The ink on the National Letters of Intent signed by the 2016 recruiting class has been dry for two weeks now, and while there is and will continue to be a large amount of discussion on just how and where all of the newly-minted signees (particularly those on the defensive side) will fit into the team's 2016 plans, all attention on the recruiting front now shifts to the 2017 class.
The Texas Longhorns currently have four commitments from athletes in the 2017 class, the two most recent of which came from east Texas stars Major Tennison (Bullard tight end) and Lagaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty Eylau defensive lineman), who committed within a day of each other in mid-October of 2015. They, along with quarterback and reigning 6A Offensive Player of the Year Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake) and playmaking wide receiver Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler), give the Longhorns a great foundation to build the rest of the class on.
At this point a year ago, UT's 2016 class only had commitments from wide receiversand Reggie Hemphill-Mapps and linebacker Demarco Boyd, a fine trio of players, to be sure, but not the group of class ringleaders and recruiters that the current 2017 foursome already appears to be, with Ehlinger and Carson in particular already said to be working hard at helping recruit players they want to join them in Austin next year.
The 24 players signed this month will join the 44 added to the team in the 2014 and 2015 classes (52 players were signed in those classes, but eight of them -- four in each class -- either never made it to campus, or have since transferred).
Having 68 players on the 2016 roster who were signed by Charlie Strong means both that he'll have a team made up almost entirely of "his guys" next season, and that he may not have quite as many scholarships to give in 2017 as were available in the previous two seasons. Transfers and careers shortened by injuries or concussions can be unpredictable, but we can make an educated guess on what kind of numbers UT will be aiming for at each position based on how the roster is slated to look in 2017.
In: Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)
Offered: Shawn Robinson (Denton Guyer) - TCU commit
Potential position group in 2017: RS Sr. Logan Vinklarek (walk on), RS Jr. Jerrod Heard, RS Soph. Kai Locksley, RS Soph. Matthew Merrick, RS Fr. Shane Buechele, and Fr. Sam Ehlinger
Who the Longhorns' presumptive starter will be going into the 2017 season is anyone's guess, given the bodies that could still be on campus then and the offense's in-progress transition to the system of new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. It wouldn't be at all surprising if at least one of Merrick or Locksley elected to transfer if they found themselves too far down the depth chart with no future playing time in sight after the spring of 2016 or 2017, but a lot can happen between now and then.
As high as Ehlinger's ceiling is, if he's starting in 2017 that probably means something has gone horribly wrong with the offense or with the four older QBs. UT could look to pair Ehlinger in the class with a lower-rated high-ceiling/middling floor type, or an athlete who could potentially swtich positions, ala Locksley, but another QB won't be a necessity in the class unless the 2016 season ends with only 2 or 3 scholarship guys left at the position and more depth is needed.
Offered: Toneil Carter (Houston Langham Creek) and J.K. Dobbins (La Grange)
Potential position group in 2017: Sr. D'Onta Foreman, Jr. Kirk Johnson, Jr. Chris Warren III, RS So. Tristian Houston, and RS Fr. Kyle Porter
UT's three-man running back haul in 2015 allowed them to get away with signing just one running back in 2016. The 2017 in-state class appears much stronger than the previous one. They'll want at least one running back in this class but probably not more than two, unless for some reason they get two commits and Toneil Carter still wants to hop on board, but he's a Louisiana native and most think he's LSU's to lose.
Of running backs who could be offered by Texas this spring, the most frequently-mentioned names are Eno Benjamin (Wylie East) and Kennedy Brooks (Mansfield), both of whom have been very productive runners since their sophomore seasons, and at a high competition level. More offers at the position are bound to go out at some point this spring, possibly at or shortly before Junior Day later this month.
In: Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)
Offered: Camron Buckley (Cedar Hill), Tyler Hamilton (Hilton Head, SC), Hezekiah Jones (Stafford) - Baylor commit, D.J. Matthews (Trinity Christian - Jacksonville, FL) - Florida State commit
Potential position group in 2017: RS Sr. Jake Oliver, Sr. Roderick Bernard, Sr. Armanti Foreman, Sr. Lorenzo Joe, Sr. Dorian Leonard, Jr. John Burt, Jr. DeAndre McNeal, Jr. Ryan Newsome, Soph. Davion Curtis, Soph. , RS Fr. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, RS Fr. Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Fr. Damion Miller
Texas signed four receivers in the 2016 class and could conceivably take as few as two in 2017. Barring any injuries or transfers and without accounting for walk-ons getting put on scholarship ala Ty Templin last year, signing two wide receivers in 2017 could give the Longhorns nine scholarship wide receivers going into the 2018 season (not counting the 2018 signees at the position).
The offense new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert ran at Tulsa last year produced over 4,300 passing yards, but not a Texas Tech-level distribution of receptions; Tulsa's top five receivers in 2015 all caught 26 or more passes, but no other receiver or tight end had more than four receptions, while Texas Tech saw six receivers catch more than 20 passes, and nine different receivers caught at least 11 passes.
Presently, Texas is slated to go into the 2016 season with 14 scholarship wide receivers on the roster, with only two (Jacorey Warrick and Templin) being seniors. So while you can never have too much speed in your wide receiver corps, it's probably not essential for Texas to take more than one receiver in 2017 in addition to Damion Miller.
In: Major Tennison (Bullard)
Offered: Brock Wright (Houston Cy-Fair) - Notre Dame commit, Kedrick James (Waco La Vega) - Baylor commit
Potential position group in 2017: RS Sr. Blake Whiteley, Sr. Andrew Beck, RS Jr. Garrett Gray, Soph. Peyton Aucoin, Fr. Major Tennison
DeAndre McNeal could also figure in to the tight end picture if he ends up getting snaps at tight end or H-back, and if 2016 wide receiver signee Lil'Jordan Humphrey can hold enough weight for it, he could also end up at tight end. 2017 commit Major Tennison is a legitimate two-way prospect as both a receiver and blocker, and while Texas could take another tight end from a fairly talented 2017 in-state group at the position, it will be difficult to predict with confidence if they'll take another or what type of player they'd target until we see how the new offensive system employs tight ends.
The 2018 class has a handful of tight end prospects who already look like they could be top-150 in-state recruits (though some may end up playing basketball in college), so Texas could approach the 2017 tight ends like they did the 2016 running backs -- take one, then aim high for the even better studs in the next class. The numbers here for 2017 could also change if by the end of the 2016 season the staff sees Peyton Aucoin's future being on the offensive line rather than tight end.
Offered: Jack Anderson (Frisco) - Texas Tech commit, Austin Deculus (Houston Cy-Fair), Adrian Ealy (University Lab - Baton Rouge, LA), Edward Ingram (DeSoto), Walker Little (Houston Bellaire Episcopal), Grayson Reed (Houston Cypress Creek), Tyrese Robinson (McKinney Boyd) - Oklahoma commit
Potential position group in 2017: RS Sr. Brandon Hodges, Sr. Tristan Nickelson, RS Jr. Alex Anderson, RS Jr. Terrell Cuney, RS Jr. Elijah Rodriguez, Jr. Patrick Vahe, Jr. Connor Williams, RS Soph. Buck Major, RS Soph. Garrett Thomas, Soph. Jean Delance, Soph. Denzel Okafor, Soph. Zach Shackelford, RS Fr. Tope Imade
I didn't bother separating the offensive line group into tackles and guards/centers, as some players could develop into starters or backups at any of two or three spots. Vahe and Williams will both presumably be three-year starters in 2017, with one of either Nickelson or Delance manning right tackle, and some combination of Rodriguez, Okafor, Shackelford, Thomas, or Imade taking up the two interior line positions Vahe isn't playing. If you were putting any position group on transfer watch, it would be the offensive line, as third-year guys like Anderson and Cuney will have to work hard to avoid being potentially buried on the depth chart by the end of the spring, and that's before the highly-acclaimed trio of Delance, Imade, and Okafor enrolls this summer.
Unless Williams and/or Vahe jump to the NFL after the 2017 season, the Longhorns could have one of the most experienced offensive line units in the country in 2018, one that could feature two four-year starters in Williams and Vahe, a potential three-year starter in Shackelford, and at least one more returning starter, as currently Tristan Nickelson stands to be the only offensive lineman to exhaust his eligibility after the 2017 season.
The interior line should have good depth for years to come, so the staff can target whoever they want there without counting on any 2017 signees at guard or center to have to play right away. At tackle, Williams is the only sure thing, with the quality of play on the right side depending on Nickelson getting stronger, and the development of Major and Delance, so athletic offensive tackles should be a priority in 2017.
As of now, Texas will go into the 2016 season with 14 scholarship offensive linemen on the roster. Kent Perkins
and Brandon Hodges will be the only senior, so depending on the number of transfers at the position between now and the end of the year, I see the 2017 offensive line class having as few as three or as many as five. [Author's note: I originally had Brandon Hodges as a senior in 2016, but he didn't appear in a game in 2015 and likely redshirted, which would make him a redshirt junior in 2016..]
In: Lagaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)
Offered: [Defensive tackles] Juan Harris (North Fayette - West Union, IA) - Iowa commit, Marvin Wilson (Houston Bellaire Episcopal); [Defensive ends] Robert Beal (Norcross, GA) - Notre Dame commit, Earnest Brown (Denton Ryan), K'Lavon Chaisson (Galena Park North Shore), Taquon Graham (Temple)
Potential position group in 2017: RS Sr. Naashon Hughes, Sr. Poona Ford, RS Jr. Jake McMillon, RS Jr. Chris Nelson, RS Jr. Derick Roberson, Jr. Charles Omenihu, Soph. D'Andre Christmas-Giles, Soph. Chris Daniels, Soph. Jordan Elliott, Soph. Andrew Fitzgerald, RS Fr. Malcolm Roach, RS Fr. Marcel Southall, RS Fr. Gerald Wilbon, Fr. Lagaryonn Carson
No position got more of an infusion of beef and talent on Signing Day than the defensive line, and particularly defensive tackle. With Tank Jackson graduating and Hassan Ridgeway skipping his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, a lot of potential playing time is up for grabs behind returnees Paul Boyette and Poona Ford, who combined to make 5.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2015 and were both among the team's top nine tacklers.
Ford will be a senior in 2017, and between him and the five defensive tackles who signed two weeks ago, depth at the position should be good for the next two seasons, even if the talent itself will likely be more solid than spectacular early on. So the staff could probably get away with taking just one defensive tackle in 2017 (approves!) if they were to land Marvin Wilson or some other stud they coveted.
With Hughes, Roberson and Omenihu all set to be upperclassmen by 2017, with Fitzgerald and Roach waiting in the wings, I'd expect they'll take at least two defensive ends in the next class, or more if Fitzgerald and/or Roach show indications of growing into a defensive tackle. 2017 commit Lagaryonn Carson (2015's 4A Defensive Player of the Year) is nominally a defensive end now but could end up playing all over the defensive line when he gets to Austin.
Offered: Baron Browning (Kennedale), (Plano East), Levi Jones (Austin Westlake), Dylan Moses (IMG Academy - Bradenton, FL)
Potential position group in 2017: RS Jr. Edwin Freeman, Jr. Breckyn Hager, Jr. Malik Jefferson, Jr. Anthony Wheeler, RS Soph. Cameron Townsend, Soph. DeMarco Boyd, Soph. Erick Fowler, Soph. Jeffrey McCulloch
Texas will have ten scholarship linebackers in 2016, and will graduate only Tim Cole and Dalton Santos. Numbers like that don't necessitate that the Longhorns take a linebacker class any bigger in 2017 than the one they just signed, and if they were to land any two of the ones they've offered so far, they might be done at the position, unless another wants to join, because no program in the country would turn down Browning, Hines or Moses if they wanted to commit.
It would be borderline miraculous if all members of the potential 2017 linebacker group listed above are still with the team by the start of that season, as somebody is bound to be 2nd or 3rd on the depth chart there as they enter their upperclassmen years, but if all of them stick around and Jefferson doesn't declare for the NFL Draft after the 2017 season, Texas would have a very, very athletic and experienced linebacking unit in 2018. At this point I'd be surprised if they took more than three linebackers in 2017, and if they take only two, expect one to be a future middle linebacker (Hines, please!).
Offered: [Cornerbacks] Chevin Calloway (Dallas Bishop Dunne), DeAngelo Gibbs (Grayson - Loganville, GA), William Poole III (Hapeville Charter Career Academy - College Park, GA), Stanford Samuels (Flanagan - Pembroke Pines, FL); [Safeties] Robert Barnes (Southlake Carroll) - Oklahoma commit, Grant Delpit (Houston Lamar), Jeffrey Okudah (South Grand Prairie), Isaiah Pryor (IMG Academy - Bradenton, FL) - Ohio State commit, Derrick Tucker (Manvel), Daniel Wright (Cardinal Gibbons - Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Potential position group in 2017: [Cornerbacks] RS Sr. Antwuan Davis, RS Jr. John Bonney, Jr. Kris Boyd, Jr. Davante Davis, Jr. Holton Hill, Soph. Eric Cuffee; [Safeties] Sr. Jason Hall, Jr. DeShon Elliott, Jr. P.J. Locke, Soph. Chris Brown, Soph.
The Longhorns did not have a single defensive back drafted between 1998 and 2001, then UT's reputation as DBU took hold over the next decade. Quentin Jammer was taken with the 5th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, and in the ten drafts from 2002 to 2011, twelve Longhorn defensive backs were selected, eight of whom were picked within the first three rounds.
Longhorn safety Kenny Vaccaro was the 15th overall pick in 2013, but no fellow Longhorn DBs were selected in 2012 or 2014 (the year UT was infamously shut out at the draft). Mykkele Thompson and Quandre Diggs were picked in the 5th and 6th rounds, respectively, a year ago, but no Longhorn defensive back is projected by anyone to be a likely draft pick this year, and unless Sheroid Evans can maintain some semblance of health and play to his potential in 2016, there won't be a Longhorn defensive back drafted in 2017.
That said, Charlie Strong's recruiting efforts have put Texas in a position to challenge LSU and possibly take back the title of DBU again in the next few years. UT signed a magnificent haul at defensive back in 2015, and the secondary got much better two weeks ago with the signing of five-star safety Brandon Jones and Under Armor All-American cornerback Eric Cuffee. Just look at that potential position group for 2017! Those 2017 and 2018 UT secondaries will be just nasty.
Texas is currently slated to have fourteen scholarship defensive backs on the 2016 roster, with three being seniors (Evans, Dylan Haines, and Kevin Vaccaro). Only Antwuan Davis and Jason Hall are on track to be seniors in 2017, so unless another defensive back transfers by the end of the 2016 season, I think we'll see a defensive backs class of three or four. With as much experience as the secondary is likely to have in 2017, they should be able to redshirt as many freshmen defensive backs as they want to that year and give that class more time to develop before the secondary potentially sends 3-5 guys to the NFL in 2018-2019.
Total scholarship players going into 2017, including the four current commits and punter Michael Dickson: 73
With the scholarship limit at 85, that wouldn't seem to leave enough scholarships for more than a 16-man class in 2017, but with the heavy competition for playing time at spots like running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive tackle, and defensive back, there are almost sure to be a few players who elect to transfer before the 2017 class is signed, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see a class size that's at least in the range of 18 to 20 signees. If 2017 has an 18-man class I'd break it down like this:
What would be your ideal 2017 class breakdown?