Make no mistake — recruiting rankings matter. But fit, need, and potential also matter, too.
So don’t worry about those three stars next to the name of Jenks (Okla.) tight end Reese Leitao, the newest pledge to the Texas Longhorns after joining the 2017 class on Wednesday evening.
Instead, consider the total package that he will bring to the 40 Acres as a possible difference-maker at a position that has been a virtual wasteland in Austin for years.
Intelligence matters. Wonder why left tackle Connor Williams is so good? No small part of it is that he’s extremely bright, which makes him coachable and a quick learner.
Leitao is similar — he’s a 4.0 student who is known for being “mature beyond his years,” according to his high school coach. Much of the credit goes to Leito’s father, Dave, he is the head basketball coach at DePaul.
Then there’s the upside. Leitao used to spend summers playing basketball, understandably his first sport given his height and his father’s coaching ability. When he got to Jenks, his coach described him as a player without a deep grasp of the game. Giving up basketball to focus on his future in football paid off during Leitao’s junior season. As a senior, he continued to make strides.
Much like college basketball players who transition to football in the NFL like Antonio Gates, Leitao is still growing in the game and in the weight room.
Currently at 234 pounds, Leitao should be able to play at 250-260 in college without losing the athleticism that makes him such an appealing prospect. Doing so shouldn’t be an issue because Leitao has a wide and projectable frame with a 6’6 wingspan that bodes well for his physical development.
Some schools — like Oklahoma — wanted Leitao as a defensive end. A first-team All State selection as a senior, the latest Longhorns commit posted 42 tackles and nine sacks there in 2016.
Leitao’s efforts at defensive end also provide some perspective on his short-area quickness that translated to a quite respectable 4.47 shuttle time at a Nike event. The first step is good defensively and his willingness to be physical is a good sign for his in-line blocking efforts at tight end.
In that regard, Leitao doesn’t look like a former basketball player in demonstrating an ability to use his footwork and strength to be an impactful player along the line of scrimmage and in space.
If he plays as a freshman, which seems likely, there will probably be some growing pains there, but Leitao does show some of the tools necessary to become a good blocker in college. Whether he can rise to the level of someone like Caleb Blueitt or Geoff Swaim depend on his attitude and work ethic.
Fortunately, Leitao’s ability to take care of business in the class room, his proven quick adjustment to the game of football, and his maturity all position him well to succeed in those key areas, too.
Oh yeah, and his high school head coach said his best attribute is his tenacity.
Just for the official tally, Leitao is verifiably intelligent, is a verified quick learner, and is known as mature and tenacious. Basically, he’s checking a lot of the important boxes in the intangible category on his scouting report.
There aren’t any 40 times on Leitao, but he can post a verified 33.5-inch vertical leap that is impressive for someone with his height and weight. On film, he has a proven ability to stretch defenses down the seam, catch the ball in traffic, find holes in zone defenses, and have an impact in the red zone.
As a receiver, Leitao isn’t on the level of Cade Brewer, but he does a lot of good things that should help translate to the college game.
Since the days of David Thomas and Jermichael Finley, the struggles of the tight end position at Texas have been well documented and extensive. In the last few years, Blake Whitely and Devonaire Clarington were both supposed to help change that narrative.
Injuries to Whiteley ended his career without ever appearing in a game for the Longhorns and Clarington was always a grades risk. Neither one of them checked all the boxes as a recruit — Whiteley played wide receiver in Canada during high school and Texas took Clarington knowing that he was unlikely to qualify.
So while both of them had relatively high expectations when they committed, there were concerns. Leitao checks all the boxes, which arguably makes him the most important pledge for Texas at tight end in a really long time.
That might seem like hyperbole when discussing the nation’s No. 35 tight end, but it’s actually just the reality for a prospect who possesses all the attributes to succeed where so many other recruits have failed.