An ignominious year for Texas Longhorns football that included a 5-7 season, multiple blown double-digit leads, and a loss to the Kansas Jayhawks officially concluded on Saturday when Texas failed to have a player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft for only the fourth time in league history.
Here’s the complete list — 1936, 1937, 2014, and 2022.
Texas was one of 10 Power Five programs not to have a player drafted, including Northwestern and Vanderbilt, while Northern Iowa, Chattanooga, North Dakota State, South Alabama, South Dakota State, Fayetteville State, Sam Houston, Samford, Southern Utah, Villanova, Fordham, Youngstown State, Ouachita Baptist, Northwest Missouri State, Southern, Lenoir-Rhyne, Yale, and Valdosta State all had players taken in the seven rounds and 262 picks.
So the three-day event marked another low point for a program that hasn’t produced a first-round pick since 2015, has only had two first-round picks since 2009, and hasn’t had an offensive player taken in the first round since Vince Young in 2006. Young last attempted a pass in the NFL almost 11 years ago.
In assessing the state of the Texas football program under second-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, it’s worth examining why the Longhorns failed to have a player selected.
Keaontay Ingram transferred to USC
There was actually a former Texas player taken — running back Keaontay Ingram, who was picked in the sixth round by the Arizona Cardinals after spending one season at USC. Ingram departed the Forty Acres in late 2020 after missing the final four games with an ankle injury, an injury that allowed Bijan Robinson to start flashing his considerable talent. Unlikely to beat out Robinson for the starting job in 2021, Ingram opted to transfer and landed with the Trojans, rushing for 991 yards and five touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry.
Did better development from the USC staff allow Ingram to become a draftable player? Probably not. Ingram did set a career high in attempts and yards, but wasn’t able to match his career highs of 5.9 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns. And although dropping from 222 pounds to 215 with the USC strength and conditioning staff probably helped Ingram, it likely wasn’t the difference between hearing his name called and dropping out of the draft entirely.
Specialists are rarely selected
Kicker Cameron Dicker was arguably the best NFL Draft prospect for the Horns this season — he was one of two players invited to the NFL Combine and proved his versatility in all three phases of the kicking game with a strong season as a punter in 2021.
But neither Phil Dawson nor Justin Tucker, the best kickers in program history, were taken in the NFL Draft and only one kicker and four punters were selected this year, a surprisingly high number after one kicker and one punter were drafted in 2021.
If your best NFL prospect is a kicker and didn’t have a season like Michael Dickson had in 2017, the odds are having a player picked are extremely low. It’s simply going to be an ugly three days.
Early entrants in 2021
Of the five players from Texas taken last year, every single one of them at least had one additional year of eligibility thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and two of them, safety Caden Sterns and edge Joseph Ossai, declared as juniors. Offensive tackle Sam Cosmi was a redshirt junior. Sterns and quarterback Sam Ehlinger, in particular, may have been able to improve their draft stock by returning to school for another year because Sterns saw his production decreased by playing through injuries and Ehlinger would have been able to answer questions about his ability to play in a pro-style offense, though there was definitely some risk involved for Ehlinger as well.
Of courser, the coaching change and a tumultuous year off the field severely reduced the chances of any of those players returning.
DeMarvion Overshown took his COVID year
The super senior linebacker missed the last two offseasons after spinning down from safety, first due to the pandemic and then due to shoulder surgery, setting back his development as a player capable of holding up between the tackles by beating blocks from offensive linemen.
Combined with the advent of NIL opportunities that made it financially reasonable to stay on the Forty Acres, those setbacks contributed to Overshown returning for a fifth season with the Longhorns instead of declaring for the draft, where he projected as a draftable player, potentially as high as the middle rounds.
The two other super seniors in the program, safety Anthony Cook and cornerback D’Shawn Jamison almost certainly weren’t going to be drafted, but the additional year of eligibility afforded to them by the shortened 2020 season did unquestionably reduce the number of players who could have impressed scouts enough during the pre-draft process to sneak into the late rounds.
Lack of development from Josh Thompson and D’Shawn Jamison
As a combine invite, Thompson was clearly on the radar of NFL front offices and tested well enough to be a late-round draft pick, including running a 4.40 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. He has the speed and he has adequate size. But the production and technique never matched Thompson’s measurables and that’s an indictment of all three his position coaches — Jason Washington, Jay Valai, and Terry Joseph.
Throw Jamison into that mix as well. The Houston Lamar product flashed more often than Thompson, especially as a sophomore, and has added special teams value as a dynamic return man capable of making game-changing plays, but if he didn’t regress as a senior, he didn’t improve, often getting rotated out of games and only recording one interception.
DBU sure has fallen on tough times.
Overall issues with evaluation and development
The draft class of 2022 is largely comprised of players from the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes — there were multiple 2017 prospects like tight end Cade Brewer in the Texas draft class this year because of the so-called COVID year, but most super seniors returned because they weren’t draftable — during which Texas landed the consensus No. 3 class in consecutive years, inking four five-star prospects and 32 four-star prospects combined.
Based on a 2021 study of the recruiting classes between 2008 and 2016, 49 percent of five-star prospects and 19 percent of four-star prospects get drafted. So by this point Texas should have had eight players selected from those groups in the 2018 and 2019 classes, along with a single three-star prospect, assuming any draftable juniors would declare, reasonable here because Texas doesn’t have any draftable rising juniors, just the super senior Overshown. Instead, it was only Sterns and Ossai last year after they declared early, a gap of seven players spread out over multiple draft classes, six when excluding Overshown. Within that context, it’s understandable why Texas went 5-7 last year — they simply didn’t get enough out of two No. 3 classes.
The 2019 class may make up some of that difference and it’s possible that Cook and Jamison help the draft numbers of the 2018 class, but there’s still a definite gap right now that contributed to the 2022 NFL Draft woes for the Longhorns.
The 2018 class, which famously, or perhaps now infamously, included the best defensive back group in modern recruiting history, featured Sterns and BJ Foster as five-star prospects, and 17 four-star prospects among the 27 players signed. Overshown, Jamison, Cook, offensive guard Junior Angilau, offensive tackle Christian Jones, nose tackle Keondre Coburn, and defensive tackle Moro Ojomo are all still on campus and project as starters or key contributors next season, but 16 of those 27 players transferred or entered the NCAA transfer portal and one was forced to medically retire.
Foster’s career was especially disappointing — he never capitalized on the potential he showed as a freshman, broke his hand in a parking lot rage incident, quit on the team during a 59-3 win, and ended up transferring to Sam Houston.
He’s one of the foremost recent examples of highly-ranked recruits underachieving at Texas, but the whole defensive back class may be more representative overall. Cornerback Jalen Green, a top-50 prospect and the No. 4 player in Texas in 2018, was inconsistent before transferring to Mississippi State, where he’s set to enter his super senior season as a starter at safety, just not as a likely future draft pick. While Cook and Jamison are still on campus, as is Overshown, only getting one draft pick out of that group four years later still ranks as an enormous disappointment.
The 2019 class is even more of a mess, with 15 of the 26 signees transferring in the three-plus years since inking with the Horns, including the No. 1 athlete in the class, Bru McCoy, who transferred from USC to Texas shortly after National Signing Day and then left the Forty Acres before the end of May. Three players in the class were forced to medically retire — another player may join that list soon — and the other five-star prospect in the class, wide receiver Jordan Whittington, has dealt with injuries that have so far derailed his path to the NFL. There should be almost four draftable players from this class — instead there isn’t a single one. Even though there should be one draftable player just among the medical retirements alone, that’s only a sliver of the issues impacting the 2019 Texas class.
The lack of draft picks from those two highly-ranked classes is indicative of the issues with talent evaluation and development that have plagued the Longhorns for most of the lack decade. Former head coach Tom Herman turned over most of his coaching staff after the 2019 season in an effort to address those problems and did put five of his signees into the 2021 NFL Draft, it just wasn’t enough to save his job.
And Sarkisian and his staff didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory in developing draft-eligible players, with Cook turning around a disappointing career to become a solid starter at nickel back ranking as the greatest success from these classes, along with quarterback Casey Thompson when he was healthy. The problem is that Cook doesn’t clearly project as a draftable player next year following his move to safety and Thompson isn’t even in the program any more.
Regardless, what happens next year doesn’t have any impact on the embarrassing draft class for Texas this year and it’s not yet clear that Sarkisian and his staff are going to prove themselves any better at evaluating and developing talent than the last three failed head coaches.
Running back Bijan Robinson should become the first offensive player from Texas drafted in the first round since Young, running back Roschon Johnson projects as a draftable player who could have a better NFL career than college career, Overshown will be selected, and Whittington and transfer wide receiver Isaiah Neyor are both oozing with draftable potential.
Throw in a handful of players like Angilau, Coburn, Jamison, and Cook who have the ability to play themselves into the later rounds and next year’s draft should be much more productive for the Longhorns, even in a worst-case scenario.
Looking even further ahead, wide receiver Xavier Worthy’s tremendous freshman season has put him on the radar of NFL scouts and Sarkisian secured a significant level of talent from the transfer portal and from the high school ranks in the 2022.
But like tenures of Charlie Strong and Tom Herman before him, Sarkisian’s legacy at Texas will hinge on whether he evaluated that talent correctly and whether he and his staff can develop those players into NFL prospects.