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Assessing the 2018 class three years after its arrival

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In a Tuesday radio interview with Sean Salisbury on Houston’s SportsTalk 790, Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian mentioned he believed recruiting class rankings should be re-evaluated several years after the fact as opposed to the morning after national signing day.

“They really should assess these recruiting classes three years later,” Sarkisian told Salisbury. “That’s when you should really rank the recruiting classes of how did the players really play, not necessarily how many stars they had coming out of high school.”

One of the most lauded classes in recent Longhorn football memory started its journey in Austin in 2018. Tom Herman brought in one of the highest rated defensive back classes in modern recruiting history, flipped a quarterback from Oklahoma, and signed several of the best from the Texas high school ranks at several positions.

The 247Sports composite rankings placed Texas’ 2018 class behind only Georgia and Ohio State, and ahead of Alabama, USC, and Penn State. Several members of the #revolUTion18 class contributed to Texas’ 10-win campaign during its first season, but eventually became starters on teams that weren’t good enough to save the coach who brought them to Austin.

A year before the 2018 signees arrived, the 2015 class brought in by Charlie Strong was in a similar situation. The coach they signed with had been fired and a new one, Herman, was chosen to run the program. The biggest difference between Strong’s 2015 class and Herman’s 2018 class is a coaching change happened between 2015 signees’ second and third years in the program, as opposed to years three and four for the 2018 signees.

Sarkisian may be inheriting players he didn’t sign to Texas, but by the definition of that word, those players are now his. Finding ideal roles for them in his offensive scheme and on defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s side of the ball will be a priority in his first spring in Austin.

But what have those players done since their arrival? How should Texas’ 2018 recruiting class be perceived now? What do remaining members have the potential to do in the upcoming season?

Gone to the NFL (3/27)

S Caden Sterns, Steele (Cibolo, TX): Sterns’ freshman campaign included conference defensive freshman of the year honors, first-team all-conference recognition, and four interceptions in 13 starts. Of all the defensive backs brought in, Sterns was the quickest to get his career started in Austin. Though he was a solid defender when healthy, his injury-derailed sophomore and junior seasons never matched “the Wolf’s” freshman production. He declared early for the NFL Draft and stands a chance of either hearing his name called on day three or signed as an undrafted free agent.

WR Brennan Eagles, Alief Taylor (Houston, TX): One fun fact about Eagles is he started his first career game at Texas because Collin Johnson didn’t have his shirt tucked in. Eagles did little else his first year, then stepped up his production in a tumultuous sophomore season that included an unexcused practice absence and an ensuing suspension. Despite starting in a featured role in Mike Yurcich’s offense, Eagles’ game while at Texas never matched his elite measurables. Like Sterns, Eagles declared early for the NFL Draft.

EDGE Joseph Ossai, Oak Ridge (Conroe, TX): Likely a top 50 selection, and potentially first round pick in the upcoming draft, Ossai was such a good player that he performed admirably while out of position during his sophomore year. Chris Ash rectified Todd Orlando’s recruiting and deployment mistakes, placing Ossai in an edge rushing role catered to his strengths. He blossomed into a first-team All-American and became the player defenses had to account for on a down-by-down basis. He lived up to his rating and then some.

Gone from Texas (9/27)

DB Jalen Green, Heights (Houston, TX): He was overrated by most, including IT, and also battled through nagging shoulder problems for much of his Texas career. Moved to safety during 2020 Alamo Bowl prep, but decided to transfer to Mississippi State to reunite with Jason Washington and give cornerback another go.

LB Ayodele Adeoye, IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL): This recruitment came down to the last minute with Texas staving off Oklahoma’s negative recruiting blitz. Adeoye never seemed built for the Big 12 but gave a game effort in his 19 appearances and 10 starts at middle linebacker. Injury ended his junior season and he decided to portal not too long after Sarkisian’s arrival.

Ayodele Adeoye (Will Gallagher/IT)

RB Keaontay Ingram, Carthage (Carthage, TX): Ingram walked into a great situation for a running back his freshman season. An experienced grad transfer in Tre Watson was there to carry the load, but other players on the depth chart posed no threat for the state’s top back. His debut season was strong, and his sophomore season was an improvement despite some momentary lapses early in the year. However, injuries and other running backs limited Ingram’s effectiveness as 2020 progressed. Rather than stay at Texas for his senior season, he decided to join several other former Longhorns at USC.

QB Cameron Rising, Newbury Park (Newbury Park, CA): Rising, Shane Buechele, and Casey Thompson all believed they had a chance to be Texas’ starting quarterback in 2018. No one had seized the mantle in 2017, and four quarterbacks walked into the room in 2018 thinking they had a shot. Then, Sam Ehlinger happened and locked down the starting spot for three seasons. Rising, like most quarterbacks, looked for immediate playing time. He made a westward pilgrimage to Utah in order to set down new roots in Salt Lake City.

OL Reese Moore, Seminole (Seminole, TX): Moore may have been better served by going the Luke Poehlmann TE-to-OT route, but the big pass catcher from West Texas started out wearing a number in the 70s. Injuries and some positional tinkering never gave him the chance to develop at tackle, with the recent Alamo Bowl versus Colorado being his only UT appearance. Moore transferred to Abilene Christian.

OL Mikey Grandy, College of San Mateo (San Mateo, CA): A MMA fighter turned interior lineman, Grandy was forced to retire due to concussions before ever playing a snap.

EDGE Byron Vaughns, Eastern Hills (Fort Worth, TX): Vaughns verbaled after Justin Watkins but remained committed longer than anyone else in the 2018 class. He would need a few years of development on the edge after playing a “do everything” role for Eastern Hills, and saw some action following a redshirt. Vaughns decided to look elsewhere for playing time and hopes to contribute at Utah State.

DL Michael Williams, Dunham School (Baton Rouge, LA): Williams appeared to be an out-of-state replacement for Texas after they missed on Boling’s Vernon Jackson. Like Jackson, Williams played in the offensive backfield for a small school, and when LSU decided not to offer, Texas was his destination… Then, Williams decided he no longer was interested in the Texas program and transferred to LSU as a walk-on before making any contributions.

DL Daniel Carson, William Chrisman (Independence, MO): A late defensive line addition to a class that needed defensive linemen, Texas (and Bryan Carrington) beat Nebraska and others for his signature. He also was on a longer developmental curve and played sparingly during his redshirt freshman season in 2019. After not playing in 2020, Carson transferred to Western Illinois.

Contributors/Starters (11/27)

S BJ Foster, Angleton (Angleton, TX): Foster has 16 starts in 31 career games, missing several stretches due to injury and targeting suspensions. On the field, Foster originally played the ‘joker’ dime-backer position. He then gave Orlando’s “super nickel” a try in 2019 but struggled as did the rest of the back seven during that season. Foster is still a big hitter and athletic presence in the secondary and can be a valuable piece at boundary safety. He fared pretty well playing at depth in 2020, but he’s probably still best suited near the line of scrimmage. In some ways, Foster is still a big, fast, versatile, vicious blank slate for the new coaches to work with.

LB DeMarvion Overshown, Arp (Arp, TX): 

The Arm Bandit, Agent Zero, D-Mo. Whatever nickname Overshown chose, he became an impact player at linebacker as the year progressed. Both he and fellow starter Juwan Mitchell saw most of the middle linebacker snaps, and Overshown outplayed Mitchell during his first year at the position. The move not only was out of need at linebacker, but also due to crowding on the depth chart at safety. Former Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons may be a name people throw out as a comparison, but Overshown seems like he could be on his way to having other players compared to him down the line. 2020 was a breakout year, 2021 is a contract year for the Arp native.

DB Anthony Cook, Lamar (Houston, TX): Cook was a high-profile recruiting victory over LSU and Ohio State, and was one of the later additions to the 2018 class. A skilled defender, his lack of top-end speed never translated to that of a one-time five-star corner. He flirted with the portal and leaving the program several times, but ultimately returned and learned the Spur position in Chris Ash’s defense. Cook is a quality backup for Chris Adimora but has not yet made much of a consistent impact since stepping foot on campus. He does possess excellent coverage traits between the hashes so it is possible he carves out a role.

CB D’Shawn Jamison, Lamar (Houston, TX): Jamison was often asked to simply out-athlete opponents at Lamar at nickel/safety and did so with regularity. Florida and TCU identified his talent early, as did the Inside Texas staff. A brief spell as a gadget wide receiver his freshman year ended when he was once again needed at corner. Jamison thrived there and became a potential No. 1 corner in a conference where passing is king. He also is a game-changer on special teams and is already on 2022 draft boards. Kwiatkowski inherited a jewel here, but perhaps one in need of some polish.

WR Joshua Moore, Yoakum (Yoakum, TX): A tumultuous recruitment led into a tumultuous career at Texas. Since being reinstated from a suspension stemming from a 2019 arrest, Moore has flourished as a go-to receiving option and a model success story for second chances. Though given an outside receiver role, Moore could play all over the field. The DeVonta Smith comparison is easy due to Sarkisian, their shared jersey number, and similar-ish builds, but Moore does not share the same well-rounded skillset. Still, his ability to out-leap just about anyone and make explosive movements, plus his track record from the 2020 season, has Moore as a player who opponents will regularly keep their eye on (There’s another Moore from Yoakum, too).

DL Keondre Coburn, Westfield (Houston, TX): The 2018 class was the first to utilize the early signing period, and Coburn was one of a few UT commits who did not sign in December. The newness of the process and his delay led to some unfounded concern, but Coburn signed with the Longhorns in February after passively listening to other schools. He made use of the four-game redshirt rule in 2018, and his love for football was evident in the games he appeared. That passion was continually on display in 2019 and 2020, but “Snacks” was limited at times due to his own conditioning. Same for his defensive tackle counterpart, T’Vondre Sweat. Coburn, which is also a widely recognized unit of measure, should be an anchor entering his junior season for a strong defensive line unit. With better conditioning, Coburn will see his profile rise. From Bo Davis and PK’s standpoint, they’re inheriting an NFL player who is probably only the third best interior defensive lineman on the team (behind Sweat and Alfred Collins).

OL Junior Angilau, East (Salt Lake City, TX): Angliau’s frame and physicality playing for a triple option school in Salt Lake City’s East High made for an exciting prospect, but one who would require time to develop. He had to learn how to play O-line going backward as well as he played it going forward. That transition continues to this day, but his baseline traits and aggression helped Angilau secure a starting job as a redshirt freshman. He performed admirably in 2019 and 2020, but still has plenty to clean up technically and in pass protection. Still, to develop quickly enough to be able to play in an option system in high school to a spread system in college was a pleasant surprise for Herman’s staff, and likely will be one for Sarkisian’s staff as well. In Angilau, Kyle Flood has a player who wouldn’t look terribly out of place in Tuscaloosa from a drive blocking standpoint.

DL Moro Ojomo, Katy (Katy, TX): Ojomo was young for his grade when he arrived but talented enough to receive immediate playing time. He was a defensive tackle for Orlando’s defense, then a defensive end in Ash’s defense. While promising, his constant shifting and lack of physical development devoted to a specific position has limited his production at Texas. He’s best suited to an interior defensive line role, but he’s a bit undersized for what PK wants up the middle.

Moro Ojomo (Will Gallagher/IT)

OL Christian Jones, Cy-Woods (Cypress, TX): Similar to Angilau in that he played in a run-first, run-second, run-third offense, but different in that Jones had youth soccer experience that indicated plus athleticism for an offensive lineman. After a few years in the lab, Jones competed for and won a starting tackle job this past season. As expected for a younger, rawer, first-year tackle, Jones offered great glimpses of potential in some games but missed mundane assignments in others. Experience is the best teacher, and like Angilau, Jones seems to be somewhat ahead of schedule in his development considering where he started from in high school. Jones’ developmental timeline coinciding with the hire of one of the most reputable teachers of O-line play means we haven’t seen the finished product yet.

P Ryan Bujcevski, ProKick (Sydney, Australia): Bujcevski has suffered season-ending injuries in two of his past three years in Austin but he was showing vast improvement in 2020. His biggest sin might be not being his cousin, Michael Dickson, the greatest Texas punter of all time.

K Cameron Dicker, Lake Travis (Austin, TX): Dicker has been a quality, if somewhat inconsistent, kicker. His 2018 game-winning kick over Oklahoma will live in Longhorn lore. He has been an improvement over Joshua Rowland (his 2017 kicking predecessor) and has been an above average kicker while at UT both with field goals and kickoffs.

Depth (4/27)

WR Al’vonte Woodard, Lamar (Houston, TX): Woodard has played sparingly at Texas in a variety of WR roles. He’s surely excited for one last chance to prove what he can do.

TE Malcolm Epps, Dekaney (Spring, TX): After moonlighting at WR in 2018 and 2019, Herman and Yurcich moved Epps back to tight end. Much more physicality would be demanded from the former basketball player, and while he did catch two touchdowns this season, he was often behind Cade Brewer and Jared Wiley in terms of playing time. With Sarkisian deploying flex-specific TE’s in the past, Epps could benefit from the new staff, but he’ll need to show strength and physicality not yet seen at Texas to unseat Brewer, Wiley, and potentially Brayden Liebrock to win the full-time job. That’s if he doesn’t decide to transfer after graduating in May.

QB Casey Thompson, Newcastle (Newcastle, OK): Unlike Rising, Thompson’s flirtation with the portal led him back to Texas to be Ehlinger’s backup for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He received some mop-up duty, but never any extended playing time until Texas’ most recent game. Thompson tore apart the Colorado defense, passing for 170 yards and four touchdowns on 8-of-10 passing in just one quarter. Though a depth piece thus far, Thompson could find himself as a starter/contributor soon, pending the results of a quarterback battle with Hudson Card. Given his experience, Thompson has a good chance to become one of the most important members of this class if he becomes the entrenched starter.

OL Rafiti Ghirmai, Wakeland (Frisco, TX): When originally recruited by Texas, Ghirmai seemed like he would be a right tackle or guard candidate. However, he was asked to learn the center position behind four-year starter Zach Shackelford. Ghirmai no longer occupies the back-up center spot and was viewed by the last staff as a possible contributor at guard.

Takeaways

-Thus far, one third of the 2018 class has ventured away from Texas to complete their football career. That’s less than half the defections from Texas’ other full class prior to 2018 in Strong’s 2016 class. 19-of-29 from 2016 either retired early or completed their career elsewhere. For the 2015 class, 10-of-27 finished their career outside of Austin (not including three players in the class that never qualified).

-The 2018 class remains the foundation of the current roster; the class produced starters at WR, OL, DE, DT, LB, S, and CB with the chance to add QB and TE to that list.

-Most of the reasoning behind the lofty ranking was the defensive back class. Now, only three from that group remain and one is no longer a defensive back. Anything short of fielding several all-conference players should be considered a disappointment for this group, and thus far they have produced one all-Big 12 year (Sterns, 2018).

-This class loaded up on beef on both sides of the ball. 11-of-27 signees were linemen, and while Coburn, Ojomo, Ossai, and Angilau have panned out, the other seven either have several players ahead of them or have sought playing time elsewhere.

-2018 was one of three top 10 classes on campus last year, and the team still fell to TCU, Iowa State, and, of course, Oklahoma. Those losses are the main factor behind Herman no longer being the head coach at Texas. Sarkisian’s job in year one with the 2018 class is to do something similar, if not better, to what Herman accomplished in year two with the 2015 class.

-The change from Strong to Herman did wonders for some talented, if not previously under-achieving, members in the 2015 class. The addition of Sarkisian and his seasoned staff, coupled with the inherited talent listed above, makes for the possibility we could see a similar elevation in play for the 2018 class.