Recruiting and the NFL draft go hand in hand as far as interests of mine. Essentially each year the staff “drafts” their players of choice with the hopes that one day each kid ends a successful Texas career (with diploma) before moving on to the NFL. Obviously that doesn’t happen for all of the players but with more Texas exes in the NFL than any other school, kids dreaming of playing professionally don’t have to use their imagination as much as kids at other schools. With the NFL draft around the corner I figured I’d take stock of the shelves and offer my opinions on the upside of the starters and key depth personnel. We’ll do the offense first.
Keep in mind I’m not saying this is where these guys will be drafted, I’m just speculating from a talent standpoint where they could find themselves with continued hard work and potential realization.
David Ash: I’ve been very high on David Ash because of his physical tools. Sure he has some shortcomings to navigate, but those are the types of things that work out with reps and increased schematic comfort. I think Ash shows the type of improvement this year that foretells a breakout junior campaign.
Upside: 1st round. I’m not saying he’ll go in the first round, but I think that’s his upside, especially when you realize we’re currently living in a draft world where Christian Ponder and Jake Locker are taken in the first round. Oh, and Blaine Gabbert, too. SMH while LOLing.
Joe Bergeron: Mighty Joe’s ferocious style endears himself to fans, but his burst and power will really impress pro scouts. I’m not sure Joe will have the break away speed that separates the elite running backs from the good ones, but Bergeron possesses everything else.
Upside: 1st round. When I see a guy like Shonne Greene getting starter reps in the NFL I can’t help but really like Joe’s prospects. Maybe a better analog would be Trent Richardson. While Joe isn’t as physically developeded as Richardson, he’s more flexible and perhaps as fast.
Malcolm Brown: Though Brown came in more highly rated than Bergeron I haven’t been sold on him being the better prospect. That’s more because of Bergeron surprising than Brown disappointing. Brown has lived up to the hype so far and I expect big things out of him. He combines good power and supreme vision with decisive cutting ability. Upside: 1st round. I don’t think Brown will go in the first round, I’m just saying it wouldn’t shock me if he did. Like Bergeron, Brown only lacks elite speed.
Donald Hawkins: So far Hawkins has looked the part though he’s been a bit inconsistent. You can definitely see he has the tools to be an above average left tackle. Upside: Not enough information.
Mason Walters: Mason hasn’t lived up to his tremendous billing to this point, though he’s still had a solid career. The premium isn’t as high on interior lineman as it is for tackles but Mason will have the chance at a long NFL career.
Upside: 3rd round. Though Walters has great size it might be to his detriment since he plays in the interior. As Desmond Jackson demonstrated this past weekend shorter defensive tackles have the advantage when it comes to low man winning the leverage battle. Walters does have a delightfully menacing disposition that NFL line coaches will love.
Dom Espinosa: Espinosa surprised us all when he dethroned David Snow from the starting center position last year. Though he wasn’t bad, there is a lot of room for improvement. It’s early in his career, but I haven’t seen anything that suggests Espy will have an NFL career.
Trey Hopkins: Now that he’s back in his comfort zone in the interior line I expect Hopkins to have a break out year.
Upside: 3rd round. With his athleticism and intelligence I expect Hopkins to have some good buzz amongst NFL decision makers. Don’t be surprised if he ends up at center at some point in his professional career, if not sooner.
Josh Cochran: Cochran may have the highest upside of anyone on the offensive line. He needs to continue to add strength but once his body fully matures, watch out.
Upside: 2nd round. There’s a premium on long athletic tackles and that’s what Cochran is. He’s also a willing combatant and once his strength catches up to his ‘want to’ he’s going to put some people on their asses.
Mike Davis: After dealing with The Sabotage that was Darius White, Mike D seems to have found his groove and is getting back to looking like the guy Texas thought it was getting when he entered the program.
Upside: Mid rounder. The name of the game is ‘consistency’ and if Davis finds it, he’ll find himself on draft boards by the time he leaves.
Jaxon Shipley: The sky’s the limit with Shipley. With his do it all skill set married to Harsin’s do it all playbook, Shipley has more than ample opportunity to show his ability along with his high football IQ.
Upside: 2nd round. NFL GM’s are funny in that they like guys that are always open despite being the main receiving threat. A lot of Shipley’s upside is tied into him embracing the strength side of strength and conditioning. If he fills out like his brother did he’s going to be in high demand.
Marquise Goodwin: Goodwin’s going to have a long pro career, but in track and field, not football. That written, he’s still an integral part to the team.
D.J. Grant: It’s do or die time for Grant. He’s a guy that’s flashed potential at times, while disappearing at others. Texas needs more UCLA type performances out of him.
Upside: With two repaired knees it would take a giant year to find himself on draft boards. I don’t see it, but perhaps he gets a camp invite.
Ryan Roberson: I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised with Roberson’s ability this year, especially in the miscellaneous department. Fullbacks are supposed to do the dirty work and Roberson’s background as a linebacker lends to his willingness to sacrifice his body.
Upside: There’s a shortage of fullbacks in the NFL for various reasons so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Roberson catches on to a practice squad, but because of his size limitations it would surprise me if he did.
Some of those thoughts may be pie in the sky evaluations to some of you, but that’s what upside is. Remember, many of us are expecting really big things in the next two years and it takes NFL talent to achieve that.
Stay tuned for the defensive corrollary, that one’s going to be fun to write.