In a continuing trend in 2017 recruiting, tight ends coach Jeff Traylor and the Texas Longhorns got some good news out of East Texas, this time the Friday pledge of Hooks athlete Montrell Estell, a rangy, speedy player who was recruited as a safety by the Longhorns.
It was also a big decision in favor of Texas for a variety of reasons. Let's count the ways.
It was another head-to-head win over Texas A&M
After writing that Texas head coach Charlie Strong had won in his high-stakes recruiting battle with Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin two weeks ago, Aggies were quick to jump in my mentions last week when Manvel safety Derrick Tucker committed to the Aggies in what looked like an upset over the Longhorns.
But Tucker is reportedly a grade risk, so the Texas coaches had backed off in his recruitment, significantly decreasing the value of his pledge. Then, even the momentum that Sumlin wanted so badly to create by taking Tucker didn't work.
That's because this week, four-star Lewisville wide receiver Tyrell Shavers, one of the fastest players in the state even though he's 6'6, released his top 10 and there was a notable omission -- despite including five SEC schools on his list, Texas A&M didn't make it. Texas did. Wonder if Aggie wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead subtweeting five-star quarterback Tate Martell played a role?
And then Estell committed to Texas, even though East Texas has long been an Aggie stronghold and Estell had recently declared Texas A&M his leader. So much for that momentum.
Now consider that the last four 2017 prospects to commit to Texas all held offers from Texas A&M and Strong won the last eight head-to-head battles for uncommitted recruits in the 2016 class. Doesn't look so great for Sumlin, does it?
Jeff Traylor further cemented his status as a recruiting wizard
Want to know why the Longhorns gave Traylor a big, fat raise recently despite winning only five games last year? It wasn't just the fact that he helped land No. 1 safety Brandon Jones in the 2016 class, it's his incredible closing ability in this class -- with the pledge of Estell, Traylor has been the lead recruiter on four of the seven pledges in the entire 2017 class.
Based on Traylor's recruiting ability alone, the former Gilmer head coach may need another raise next offseason and could be increasingly difficult to keep in Austin for the 2017 football season. Until then he may do enough to single-handedly ensure that the 'Horns have one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Well, that might be a bit hyperbolic, but only because there may not be enough takes in East Texas this year to make it happen.
Otherwise, there's no discounting the possibility.
Safety recruiting wasn't going that well for the 'Horns
If Tucker gets his grades in order, he looks like a guy who might seriously consider Texas later in the process, but other than that, recruiting at the position was a looming issue prior to Estell's decision.
Neither of the two out-of-state prospects offered are considering Texas, Houston Lamar safety Grant Delpit left the Longhorns out of his top 10, Southlake Carroll's Robert Barnes is an OU legacy and a Sooners commit, and the state's No. 2 player, South Grand Prairie's Jeffrey Okudah, is likely an Ohio State lean ahead of a big visit to Columbus this weekend with superstar linebacker Baron Browning.
So it looked like Texas was either going to need to make a big move with one of those players, a scenario that didn't seem particularly possible, extend more offers, or land Estell as a safety. While surging further with Okudah would be ideal, landing Estell was probably the next-best option.
Estell looks like a natural at safety
There are plenty of reasons to like Estell as a wide receiver, most notably his playmaking ability with the ball in his hands that allowed him to score nine touchdowns and record over 1,000 total yards offensively lats fall. However, he's a bit raw with his route running and doesn't always look like a natural wide receiver.
At safety, though? The 6'2, 180-pounder has drawn comparison to Alabama safety Deionte Thompson and Baylor safety Davion Hall because of his height, athleticism, and range playing center field. When patrolling the deep middle, Estell can use that speed that plays so well on offense to make an even bigger impact on defense -- he had six interceptions and four passes broken up as a junior, in addition to 69 tackles.
Unsurprisingly, Estell is just as good with the ball in his hands on defense as he is with the ball in his hands on offense, returning three of those six interceptions for touchdowns in 2015. And none of those were easy returns.
Turns out there are compelling reasons why 247Sports has Estell rated as a four-star prospect and the No. 8 athlete in the country.
To sum it up, Estell has that characteristic East Texas toughness, outstanding playmaking ability, and looks like a prototypical Charlie Strong defensive back because of his height and length. Sounds like a take any day of the week.