Once upon a time, projecting big safeties in high school with the potential to grow into linebackers was a difficult task — is the program getting a DeShon Elliott who stays at safety and excels or a linebacker like Edwin Freeman who was never able to become a consistent contributor?
Since Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando created the Lightning package after stealing the scheme from the Iowa State Cyclones following last season’s Big 12 opener, that question is no longer relevant. The answer to the question of whether a prospect is a linebacker or a safety is both.
That’s thanks to the Joker position that Jason Hall played last season before giving way to hard-hitting freshman BJ Foster. It’s a versatile role that can include deep coverage responsibilities or work in the box replacing the B-backer position. Orlando even stacked Hall behind the linebackers in a short safety position at times last season.
Enter Plano East safety Tyler Owens, who committed to the Longhorns on Monday after a meteoric rise in recent weeks. His role for the Panthers looks a lot like the Joker position at tmies, but that’s not what makes him so special.
247Sports national recruiting director Steve Wiltfong has high praise for Owens — “athletically, he is at the very least in the discussion as the biggest freak in this class.”
While the reported 4.48 40-yard dash by Owens is as questionable as any number that isn’t recorded by a laser, there’s no questioning his 10.34 100m speed, which ranked fourth in the nation and stands as a remarkable time for any athlete, much less a player who currently checks in at 6’2 and 202 pounds.
In fact, that’s roughly the same speed as former cornerback Antwuan Davis and current wide receiver Devin Duvernay in high school. Fast enough, in other words, to ensure that Owens will be in the discussion as the fastest player on the roster as soon as he arrives on campus.
Then there’s the fact that Owen is also an accomplished long jumper and triple jumper, further evidence of his explosiveness.
Combine that explosiveness with significant gains in the weight room since last season, according to his head coach, and a profile emerges of a player who won’t have to spend much time in Yancy McKnight’s strength and conditioning program before he develops a unique combination of size, speed, and strength. Consider that senior linebacker Gary Johnson has put on 25 pounds of muscle since arriving in January of 2017, at which point he “looked a little hungry,” as Naashon Hughes put it.
Even on his senior film, Owens needs to work on taking the correct angle and wrapping up as a tackler, but there’s no question that his speed gives him sideline-to-sideline range, not to mention the ability to track down opponents in the open field. Watching him move on the field is almost deceptive — he’s tall and has such long strides that he makes covering a tremendous amount of ground look positively effortless.
And despite the occasional breakdown in his fundamentals as a tackler, Owens can bend and explode through opponents in the open field or deliver big hits along the sideline. His junior film shows more consistency in that area than the brief clips below from the game against McKinney Boyd.
In the interview with Wiltfong, Plano East head coach Joey McCullough mentioned that Owens is now playing with more confidence, and that will only serve to turn some of his hesitation as a junior into faster game speed at Texas. The physical attributes certainly reveal a player who is seemingly just scratching the surface of his potential.
Rivals still has Owens as a low three-star prospect (5.6) and unranked nationally, at his position, and in the state. That stands in stark contrast to 247Sports, which now has him No. 74 nationally, No. 5 at his position, and No. 14 in the state of Texas. Nationally, Owens moved up 532 spots.
Here’s betting that the Longhorns coaches and 247Sports have a better evaluation of the significant potential that Owens possesses.
Once upon a time, the commitment of Tyler Owens was just an emoji posted by Bryan Carrington. Join the movement and support Carrington’s neighborhood library with the SHHH t-shirt from Breaking T.