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Often when I begin a rankings list I’ll mention schematic fit as something I account for. I’ll say something like, I’m not going to let a kid’s bad choice sink my evaluation. Or if they make a good decision, I’ll happily ride those coattails. Often with the elite players fit doesn’t matter as much, but I will account for how well a program has been developing talent. No fan base has learned this simple lesson harder or more resolutely than Texas: development really matters.
Through the lens of 2016, let’s take a look at Texas senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay:
5. WR Devin Duvernay, Sachse (Sachse, TX) – BAYLOR: What if Quan Cosby didn’t lose his speed while toiling in the minor leagues? We’re about to find out. Duvernay has possession receiver hands with track speed, gymnast balance, and a politician’s ability to alter course. The lone “flaw” is lack of height but really being his height helps him be the player he is. He’ll run through soft contact with ease if he’s not eluding it. I expect him to wreck shop in the screen and return game as a freshman.
Duvernay wasn’t particularly hard to evaluate and I was on the same page with the composite that rated him the #4 player in the state.
While I overrated his COD by a tick or two (probably should have accounted more for his body type) I hit the other notes, and he finally appears deserving of his lofty high school reputation. But for a while, it wasn’t looking like he’d get there.
Duvernay is a good reminder to not give up on players and even if they do “bust,” out of fairness to them it’s worth exploring the context. Maybe the kid didn’t have the mental disposition for the sport and didn’t want to embrace the grind? That sinks many but was never going to be the issue here. Maybe he got hurt? Nope. Maybe it’s a multitude of factors? Let’s look at those.
With Devin the Duve the context for the slower start to his career, relative to ranking, stems from external factors. He had a solid freshman year that showed big play ability, but mostly on the same route that showed one-dimensional talent: speed. He was also in an offense that featured a 2000 yard rusher and was a close facsimile to the Baylor one he originally signed to play in. The one that had me thinking he was a perfect fit. The easy eval is going to be right!, I thought to myself.
But that team sucked and Charlie Strong gave way to Tom Herman. When looking across the board at how the inherited roster fit Tom Herman’s offense I figured he’d love Duvernay because of a playbook that featured creative use of the slot receiver. I was sure Duvernay, along with Sam Ehlinger, would be primary beneficiaries of the coaching change. Herman’s lucky to inherit this fit, I opined.
By the third game of the 2017 campaign we were longing for the 2016 offense. Injuries and lack of depth took a massive toll on the offensive line and at tight end. Further complicating things, especially from skill players heavily reliant on others, the quarterback was either a dinged up sophomore gamer or a dinged up freshman gamer. The context that was so hard for many to see in real time should be coming through in 4K now. What a mess. Ehlinger led the ground attack with 380 yards. Duvernay, a player soon to be drafted in the middle rounds, totaled 9 receptions, or four less than freshman reserve running back Daniel Young.
The disappointment of that season put Devin and his brother Donovan on transfer watch, where we had them placed for about four to five months. I’m still not sure the staff knew what they had in him long-term but they had lost promising slot receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps due to those underlined words above and knew Duvernay could at least be a vertical threat. They pitched them to stay, played both brothers extensively in the spring game, and it worked.
By now I had already compared Hemphill-Mapps’ game to Duvernay’s and noticed fluidity as the biggest athletic difference. Hemphill-Mapps ran smooth routes to all three levels that we hadn’t seen from Duvernay. Damn, I missed this simple eval on the first or second thing I look for, wtf?
Duvernay was exiled to Z but on the bright side he was viewed as one of the three best receivers. Herman had to expand Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s role and the only way that worked was to put LJH in the slot and Duvernay outside. Collin Johnson had a firm grasp on the boundary receiver, or the other position for which Humphrey fit.
The evaluation had slowly morphed from difference maker to valuable possession guy. He proved to have great hands but we still weren’t seeing the yards after the catch you’d expect from his running back build and sprinter speed. I was readying to knock over my king on this eval.
While Duvernay had plenty of external factors that didn’t go in his favor, he did have two that went in his direction: Lil’Jordan Humphrey left early for a shot at the NFL and Sam Ehlinger became a very good quarterback. The scheme was always in his favor if he could just win the job. He did just that over August camp and hasn’t looked back. Wait a minute, these reports of Duvernay are promising, it’s not over yet.
It’s funny to see how long it takes some evaluations to play out. Sometimes they never do. Sometimes they don’t until the player is in the NFL (here’s looking at you, Charles O). Sometimes it just takes time for everything to fall into place.
Duvernay is now living up to the evaluation and then some. Much of that is thanks to a toughness that I didn’t quite know he had or needed in January of 2016. Who cares if he’s tough, he’s just going to run verticals in the Briles offense all day. In the Texas offense it all matters: that mindset, that build, those hands, and the concentration and toughness over the middle make him a fantastic slot receiver in this offense. He not only exhibits the athletic traits and reliability needed for the scheme, he exhibits the toughness emblematic of the culture Herman has fostered.