2011 narrative: The narrative was pretty simple this season and was clear from almost the beginning: Jaxon Shipley would commit early because it helps further the Roommates 2.0 story and the Texas coaches are fond of nepotism. Er, actually because the dude is a fantastic wide receiver, regardless of the name on his back. Arlington wide receiver Miles Onyegbule also surfaced on the radar early as a favorite of Bobby Kennedy and ended his recruitment early on the morning of the first Junior Day.
That left no room for the player generally considered the top receiver in the state -- Whitehouse's Trey Metoyer, who committed to Oklahoma after Texas and Metoyer basically chose to head in separate directions. Fort Worth Arlington Heights wide receiver Marquis Jackson showed up on the radar with his dominant performance against Darius White and Fort Worth Dunbar in front of several Texas coaches, but never looked like a take after his junior film finally came out.
Basically, even though Shipley's backstory is compelling, the narrative wrote itself quickly and mostly without incident, though the decision to take Onyegbule over Metoyer was an important one and one that could strongly shape the narrative at the position moving forward, especially if the big receiver from East Texas performs well against the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl.
2012 projected numbers: Often, the coaches look to replace the players who will be juniors in a class, but the numbers aren't currently known for that class because several 2010 receivers may redshirt, most likely two or three, leaving two receivers likely in the class. Call it two receivers right now and possibly a tight end, though a commitment from Austin Seferian-Jenkins could result in the Longhorns only looking for a flex tight end-type in the class.
Wish List and Watch List after the jump...
Cayleb Jones, Austin High: No-brainer and has been for almost a year now. A close look at him at the Austin High spring game did little to dampen this author's enthusiasm for the local product and opposing coaches in Austin all rave about his talent. Real. Deal. Right now there isn't much more to say except to reiterate the fact that he's one of the top prospects in the entire country.
2012 Austin High WR Cayleb Jones @ 2010 Spring Game (via ghostofbigroy)
Gimme Factor: Five Gimme's out of five
Thomas Johnson, Dallas Skyline. It's easy to watch impressive film and criticize the talent level of opposing teams and most of the time those feelings are legitimate, but criticizing the level of play faced by Johnathan Gray, for instance, or Brandon Williams, say, misses the overriding point that most great high school football players are by far the best player on the field even when their teams reach deep into the playoffs.
All that is just a long lead-up to say that Thomas Johnson's competition when he played last season for Arlington Oakridge last season, a private school, was terrible. A quick glance at his opponents on the field reveals a veritable army of slow midgets attempting to stop the electric playmaker. Seriously, they're all like 5-8, 150 and look like they would struggle to break 5 flat in the 40. Not fair.
Electric playmaking ability was exactly what Johnson brought to the table as he teamed with one-time Texas commit Ross Apo to form a mostly unstoppable duo. Johnson played both quarterback and defensive back, but projects as a wide receiver in college, the position he will man this fall at Dallas Skyline. And despite the poor competition level he faced last season, don't be surprised if Johnson puts up another monster season for the Metroplex powerhouse. He's that talented.
With Johnson, it's all about his explosiveness. His burst is elite, his top-end speed is elite, and he has good vision. He's a threat to score from anywhere on the field whenever he has the ball in his hands and excels in the kicking game, particularly paired as he often was with Apo as the deep men on punt returns, giving them the ability to exchange the football or fake the handoff, a tactic that clearly worked quite often.
He may need some time to adjust to the receiver position in terms of route running, but he has the tools to adjust more quickly than larger, longer-striding pass-catchers and could even be an excellent defensive back at the next level. The highlights are often brief and brutal with Johnson on defense and his highlight reel includes several bone-crunching hits -- there is an air of toughness and physicality to the 5-11, 180-pound Johnson that raises his status as a prospect and is something that coaches have to love about him.
Kid is a football player and seems like the type that could excel at running back (though he doesn't quite have ideal lower-body thickness there), wide receiver, and defensive back. He doesn't have much arm strength to speak of, but if Denard Robinson is an FBS quarterback, then Johnson could probably play the position in the right offense as well. Not going to happen, but it speaks to Johnson's considerable ability to play anywhere on the field.
Gimme Factor: Five Gimme's out of five
Jeffrey Thomas, Duncanville WR: A tall wide receiver at between 6-3 and 6-4, Thomas has a nice combination of speed, size, and the ability to high-point the football that you would hope would accompany that size. The type of receiver who could draw the attention of Bobby Kennedy, who loves big receivers from the Metroplex. However, Thomas needs to work on improving his straight-line speed. Has a long way to go to receive a Texas offer.
Eric Hawkins, Longview WR: If Texas misses out on Johnson, a back-up target could be the similarly-sized Hawkins, who is an absolute burner. Posted 40 times are notoriously exaggerated, but Hawkins ran a verified 4.34 at a National Underclassmen Combine in Dallas this year, also posting one of the top vertical leaps of 32 inches.
Though his speed is elite, Hawkins must work on improving his route running and agility, as his shuttle time is slower than his 40 time, which is unusual and he has a tendency to round off his routes, a common problem among young receivers. He also lacks the natural ability of a player like Jones to adjust to the football in the air.
Michael Starks, Waco La Vega TE: There are questions about whether the 6-5, 245-pound Starks will end up somewhere along the offensive line when he makes it to college, so it's hard to consider him as a true tight end prospect.
Griffin Gilbert, Lake Travis Flex TE: Since there aren't any true tight ends on the 2012 radar at this point and Gilbert projects as a flex tight end at the next level with only a slight possibility of growing into an attached tight end, he could end up getting the nod at the position. A lanky kid much like his older brother at the same stage of his development, Gilbert's greatest asset is his ability to go up and get the football in jump-ball situations, particularly in the red zone.
However, it takes a lot of projection to see Gilbert putting on enough weight to play the attached tight end position, so he could end up as a flex tight end/H-back prospect similar to Darius Terrell -- though he has better height, he isn't as athletic as the former DeSoto star. Currently about 200 pounds and possessing a good frame, 40 pounds is a significant amount of weight to gain while still seeking to improve his speed. Gilbert is running somewhere between a 4.8 and a 4.9 in the 40, so there are major concerns about his straight-line speed and his abilitty to get to 230 or 240 pounds, major question marks considering that he won't have a lot of time to add mass in the weight room before the Texas Junior Days in February.
It won't exactly be Jones or bust in the class, as Johnson provides elite playmaking ability as well and there are several athletes like Kiante' Griffin and Bralon Addison who could excel on either side of the football. Landing Jones and Johnson would likely shut down recruiting at the position and would represent another major coup for the Texas coaching staff, although the battle for Jones looks more difficult after the recent revelation that Miami is now the leader because of his father's ties to Randy Shannon and the family's ties to the state.
Even landing one of the two would have to be considered a major success and they seem far ahead of the rest of the pack at this point. However, the wild cards in this are Addison and Griffin, who rank in front of the pure receivers on the Watch List and could easily get looks at receiver, though there are so few pure corners on the radar in a safety-heavy defensive back class that it's questionable at the moment where they would provide the most value to Texas.
As for the tight position, it looks like the Longhorns might have to look out of state if they want to take someone at the position because this group appears to be weaker than the 2011 class, which looks like it will produce four solid prospects at the position -- MJ McFarland, Max Stevenson, Jace Amaro, and Chris Barnett. Part of the narrative has not been written, of course, and if Texas lands Austin Seferian-Jenkins (which looks as likely as ever after the now-famous picture he took with the Texas commits at Gridiron Kings), it would alleviate the need for a big tight end, opening up the way to take a flex tight end-type who would have time to grow into the role. The presence of Joe Bergeron, who projects as a fullback/H-back, also lessens the need at the position.