Raise your hand if you thought Tarrell Brown, and not Aaron Ross, was Texas' superior cornerback heading into 2006. I know I did. I viewed Ross as an elite athlete who may or may not adjust well to a full-time starting role. I respected his punt returning abilities, but found myself sometimes fretting that he tried too hard to make the Big Play when it wasn't there. See: Rose Bowl.
How's a Thorpe Award and first team All American for exceeding expectations? I certainly think that qualifies as a pleasant surprise. All Ross did was lead the universe in passes defended, finish third in the team in tackles (77), five interceptions, three tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles (one of which won the game in Lincoln). He was at his best in the big games (OU, Nebraska, Alamo Bowl), and added a punt return for a touchdown for good measure. Were it not for two costly penalties, he would have had two more.
Check out his 2006 highlight video on MBTF. Just a terrific, terrific season from Ross. And while there were reasonably high expectations for his contributions this year, no one foresaw this kind of production.
Ross is now dazzling pro scouts at pre-Senior Bowl workouts, and is a consensus lock for the first or second round of the NFL draft. A lot of scouts think he's going to be a safety in the pros, and I can certainly see that coming to pass - his speed isn't -quite- there to be an elite cover corner, but he's got more than enough skills and athleticism to be a hell of a great safety.
As much as anyone leaving Texas this season, he will be missed sorely. Congratulations to Aaron Ross on a truly elite senior season.