Out of sight and out of mind?
It can be easy to forget about the redshirt freshmen after the new class signs and faxes in their National Letters of Intent, but don't sleep on Texas Longhorns defensive end Derick Roberson.
As the No. 1 recruit in his class (yes, he was more highly ranked than quarterback Jerrod Heard), the 2014 Under Armour All-American was one of the most important prospects for head coach Charlie Strong to retain once he arrived in Austin. So when Roberson signed with the Horns weeks after Strong took the job, it was one of the biggest early wins for Texas football's new leader.
The 6'3, 219-pounder wasn't ready to play when he arrived after he showed up at less than his listed weight and underwent a minor shoulder procedure during the fall.
However, he should be ready for spring practice and contains all of the upside suggested by his consensus four-star rating as the No. 64 recruit nationally, the No. 4 strong-side defensive end, and the No. 9 player in the state of Texas.
Despite the classification as a strong-side defensive end, Roberson has the closing speed and overall range to fit perfectly in the FOX end position used by Strong. If that's the position he worked out on the scout team before his injury last fall, he gained some experience dropping into coverage and moving in space.
Since Shiro Davis could move over the strong side to compete with junior college defensive end Quincy Vasser, Roberson could end up in a competition with Naashon Hughes on the other side.
They key for Roberson, though? The effort of Hughes often flagged down the stretch and he clearly came under significant criticism by the coaching staff during games. On one play against Kansas State, he allowed the Wildcats to pick up a first down when the defense could've gotten off the field on a third-and-long situation when he led with his helmet on the quarterback.
So Roberson could get a chance to flash in space or with his hand on the ground. His first-step quickness and timing coming off the ball are tremendous:
In fact, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford believes that Roberson could become an "outstanding" pass rusher because of that ability to get off the ball before the offensive tackle can even get out of their stance.
And Roberson's play on special teams in high school proves that he can operate in space -- he's a beast coming downhill in kick coverage to light up opponents and flashed some major motor with a huge crack-back block on another play.
After a year in the Texas strength and conditioning program, it's not hard to imagine him posting better measures of athleticism than the already impressive 4.47 shuttle and 34-inch vertical leap he posted in high school. In fact, Roberson was the definition of physical upside.
He registered 65 tackles for loss and 23 sacks during his sophomore and junior seasons and did so with some natural understanding of how to use counter moves to play off of his speed rush. Hand strength and placement also allowed him to use a bull rush or simply knock away the hands of offensive linemen on the way to the quarterback or ball carrier.
The culmination of it all was posting a monstrous senior season that saw Roberson rack up 111 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 39 quarterback pressures, and 20 sacks to earn 4A Defensive Player of the Year honors from the AP and TSWA.
Roberson doesn't play a position that will benefit from a lot of turnover in terms of graduation, but in Strong's meritocracy, he has the ability to play if he's healthy and can build upon the impressive tools he showed in high school.