AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Longhorns redshirt sophomore running back Jonathon Brooks is expected to declare for the 2024 NFL Draft, according to a report from Chip Brown of Horns247 on Thursday.
Brooks later confirmed the decision to ESPN.
Texas star tailback Jonathon Brooks tells ESPN he’s leaving school early to declare for the NFL Draft. Brooks is Mel Kiper Jr.’s top-ranked available tailback in the upcoming draft. He had a clean ACL tear on Nov. 11 and is expected to be ready by training camp. pic.twitter.com/et07JVMkZe— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) January 4, 2024
The decision comes less than two months after the Hallettsville product suffered a torn ACL in a win over TCU that derailed a breakout season for Brooks and a Doak Walker Award campaign.
“We’re heartbroken for Jonathon,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said in a statement announcing the season-ending injury. “He was having a fantastic season and leaves a void that needs to be filled. But we know he will continue to be an invaluable leader on our team, helping us prepare as we move forward in our mission this season. I know he’ll work extremely hard in his recovery, get back to full speed as soon as he can, and we will be there by his side supporting him through all of that.”
The injury ended a phenomenal season for the 6’0, 207-pounder, a breakout campaign during which Brooks answered one of the team’s looming question marks by replacing Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson. Brooks didn’t begin the season as the starter, a role taken by freshman CJ Baxter, but injuries to Baxter allowed Brooks to take over the starting role and he never looked back, finishing the season with 1,139 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 187 carries (6.1 ypc), currently ranking sixth in the FBS in rushing yards and seventh in rushing yards per game (113.9 ypg). Out of the backfield, Brooks added 25 catches for 286 yards and one touchdown.
By rushing for 104 yards against the Horned Frogs, Brooks totaled at least 98 rushing yards in the last eight games with a rushing touchdown in six games, including three multi-touchdown performances.
During the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Brooks sat behind Robinson, a first-round pick, and Johnson, and fourth-round pick, receiving only 51 carries, mostly in garbage time, but flashed potential in rushing for 340 yards and six touchdowns.
In a world of instant gratification enabled in college sports by the NCAA transfer portal, Brooks waited for his opportunity, benefitting from the chance to soak up knowledge from the two older running backs, whether it was Robinson’s uncanny ability to make defenders miss in small spaces or Johnson’s special ability to command the locker room.
“I think he got a great experience his first two years here playing with Bijan and Roschon,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “In one, the type of teammates that they were, two the leadership they provided, three the work ethic that they played with, and then for the skill set, some of the little nuances that they do when they play.”
Brooks originally came to Texas as the No. 354 player nationally, the No. 24 running back, and the No. 51 player in Texas, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Four running backs in the state ranked higher than Brooks, whose offer from Texas Tech was the only other Power Five opportunity during his recruitment.
Despite the knee injury, Brooks did have a final chance to make an appearance for the Longhorns, coming onto the field in Arlington for the final play of the Big 12 Championship game.
“This team is very close, and there’s a great deal of love on our team. Jonathon meant a great deal to us. We would not be here today without Jonathon Brooks and what he did for us in a good portion of this season and you hate when guys have season-ending injuries like that. Ironically, on Thursday, at the end of practice, we took a knee. I had everybody on the sideline, and we took a knee. And I put Jonathon out there when we took the knee, and I think everyone is like, ‘What’s he doing?’” said Sarkisian after the game.
“When I was done, I said when we win Saturday, Jonathon’s going out there to be part of this victory with us, and he’s going to register a snap that he was part of a Big 12 Championship game. And the guys, they love that stuff. So we had to follow through. So it was a great moment. He’s earned it. He deserved it. These guys are so close with one another that I’m glad he was able to have that moment.”
Now Brooks has a chance to be the first running back to hear his named called in the 2024 NFL Draft even as he continues to rehabilitate his knee injury.