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Texas Longhorns 2017 recruiting class overview

An in-depth look at head coach Tom Herman’s first class with the Longhorns.

sam ehlinger texas
Sam Ehlinger
via @sehlinger3

On Wednesday, new Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman and his staff signed 17 prospects on National Signing Day, marking the first group assembled since the termination of Charlie Strong following the 2016 football season.

The transitional class that ranks No. 26 nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings represents a brief insight into the type of recruiting that Herman can do, though it’s unfair to criticize the staff too heavily for missing on many of the state’s top prospects due to the limited opportunity to build relationships.

A more telling evaluation of the group will come in several years and will depend on whether or not the prospects Herman added to the class become contributors or succumb to the attrition that often plagues such classes. Right now, the only thing to do is attempt to view the class through as objective a lens as possible.

So let’s look at what each player brings to the class.

Austin Westlake quarterback Sam Ehlinger

6’1.5 | 215 pounds | **** | No. 119 nationally | No. 4 dual-threat QB | No. 20 in Texas

Already enrolled at Texas, the local product pledged to his dream school in July of 2015 as a result of a strong evaluation by former assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson. Ehlinger went to to produce a monster junior season, prompting a massive rise in the rankings.

An injury-plagued senior season wasn’t ideal, but Ehlinger is now healthy and ready to compete with incumbent Shane Buechele for the starting job this spring. Because of his toughness, running ability, pocket presence, maturity, and fit in the offense, Ehlinger has a legitimate shot at making the competition an interesting one.

Tyler John Tyler wide receiver Damion Miller

6’1 | 193 pounds | **** | No. 152 nationally | No. 24 WR | No. 23 in Texas

The longest-tenured commit in the class, Miller was a product of former assistant Jeff Traylor’s recruiting prowess in East Texas and remained firm down the stretch despite interest from — and, at times, interest in — Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

An athletic player with verified 4.49 speed, Miller also has exceptional leaping ability and ball skills in addition to the deep-threat ability that makes him such an intriguing player. His coach believes that he’s still only scratching the surface of his potential after he averaged 22.5 yards per catch as a senior.

Houston Langham Creek running back Toneil Carter

5’10.5 | 197 pounds | **** | No. 158 nationally | No. 9 RB | No. 25 in Texas

After enduring a difficult upbringing in New Orleans and Houston, including the loss of his mother to cancer, Carter overcame the odds to become an early enrollee originally committed to Georgia. However, when the Bulldogs didn’t have room for him to join the program early, the Longhorns quickly benefited.

A dedicated worker who trains with the Footwork King in Houston, Carter makes everything look easy on the field with his verified 4.56 speed and excellent feet. The question marks are whether he can pick up yards after contact in college and make defenders miss, but he profiles as a potential early contributor because of his big-play ability.

Dodge City CC linebacker Gary Johnson

6’1 | 225 pounds | **** | No. 5 JUCO nationally | No. 1 JUCO ILB | No. 1 JUCO in AL

In one of the biggest pledges since Herman arrived at Texas, the efforts of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando in recruiting the former Alabama commit paid off for the Longhorns less than a week after hosting Johnson on an official visit.

A former high school running back and wide receiver, Johnson ran a 10.59 100m in high school and moves extremely well laterally. Also a hard hitter, Johnson projects as an instant-impact contributor at inside linebacker who is capable of taking on the running game and making plays in the passing game, whether reading screens or dropping into coverage.

Temple defensive end Taquon Graham

6’3 | 251 pounds | **** | No. 199 nationally | No. 15 WDE | No. 34 in Texas

A longtime Texas fan, Graham visited TCU in January and considered visiting Oklahoma before canceling his final trip and signing with the Longhorns on Wednesday, a critical win for defensive line coach Oscar Giles.

Graham is a versatile, intriguing prospect because he’s run a verified 4.75 40-yard dash and already weighs over 250 pounds with a frame that could max out around 270 pounds. As a result, he’s a player who can use his quick first step as a pass rusher and his strength and mass to hold up at the point of attack as a 3-4 defensive end.

Hooks athlete Montrell Estell

6’2 | 180 pounds | **** | No. 253 nationally | No. 11 athlete | No. 42 in Texas

Despite an offer from Alabama and plenty of optimism from the Texas A&M side, Traylor managed to secure another important East Texas pledge last May from Estell, who is was a two-way standout at Hooks.

A playmaking force on offense with good escapability and excellent athleticism, Estell’s range and ball skills should help him translate easily to the defensive side of the ball in college. In fact, it’s been some time since Texas recruited a safety with the size and skills of Estell, even though the ‘Horns landed the nation’s top prospect at the position last year in Brandon Jones.

Nacogdoches cornerback Josh Thompson

6’0 | 182 pounds | **** | No. 301 nationally | No. 35 CB | No. 45 in Texas

The former TCU pledge quickly flipped to Texas last summer in yet another coup for Traylor. The hire of Tom Herman didn’t impact Thompson’s status despite the fact that Penn State, UCLA, Arizona State, and Ole Miss all offered him during the fall months. The former high school teammate of Brandon Jones even became one of the most vocal recruiters in the class.

With verified 4.57 speed, Thompson has ideal height, size, and speed to play any position in the secondary. So although he’s listed as a cornerback, he could end up playing safety or nickel back at Texas, depending on how he develops in coverage. Because of his strength and explosiveness — he has a 40.4-inch vertical leap — Thompson could also become a press cornerback who covers the opponent’s biggest, most physical wide receiver.

Jenks (Okla.) tight end Reese Leitao

6’4 | 234 pounds | *** | No. 497 nationally | No. 19 TE | No. 8 player in Oklahoma

One of the first prospects to commit to Herman, Leitao was pledged to Nebraska when he visited before the dead period in December. Just a little over three weeks after picking up his offer from the Longhorns, the big, athletic tight end committed to Texas in an important coup for Herman and his staff.

The son of the DePaul basketball coach, Leitao is an excellent student, he’s known as mature, and has demonstrated a quick aptitude for the game on both sides of the ball after moving to Jenks and committing himself to football as a junior. As a result, he has a tremendous amount of upside as a dual-threat tight end because he’s already shown the necessary physicality to become an in-line blocker in addition to his pass-catching ability.

Brenham defensive end Marqez Bimage

6’3 | 233 pounds | *** | No. 512 nationally | No. 34 WDE | No. 72 in Texas

The highest-rated prospect among the former Houston commits, Bimage was an early pledge who remained loyal despite an LSU offer until Herman took the Texas job and offered the Brenham standout. Unable to wait until taking his official visit to commit, Bimage opted to do so in early January.

Recently re-classified from inside linebacker to weak-side defensive end, the violent and bouncy pass rusher looks likely to remain in a similar role to his high school career as a disruptive presence off the edge. Several notable plays on his highlight reel show him beating Houston Episcopal offensive tackle Walker Little, the No. 1 prospect in the country, according to 247Sports.

Lake Dallas cornerback Kobe Boyce

6’0 | 163 pounds | *** | No. 560 nationally | No. 54 CB | No. 74 in Texas

A significant flirtation with Oklahoma after committing to Texas in April didn’t result in a flip for Kobe Boyce, who joined Thompson in becoming a vocal recruiter for the Longhorns down the stretch.

With verified 4.49 speed in the 40 and plenty of film as an eventual two-way standout at Lake Dallas, Boyce is an intriguing prospect because of his length and athleticism. His ball skills didn’t always show up on defense in high school, but his overall explosiveness means that he’s a malleable prospect for position coach Jason Washington to mold.

San Antonio Reagan offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter

6’4.5 | 299 pounds | *** | No. 616 nationally | No. 30 OG | No. 84 in Texas

Identified early as a Houston target, Derek Kerstetter pledged to Oklahoma State last summer, but an opportunity to play at Texas was too much to pass up when afforded the opportunity in December.

Initially viewed as a potential tackle prospect, the 2017 US Army All-American started at right guard and played some center in San Antonio, showing his acumen as a tough player in the running game, similar to Freshman All-American Zack Shackelford. The biggest area for growth with Kerstetter will be in his pass protection.

Houston Westfield running back Daniel Young

6’0 | 210 pounds | *** | No. 653 nationally | No. 35 RB | No. 93 in Texas

The hire of Houston Westfield’s coach to the Houston staff, Corby Meekins, no doubt helped the Cougars initially win Young’s commitment over schools like Boise State, Minnesota, and Nebraska. After Herman came to Texas, it didn’t take long for Young to join the class after receiving his offer in December.

A bruising running back who has run a personal-best 11.01 100m in high school, Young improved as a junior and showed flashes of impressive pad level, leg drive, and vision. In a worst-case scenario, he’s a short-yardage back for the ‘Horns, but given his trajectory, it’s possible that he could emerge as an every-down player capable of wearing down defenses.

Lake Travis tight end Cade Brewer

6’3 | 223 pounds | *** | No. 980 nationally | No. 46 TE | No. 132 in Texas

Despite family connections and school connections to SMU head coach Chad Morris, Brewer wasn’t able to ignore the Texas offer he received in December like he did offers from Oklahoma and Texas A&M during the process. Quietly, Brewer visited in December and committed before Christmas.

Much more of an H-back than a tight end, Brewer spent most of his time split out as a receiver for his state championship-winning team, but also showed some willingness to deliver punishment as a move blocker. Few players of his size — and fewer still of his ranking — have succeeded at his level of play in threatening defenses in so many ways in the passing game.

Winter Park (Fla.) wide receiver Jordan Pouncey

6’2 | 185 pounds | *** | No. 732 nationally | No. 106 WR | No. 96 in Florida

Despite hailing from the Sunshine State, Pouncey is a lifelong Longhorns fan who was blown away by his official visit to Austin, which helped Texas win out over finalists Miami, Notre Dame, and Tennessee.

On film, the former Fighting Irish commit demonstrates the explosiveness that his 36.4-inch vertical leap suggests -- he looks faster and more agile in pads than his other verified testing numbers, which are more modest, as well as his 100m times. In that sense, his on-field skills and extensive offer list are much more impressive than his rankings.

Humble Atascocita offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi

6’5 | 260 pounds | *** | No. 1,1018 nationally | No. 103 OT | No. 148 in Texas

Like the other Houston prospects, Cosmi was targeted early by Herman and was a longtime commit to he Cougars. After receiving a late Longhorns offer, the Houston-area prospect took an official visit and committed just before National Signing Day.

Cosmi possesses a lean, athletic build with long arms and excellent movement abilities. However, he will need some time to get stronger in order to compete against college defensive linemen and is something of a long-term project.

Fort Worth All Saints defensive end Max Cummins

6’6 | 255 pounds | *** | No. 1,415 nationally | No. 70 SDE | No. 188 in Texas

A late riser on the recruiting scene, Cummins picked up an offer from Baylor and was close to being offered by Oklahoma before committing to Texas on the spot during an in-home visit from Giles that produced his offer.

Cummins is a year older than his classmates and spent three years at Austin St. Andrew’s prior to transferring to All Saints. Like Bimage, he has a notable play against Little and showed good quickness and strength at times during his senior season.

Northeastern Oklahoma A&M defensive tackle Jamari Chisholm

6’5 | 280 pounds | *** | No. 161 JUCO nationally | No. 23 JUCO DT | No. 6 JUCO in Georgia

The surprise addition of National Signing Day was the Georgia native, who flipped from UCF to Texas after picking up his offer on Tuesday evening. Chisholm had visited Austin for an official visit on January 13, but committed to the Golden Knights on January 24 before the offer from the Longhorns changed his recruitment.

Chisholm fits the mold of other defensive tackles like fellow JUCO product Larrell Murchison — tall and relatively lean for the position, so don’t be surprised if he plays outside some as a 3-4 defensive end in Orlando’s scheme. Pad level could be an issue at his height, but Chisholm is quick off the ball and has the physical maturity that few defensive tackles on the team possess at this time.

Mississippi Gulf Coast CC kicker Josh Rowland

5’10 | 185 pounds | *** | No. 206 JUCO nationally | No. 1 JUCO K | No. 59 JUCO in Mississippi

Quickly targeted by Herman after arriving at Texas, Rowland visited before the dead period in January and quickly committed to fill an important need in the class.

As a sophomore, Rowland made 9-of-12 field goals and 32-of-33 extra points after earning second-team NJCAA All-American honors as a freshman. He’s expected to compete with Mitchell Becker for the starting place-kicker position.