N, two safeties. Get the five best available players and make them fit. There is no excuse to not land one of the nation’s best hauls.
Variable: Getting to five will be tough, and will likely require attrition at other positions.
Need: Athletes are stop-gaps, players who fill multiple needs. Jaquayln Crawford (Rockdale) is a must get because of his ability to play all three phases. He’d be perfect for slot receiver and returner. I also like a guy like Julon Williams who could serve as quarterback or running back. He could be a Texas version of Joseph Addai.
Variable: Crawford may just be considered a receiver and that number could be four to begin with, or Texas could go best player available at any other positions.
Unfortunately attrition is going to be required to make a class like this possible. Then Texas is going to have to win.