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Inside the Gameplan: Ranking the 10 best fits in the 2020 class

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It’s really easy to simply look at the calculators on 247 and get a numeric representation of which recruiting classes are winners and which are losers. Texas fans know a little better after a decade of finishing first in the Big 12 every February and maybe fourth in December.

The key is that signing star athletes only matters if your team can control games in such a way as to set up those star athletes to dominate the contest doing what they do best. It doesn’t matter if you have one of the most skilled slot receivers in the league (Jaxon Shipley) if you can’t get him the ball. Having dominant pass-rushers doesn’t matter if you can’t cover (Charles Omenihu). Owning the trenches isn’t useful if the LBs can’t contain the ball (2019).

Rival Oklahoma’s weight of talent has been felt on the field this decade while Texas has had a decade of futility the likes of which have rarely been seen despite consistently beating the Sooners on the recruiting trail. Consequently, when I look at a class I tend to examine how well it’s likely to fit into the program to maximize some of the talent that’s included.

An important dimension to this is the new philosophy coming with the hires of Mike Yurcich and Chris Ash as the new offensive and defensive coordinators. Some of the bigger changes include a bigger emphasis on the vertical passing game for the offense and a four-down base system for the defense. The corresponding needs for Texas that emerge from these changes are speed at receiver, arm strength at QB, pass-rushing along the DL, and cornerbacks that can play press-man. With that in mind, here are the players I think could have the biggest impact from this class.

Defense

#5 Jerrin Thompson

The hallmark of a good press-quarters defense is physical, savvy safeties who use their eyes well, play fast, and end up with a lot of numbers due to their de-facto role as clean up hitters behind tight underneath coverage. Chris Ash’s 2014 Buckeye safety tandem of Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell were second and fourth on the team in tackles and combined for 10 INTs and 10 PBUs. Jerrin Thompson really fits the mold for having a similar impact as either a field or boundary safety for Texas.

His Lufkin film and numbers show a guy that breaks hard and accurately on the ball and will deal out severe punishment at every opportunity. When his 6-1 frame fills out to 200+ pounds he’ll be a nightmare to opponents coming downhill. Texas has always tended to recruit lots of great safeties but in this day and age you need to keep that valve turned all the way on every year. Thompson’s particularly savage and cunning play style makes him a really good fit for where Ash wants to go with this defense.

#4 Xavion Alford
Alford is similar to Thompson but is even more explosive and has a particular knack for playing the ball. A good bet would be that Thompson ends up patrolling from the shorter boundary side while Alford’s exceptional athleticism and coverage skill is put to use to the field where there’s more ground to cover and it’s common to draw a slot in man coverage on a vertical route.

Texas didn’t sign as many cornerbacks as they’d have liked or should have done in this cycle but it helps when you get guys with above average range and skill at safety to lock down the hash marks.

#3 Kitan Crawford
Right now, Crawford is not an elite cornerback. He even spent his senior season serving double duty as the John Tyler Lions’ leading rusher (1000 yards and 8.9 ypc), which at that level of high school ball is a better way to utilize his unreal athleticism. The key though is that Crawford has elite speed and is already 5-11, 200 pounds. That means that he has all the raw measurables to be able to jam receivers, get physical with them in their routes, and be able to turn and run with them down the field.

Playing press-man coverage requires a lot of technique but also some raw tools that Crawford will bring to the mix. He’s similar to Kris Boyd or Jalen Green, other unreal athletes that with time were able to translate their speed into high level cornerback play. Texas desperately needs guys like this to make the new system work.

#2 Alfred Collins
Texas signed three really promising interior DL prospects but Collins, the final addition to the class, is probably the best. What sets him apart is a lightning quick first step that works in conjunction with a 6-5 frame to make him nearly impossible to block. With Texas moving to a four-down front his fit in the offense becomes clear. While he could credibly play as a strongside end in the Under front he’d do maximal damage as a 3-technique that aligns to the same side as the weakside end on the boundary.

The idea with this front is basically to overload the boundary with disruption between those three defenders so that offenses have to overcompensate and can’t try to get players into space elsewhere. You can’t use the tackle to help block a 3-tech like Collins with a really good edge-rusher outside of him. Instead he’s freed up to to attack the guard in some space so he can push the pocket while using his long arms to disrupt passing windows. Texas hasn’t really had a dominant 3-technique this decade save for Malcom Brown and if Collins can be that it’ll do wonders for the new style. If he stays outside and plays strongside end then he could be a three-down player that can help pinch close B-gaps on standard downs to protect conflicted linebackers before moving outside the rush the edge on passing downs.

#1 Prince Dorbah
In the ultimate of ironies, Prince Dorbah spent his high school career as a 4i-technique in Highland Park’s three-time state title winning defense. That was never going to be his fate at Texas, although the Longhorns’ prior usage of that scheme did mean he might end up playing multiple linebacker positions like Jeff McCulloch and Joseph Ossai before him. Incidentally, Dorbah is lighter and perhaps better suited to that than his predecessors, but those days appear to be behind Texas.

What Texas needs now are guys that can win the edge and affect the QB as a true weakside end, and Dorbah is their guy for that job. He’s still only 6-3, 210 pounds but he’s cat quick and piled up massive stats rushing the passer for Highland Park despite playing mostly as a 4i-technique. He reminds me of Brian Orakpo, who came to Texas at a very similar size and played early because of his natural arc-running ability around the edge before eventually filling out into a 260-pound monster as an upperclassman. Texas may need Dorbah as a situational pass-rusher immediately but the goal will be to groom him to replace Ossai as the featured weakside edge player when that day comes.

Given the low numbers in this role because of Orlando recruiting to a different scheme, Texas really needs Dorbah to pan out as a pass-rusher. Fortunately, he’s a fantastic prospect.

Offense

#5 Bijan Robinson

Running backs are pretty overrated these days and Texas’ best bet to winning the Big 12 is clearly going to come from fielding more 1000-yard WRs…but Bijan is a special talent. The inside zone scheme of Herb Hand is likely to stay consistent with Mike Yurcich at the helm but there will likely be a continued emphasis on vertical play-action and RPOs that help clear out space for those inside zone schemes. That’s the sort of space that a back with unreal lateral agility can easily exploit.

Texas likes guys that can press up to the line and make late cuts that thwart the angles linebackers commit to taking. Keaontay Ingram is special in that regard, Roschon Johnson has always been good at bouncing runs, but Jordan Whittington is probably the only player with comparable lateral speed to Bijan. It’ll take a little time for him to get accustomed to the Texas playbook, the different angles in the backfield working more out of the shotgun in Texas’ tight zone scheme, and all the pass protection details. However, his ability to create and dart through windows is unparalleled and Yurcich will likely involve him early if only in special packages.

#4 Troy Omeire
The rep on Omeire seems to be that of a big bodied target that you can throw it up for like Texas did with Collin Johnson over the last two years. In reality, Omeire has some game changing speed that he shows off on senior film when he hits the jets in open grass. He’s also 6-3, 215 as a high schooler so you’re talking about a potent combination of size, speed, and power that will make him a tough matchup for a given cornerback trying to check him. He reminds me of Malcolm Williams.

For Texas under Yurcich, the ideal comp could be Marcell Ateman who ate teams alive running fades, deep outs, and curls opposite James Washington in 2017 as a 6-4/217 pound target. Yurcich won’t struggle to scheme up opportunities for Omeire to get 1-on-1 matchups to use his size and ability to post up DBs when they have to give him a big cushion.

#3 Kelvontay Dixon
As a fairly good-sized player (6-0, 180) with some next level acceleration and athleticism, Dixon can do a lot of things on the football field. In the Tom Herman offense he’d be a lock to play in the slot once he’s filled out his frame and learned the playbook. However, the reason I have Dixon this high is because he’s a guy that knows how to get a vertical release and beat teams over the top.

In the Yurcich offense he’s as likely to end up outside as in the slot so that he can take the top off defenses with his acceleration, perhaps he’ll even play in both alignments. There’s some James Proche to his game in how difficult he is to stay on when he’s working in any space to set up his move and break open. He’s very efficient in getting to his spots with his initial footwork and he can blow by people with acceleration that is clearly elite on film. Texas’ run game and overall offense can go up a level by taking more shots to guys like Dixon, not only for the points it can lead to but for the space that threat clears up for everyone else. Texas just added the equivalent of a sharpshooting wing player for the basketball team who’s lights out from three. Ideally he’d be the James Washington to Omeire’s Ateman.

#2 Jaylen Garth
Jaylen Garth strikes me as the sort of player that Oklahoma regularly signs for their offensive line that Texas rarely seems to find on the roster. Garth is listed at 6-5 and might be only 6-4 but he has an impressive wingspan that could make him more effective than tackles listed two or three inches taller. He’s really quick and light on his feet and has some surprising power and anchor for a guy who’s most recent film features him as a 270-pound junior.

Oklahoma’s willingness to prioritize athleticism, functional power, and wingspan over the sorts of height and weights that scouts award extra points for gave them a starting tackle tandem of 6-4 athletes in 2018 of Bobby Evans and Cody Ford. Those two would each finish 1st team All-B12 and help keep Kyler Murray totally clean to execute the most devastating vertical passing game in NCAA history. Andrej Karic is another highly athletic and promising OL in this class but Jaylen Garth may prove to be the biggest star at tackle.

Sometimes the shorter, powerful OL with better feet and quicker turnover is a better tackle than the massive fellow, particularly if they have a big wingspan. Think 6-2 Isaiah Wynn who played LT for the National Championship runner-up Georgia Bulldogs and is now the starting left tackle for the New England Patriots.

#1 Hudson Card
Typically the QB is going to be the most important member of the class and this year is no exception, Card is your frontrunner to replace Sam Ehlinger in 2021. Card doesn’t have many weaknesses for a high schooler. He’s been good at reading progressions in the Lake Travis offense and feeding the better receivers on their team. After losing Lake McRee before the season, Card helped the Cavaliers feed their top two targets enough to push each one over 1000 receiving yards. He’s also got a knack for improvisation, scrambling at times to find time to throw down the field or else to take off on his own.

He himself was one of their top two targets as a sophomore when he also had over 1000 receiving yards before taking over when their starter Matthew Baldwin went down in the last two games of the season. Since then Card has grown every year as a passer while adding additional size and making the most of his natural athleticism. He’s posted vertical leaps around 36” and has plenty of film executing a terrifying QB run game on the perimeter. His change of direction and first step quickness is truly elite for a QB.

The passing game execution is even more exciting. Card is already familiar and repped in RPOs and spread dropback concepts and has become increasingly accurate on deep throws down the sidelines as he’s grown stronger and more mechanically efficient.

Card has a lot of tools for Texas to work with in the coming years. He’s coming to Austin with much more advanced skill than QBs from previous eras after starting for three years, working with a private coach, and getting coordinated and coached by a former Texas GA in a similar offense. However, his natural athleticism means that he’s a very long way from being maxed out. He’ll get at least one year to sit and learn before entering the competition for 2021.

Like the other guys on this list, Texas is really going to need him.

History major, football theorist.