After signing a quality group of offensive linemen in the 2022 cycle, Texas Longhorns offensive line coach Kyle Flood set out to do the same thing in the 2023 cycle so that Texas could continue to stockpile talent in the pipeline and strengthen the health of the position group.
During the summer the Longhorns got a bit of an unexpected addition in Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips offensive tackle Payton Kirkland, whose recruitment looked like one that the Longhorns were lagging behind in, but with momentum on their side the Texas staff pushed hard and managed to turn the tide.
Kirkland is officially now a Longhorn after signing his National Letter of Intent on Early Signing Day and despite some summer drama, he has been one of the most vocal recruiters in the Longhorn recruiting class.
Kirkland possesses the massive frame that Flood covets and on top of that he has good functional athleticism that should allow him to get looks at both tackle and guard once he makes it on campus. That kind of positional versatility will always have value on the roster.
Here is my evaluation of Kirkland at the time of his commitment:
Kirkland is a soon-to-be three-year starter at offensive tackle at Orlando (FL) Dr. Phillips high school. Prior to Dr. Phillips, Kirkland was at West Orange high school where he played offensive and defensive tackle as a freshman. Kirkland logged snaps at right tackle in 2020 before flipping over to left tackle in 2021, so he has experience on both sides during his prep career. At 6’6, 345 pounds Kirkland possesses great size for the position and has good length that he uses to his advantage often on tape. Shows solid flexibility for his size and shows the ability to come off the ball with a low hat. Consistently beats defenders to the punch by using his length as an advantage and brings his feet upon engagement. Shows a good punch and good play strength on tape, as he is able to consistently displace defenders from the LOS. Plays with good aggression and looks to finish his blocks. Plays with a bit of an edge to him, but will also be the guy who will peel you off the turf after flat backing you. Shows good body quickness at the snap in pass protection, but needs to get a little more depth in his kick set at times. Anchors well when defenders try to come down the middle of him and does a good job of widening defenders when they want to try to run the arc. Does a solid job of recovering when defenders were initially able to slap his hands down.
I think Kirkland has a chance to stick at tackle at the next level due to him having the requisite athleticism that you need, but he will still need some polish as a pass protector and continue to improve his agility so that he can stay in front of FBS edge rushers. I think he is plus run blocker at this point in his development and even if he has to kick inside long term he will have a chance to blossom into a nice player at the next level.
Kirkland was a pleasant summer surprise this cycle and just goes to show you that you never know what could happen in recruiting and why a staff should stay on a guy through the whistle. This was a recruitment that came down to Florida, Miami, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Texas and the Longhorns were able to pluck another talented player from the Sunshine State.
Kirkland is a consensus three-star prospect ranked as the No. 516 player nationally and the No. 40 offensive tackle, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.