The Great Offensive Line Gold Rush of 2017

Connor Williams. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Connor Williams. (Will Gallagher/IT)

For years, many of us wondered where the depth of quality offensive line prospects were.

Despite Texas consistently landing its first choices at the position, there just weren’t a whole lot of options. Sure, A&M went on a great run of offensive line evaluation and development, but they were about the only ones, save some scatter-shots like Spencer Drango at Baylor and Le’Raven Clark at Texas Tech.

Both Drango and Clark were members of a 2011 class which featured Sedrick Flowers as the state’s highest rated lineman. Texas also signed Garrett Greenlea and Josh Cochran. Bad evaluation, and bad luck (in that order) will always be a part of recruiting, but when the options are more abundant you’re likely to find your ideal traits in a player. This goes for all schools, not just Texas.

2012 wasn’t much better around the state. In fact, none of the five most highly rated players finished their career at the school with which they signed. These names are Kennedy Estelle (Texas), Curtis Riser (Texas), Michael Starts (Texas Tech), Camrhon Hughes (Texas), and country crooner John Michael McGee (Oklahoma).

Despite the down year, A&M did good work to land Germain Ifedi and continue the Matthews tradition with the signing of Mike.

2013 was finally (!) going to be the year, at least for Texas. It was a stellar year at the top with Kent Perkins, Darius James, and Jake Raulerson all selecting Texas. Perkins has a solid-to-good career going at Texas with one more to go. James flashed the talent we knew he had in high school but injuries and off the field issues forced his transfer to Auburn. As we well know, Raulerson elected to transfer to Arkansas with two years of eligibility remaining. Re-hash that at your own peril.

A&M didn’t fare much better that cycle, landing Ishmael Wilson and JJ Gustafson, two players who didn’t pan for differing reasons, likely thick hockey player ankles for Gustafson.

TCU did well to land strong-man Patrick Morris, a player Texas batted its eyelashes at for much of the cycle. He looks to be a big part of the Horned Frogs o-line rebuild this season.

Texas Tech signed a useful piece in Baylen Brown in 2013.

As you can see, offensive line recruiting was suffering for everyone, but it started to get *better* in 2014, at least by the standards of the day.

Demetrius Knox took Longhorn fans on a wild ride, ultimately landing at Ohio State. Zach Ledwick came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly after signing with A&M, but hey, at least we had a brief sighting of a talented offensive tackle!

Jovan Pruitt was a raw ball of clay who ended up going to Arkansas. Ty Barrett stayed close to home to attend TCU but he’s no longer with the program. Koda Martin was a huge undertaking as a project because of his slight, lanky build, though he had a lot of talent and still has a lot of good football ahead of him. I personally liked Connor Mayes from the small town, Van Alstyne, and he’s been productive at Minnesota. Texas fans would take him at center right now in a heartbeat.

Another player I really liked was Aggie signee, Kealvin “Tank” Davis. He moved the best out of all the o-line prospects that year, though he was undersized. He’s now ready to produce in College Station.

Texas, of course, signed Terrell Cuney and Elijah Rodriguez. Cuney was to be Mack Brown’s sole offensive line take in the class (bold move, Cotton), but Strong came in and realized the depth issues and flipped Rodriguez late from Colorado, despite Rodriguez fielding overtures from Florida and LSU.

While the 2014 class won’t prove to be special, it will prove to be more productive than immediate years prior.

A funny thing happened in 2015 — there were prospects everywhere. They were nearly as numerous as defensive backs. There were plenty linemen to go around. A&M signed a good class. Tech got in on the action by signing some highly coveted players. Texas even atoned for years of o-line recruiting ineptitude. At one point or another Texas had a commitment from Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe, Maea Tuehema, and Toby Weathersby.

Just a short year later and Williams and Vahe are quality starters at Texas, and Tuehema and Weathersby appear set to bookend LSU’s line.

There were even late comers to the party in the form of David Bolisomi and Sam Awolope. The ever cunning Gary Patterson landed those two high ceiling talents.

Patrick Hudson. (courtesy of Hudson)
Patrick Hudson. (courtesy of Hudson)

We had entered a brave new world of offensive line recruiting as 2015 was a gateway rather than a one-off.

With the recency of 2016, we know that story well. Texas loaded up with Patrick Hudson, Jean Delance, Denzel Okafor (criminally underrated in much the same manner Connor Williams was. I rated both in the 30’s and should have had them higher), and JP Urquidez. Texas also landed what would have been the star of some previous o-line classes in Tope Imade, a mountain of a man with athletic upside.

Because of the Baylor infusion A&M’s haul didn’t end up quite as good as Texas on paper, but they also hit the lottery with Kellen Diesch, who has special upside, the Anderson twins, Austin and Riley, as well as late bloomer Ryan McCollum, who I have figured for one of the steals of the class.

TCU staved off suitors far and wide for Austin Myers, and SEC West robber barons, Ole Miss and Alabama landed Greg Little and Chris Owens respectively.

Even positions that are traditionally rich in-state have down years. Case in point, you couldn’t throw a rock in 2014 and 2015 without hitting a quality defensive back. By comparison, 2016 was a down year (keeping in mind a down year at defensive back in Texas is a bumper crop elsewhere).

After 2015 and 2016 you’d think offensive line talent would regress to its recent traditional mean, but it’s doing the opposite. 2017 is the richest and deepest class of offensive line talent I can recall. Rather than enough talent to go around for the likes of Tech and TCU to fill up, we’re seeing schools such as Houston and Colorado land prospects who can play for upper-echelon P5 schools.

Walker Little. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Walker Little. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Walker Little’s in the conversation for best player in the state and country with his unlimited potential at left tackle. Tyrese Robinson is a big guard who gets up and moving like fire ants invaded his sleeping bag. Austin Deculus – he of the 53 long jacket – is a high floor guard headed to LSU. He’ll be joined there by high ceiling guard, Edward Ingram. Tech commit, Jack Anderson, is an approximation of Deculus and Ingram with his floor to ceiling ratio.

I haven’t even mentioned A&M commit Grayson Reed (who could play all five positions in a pinch), California transplant Chuck Filiaga who got here as quick as he could, TCU commit Wes Harris, or Stephan Zabie.

Speaking of Reed’s versatility, Texas is off to a great start with Xavier Newman, a ‘tackle athlete’ who profiles as a guard or center.

Those are the riches, but where this class really sets itself apart is the overall depth. Colorado commit Grant Polley can play for pretty much anybody. Ditto Tech commit Will Farrar. Tech also landed Anderson’s teammate, Dawson Deaton. Like 2015, Tech is taking full advantage of the state’s reserves.

With Matthew Huhn, Dennis Bardwell, and Samuel Cosmi committed, Houston is also fully involved. Next they’ll want in the Big 12!

This list isn’t even entirely comprehensive; I’ve failed to mention Eleasah Anderson, Hyrin White, and many others.

Indeed, the class has talent at the top, quality of depth in the middle, but there are also at least two players who I feel have a brighter future on the offensive side of the ball in Jayden Peevy and James Lynch. Peevy has a great frame and will maintain his athleticism at 315 pounds. Lynch too could prove a steal for – wait for it – yes, of course, TCU.

If you can’t recruit and find players in this friendly climate, you’re in the wrong line of work. Early returns for 2018 are already good as well despite bigger prospects being on a longer growth curve, therefore taking longer to emerge.

It appears the dog days of offensive line recruiting are behind the state, and a new normal has been established. Every school who recruits Texas stands to benefit.